The most common type of personal injury case filed with our courts is an automobile accident.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, an auto accident occurs every ten seconds in the United States. Statistics show that in 2005 there were 6,000,000 auto accidents in the United States, resulting in 43,443 deaths and 2,699,000 injuries. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 3 and 33.
Frequently cited causes for auto accidents and car crashes include: inattentive or distracted drivers; drunk driving or drug or alcohol related crashes; and speeding or reckless driving. Other causes of auto accidents include defective products, such as defective tires or brakes, malfunctioning traffic signals, and improper design or maintenance of the roadway.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT INSURANCE COVERAGE:
California law requires every owner or driver of a vehicle to provide evidence of “financial responsibility”, either through self-insurance or more commonly, through the maintenance of liability insurance Cal Veh Code § 16020. Liability insurance is designed to provide compensation to another person in the event that you cause an accident and are found to be liable for damages arising from the accident.
Pursuant to Cal Veh Code § 16056, California law requires the minimum amount of liability insurance coverage as follows:
- $15,000 for bodily injury or death of one person in any one accident
- $30,000 for bodily injury or death of two or more persons in any one accident, not to exceed the per-person limits above Cal Veh Code § 16056
- $5,000 for damage to property of others in one accident
The foregoing represents the required minimum amount of liability insurance coverage required under California law. It is not uncommon for individuals to acquire higher amounts of liability insurance coverage to protect their personal assets in the event they are at fault in a serious accident. When purchasing auto insurance, a consumer may also elect to purchase other types of coverage in addition to liability insurance. Examples of additional types of coverage include:
Medical Payment Coverage: This type of insurance provides coverage for the insured driver and his or her passengers for payment for injuries sustained, regardless of the fault of the driver. This type of coverage is also commonly referred to as “med-pay” or “personal injury protection (PIP)”. The amount of med-pay benefits is determined by the policy limits stated in the insurance policy declarations sheet for the person who purchased the coverage.
Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage: These types of coverage protect you against a negligent defendant who does not have liability insurance coverage or has minimum coverage that is inadequate to fully compensate you for your injuries. In the event that you are involved in an accident with an uninsured but negligent individual, a claim would be made under your own uninsured motorist coverage. Your own insurance carrier would then have to pay any judgment which may be rendered, up to the limits of the policy which you purchased. If the person who caused the accident has liability insurance, but the policy limit of his or her liability insurance is less than the uninsured motorist coverage of your policy, and your damages exceed the limits of the other person’s liability coverage, an additional claim may be made under your own policy for underinsured motorist benefits.
Collision Coverage: Collision coverage is a type of voluntary coverage which provides for the repair or replacement of your own vehicle after an accident, regardless of whether or not you are at fault. This coverage differs from property liability insurance coverage discussed above. An individual who is not at fault in an accident may present a claim for the property damage under his or her own collision coverage or under the negligent defendant’s property damage liability insurance coverage. Collision coverage normally includes a deductible, whereas property damage liability insurance coverage does not. In an automobile accident case, after a claim has been paid under collision coverage, the insurance carrier who paid the claim may proceed against the property damage liability insurance carrier for the negligent defendant to recover the amount paid out. This process is called subrogation, and it has no effect upon recovery.
MOST ACCIDENTS CAUSED BY NEGLIGENCE
Automobile accidents cases are generally decided using the law of negligence. Negligence is generally defined as the failure to use reasonable due care to avoid a foreseeable harm to a person, place or thing. A person who negligently operates a vehicle may be required to pay any damages caused by his or her negligence, whether the damages are to a person or to property. Generally, people are required to use “reasonable care under the circumstances” when driving. Failure to use reasonable care is the basis in most lawsuits for an award of damages caused by an automobile accident.
Courts consider a number of factors in determining whether or not a driver was negligent. Examples of these factors include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Inattention to the actions of other drivers
- Driving too fast or too slow
- Disregarding weather, road conditions or traffic conditions
- Failure to observe traffic signs or signals
ACCIDENTS CAUSED BY INTENTIONAL OR RECKLESS CONDUCT
Accidents may also be caused by intentional or reckless conduct by a driver. An example of an accident caused by intentional conduct of the driver would be a road-rage accident. An example of reckless conduct by a driver would be when a person drives unsafely, with willful and wanton disregard for the probability that their driving may cause an accident.
Another example of intentional or reckless conduct by a driver is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
ACCIDENTS CAUSED BY PRODUCT DEFECTS OR OTHER FACTORS
Accidents may also be caused by factors that are completely unrelated to the conduct of a driver. For example, under the laws of product liability, an automobile manufacturer or parts supplier may be responsible for a defect in a vehicle, or a component of the vehicle. A products liability suit is a lawsuit brought against the seller of a product for selling a defective product that caused physical injury to a consumer or user.
Accidents may also be caused by other factors beyond the driver’s control. Some examples of these factors include:
- Improper design or maintenance of the roadway
- Malfunctioning traffic signals
- Poor lighting
- Failure to provide proper warning of construction or other road hazards
- Trees, utility poles or other hazards that obscure a driver’s field of vision
ACCIDENTS CAUSED BY DRUNK DRIVERS
According to a 2005 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes kill someone every 31 minutes and cause non-fatal injuries to someone every two minutes. Unfortunately, drunk drivers can be uninsured or underinsured, and may have few assets to pursue in a lawsuit. Under limited circumstances, it may be possible to seek recovery from the person who provided the alcohol to the driver. Under California law, a bar, liquor store or restaurant may be responsible for damages caused by a person’s drinking if it sold alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor.
California law does not impose liability on social hosts who serve alcohol in a social setting, such as at a party or at their home. California also does not have a “dram shop act” (“dram” was once a common term for “liquor”); California law does not impose liability on those who sell alcohol to people of legal drinking age.
If you or a loved one have been injured in an auto accident, it is important to act promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the cause of the accident, and to file a lawsuit prior to the deadline imposed by the statute of limitations. Don’t delay-take action now to protect your rights-contact James Gillen by e-mail or call 877-619-3095 for a free consultation.