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Who Pays For Car Accident Compensation In California?

Claims explained by an experienced auto accident lawyer

If you've been involved in a car or truck accident in Newport Beach or anywhere in Orange County, you could be looking at massive costs. You may have significant medical bills and other expenses related to your injuries. You may not be able to work for a significant period of time. And there are other losses that are harder to pin down, but no less real - such as your pain and suffering.

Who is responsible for compensating you for those losses? It's often difficult to tell. That's why the Law Office of Daniel C. Carlton has prepared this brief guide to car accident compensation in California.

First party and third party claims in California

California is a "fault" insurance state, which means that the motorist who causes a car accident is ultimately responsible for paying any damages (financial compensation) for the accident. There are few restrictions under California law as far as how you can pursue compensation for your injuries. In general, if you've been injured in an auto accident in California, you have three options:

  • File a claim with your own insurance company - a "first party" claim. Your insurance company may then pursue compensation from the at-fault driver - this is called subrogation.
  • File a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company - a "third party" claim.
  • File a lawsuit in civil court against the at-fault driver. The driver's interests in the case will be represented by his or her insurance carrier.

Deadlines to file a claim in California

Under California law, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. This is known as the statute of limitations. While this law officially only applies to filing a lawsuit (not to filing a claim with the insurance company) the insurance company will certainly take the possibility of a lawsuit into account when deciding whether or not to pay your claim. Practically speaking, you will have much more leverage in dealings with the insurance company while you still have the option of filing a lawsuit than you would if the statute of limitations were about to expire or had already expired.

Insurance coverage for first-party claims

There are several types of claims that you may be able to file with your own insurance company, depending on your policy. Note that these types of coverage are optional in California. We highly encourage you to review your policy and make sure you have sufficient first-party coverage in the event of an accident.

  • Collision coverage pays for damage to your vehicle or a replacement if your vehicle is declared a total loss.
  • Medical payments coverage pays for medical expenses arising from an accident up to the policy limit, regardless of fault.

Insurance coverage for third-party claims

When you file a claim with another driver's insurance company or take legal action against the at-fault driver, you are seeking compensation through his or her liability insurance. The minimum required liability insurance coverage in California is:

  • $15,000 for bodily injury per single injured person
  • $30,000 total for bodily injury per accident
  • $5,000 for property damage

In addition, California requires all drivers to have following insurance coverage for accidents involving uninsured drivers:

  • $15,000 per person for bodily injuries
  • $30,000 per accident for bodily injuries
  • $3,500 per accident for property damage

While the vast majority of California drivers meet these requirements by purchasing insurance coverage, California law also allows drivers the option to self-insure by depositing $35,000 with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

What if the other driver doesn't have enough insurance?

Some drivers choose to break the law and drive without insurance. And even if the other driver does have insurance, he or she may not have enough liability coverage to compensate you fully. You could also be involved in an accident with a hit-and-run driver who is never found.

If you have uninsured and underinsured motorist protection (UIM), you can file a claim with your own insurance company to provide the compensation that would have come from the other driver's insurance.

Your other legal option is to pursue compensation from the at-fault driver's assets, but this can be a difficult and time-consuming process - and the at-fault driver may not have enough assets for you to recover in the first place.

Depending on the circumstances of your accident, there may be other avenues of compensation as well. That's why we strongly recommend you contact us as soon as possible if you have been injured in an accident. You can meet with one of our attorneys for a free consultation. There is no cost and no obligation - we just want you to be aware of your options to seek compensation. Call (949) 757-0707 today.