Sometimes, the aftermath of a car accident can prove to be even more distressing than the event itself. For many people dealing with insurance companies after a motor vehicle accident, one thing becomes clear: these companies are centered around profit above all else. Sadly, that fact can lead to a stark lack of compassion toward those who have received injuries in car accidents. In an attempt to avoid providing compensation or paying a fair settlement, the other driver’s insurance may attempt to downplay the injuries sustained during the accident. It might even feel like your own adjuster is not on your side. So, what now?
By consulting a Sacramento car accidents lawyer at The Law Office of Black & DePaoli, PC, you will work with an attorney who is devoted to easing the emotional and financial burden of a car accident. We are dedicated to helping car accident victims in California pursue the compensation and justice they deserve. As a result, you can expect to have the circumstances surrounding your injury approached with care and compassion.
Types of Car Accidents
Not all car accidents look the same, although they all have the potential to result in injury. However, the circumstances surrounding a motor vehicle accident can impact your legal options. Establishing contact with a Sacramento car accident attorney as soon as possible after an accident means you will find it easier to take the correct next steps, depending on the cause and situation that led to your accident.
Some motor vehicle accident types you may face in Sacramento, California include:
- Distracted driving. Many serious vehicular accidents are the result of one or more distracted drivers. In fact, research reveals that as many as eighty percent of accidents are the result of inattentive driving. Potential distractions include talking or texting on a cell phone, eating food, searching or reaching for an object inside the vehicle, or searching for a location or event outside the vehicle.
- Drunk driving/DUI. By driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a driver places enormous risk not just onto themselves but also everyone near the vehicle, including other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Injuries resulting from an intoxicated driver are especially devastating, given their highly avoidable nature. Drinking alcohol leads to impairment of hearing and vision, delayed reaction time, as well as loss of proper muscle coordination, all a cause of dangerous conditions for driving. Drivers responsible for DUI accidents can face both civil claims and criminal punishment via California’s DUI laws. Additionally, criminal penalties worsen with each DUI offense and repeat offenders have a substantial disadvantage when it comes to civil litigation with injured victims.
- Speeding. Nearly a third of motor vehicle accidents are the result of speeding. When a car speeds, all drivers are given a shorter reaction time, which can make all the difference when it comes to avoiding an accident. High speeds also tend to result in more severe crashes with a greater likelihood of serious injuries.
- Other moving violations. When a driver disobeys traffic laws, signals, and lane designations, they are putting everyone else on the road at risk. Failure to abide by traffic laws frequently results in car accidents, including instances of running red lights or stop signs, which can lead to devastating side-impact collisions. Failure to yield and failure to maintain lanes are also prevalent moving violations that frequently result in accidents. Each of these types of accidents is common in the Sacramento area.
- Road rage and reckless driving. Unlike many other forms of negligent driving, road rage can often occur without the participant realizing they are engaging in dangerous behavior. However, road rage can also translate into deliberate actions, rather than simply a subconscious shift in mindset. Road rage actions may include riding the bumper of another driver, cutting another driver off in traffic, or even braking suddenly in front of another car. Road rage can often lead to speeding and other actions associated with dangerous or reckless driving. Other forms of reckless driving that often lead to car accidents include stopping suddenly, failing to adhere to passing rules, and driving recklessly in residential areas.
- Driver fatigue. Also known as “drowsy driving,” fatigue is another common cause of car accidents. Sometimes, drivers are simply too tired to be on the road. Driving while sleepy severely impairs your reaction time, preventing you from responding quickly enough to avoid an accident you might have easily circumvented under normal circumstances. Additionally, drivers experiencing fatigue struggle to perceive and process important information. For example, while a well-rested driver can quickly notice that they have drifted into the opposite lane, a fatigued driver might not realize their mistakes until it is already too late. A driver can even enter a state known as “microsleep,” leading to temporary lack of consciousness. Given the long periods spent on the road, driver fatigue is often associated with trucking accidents.
- Reduced visibility and night driving. It is likely no surprise that a driver’s ability to drive safely becomes impaired the moment there is a reduction in visibility. Reduced visibility often leads to accidents, particularly at night when the glare of other drivers’ headlights may prove distracting or disorienting. In fact, around 40% of fatal car accidents occur during the nighttime hours, despite the lower number of drivers on the road.
- Accidents caused by uninsured (or underinsured) drivers. While a lack of insurance is not a cause of motor vehicle accidents, it is an important factor in many. After experiencing a car accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, the aftermath can be even more stressful than the accident itself. When an at-fault driver lacks the proper auto insurance, the victim may lose their primary route of pursuing payment for necessary medical treatment. If California uninsured motorist coverage fails to cover the entirety of your medical bills or damages, it is wise to file a civil claim against the uninsured driver.
No matter the cause or extenuating circumstances surrounding your car accident in the Sacramento area, the Sacramento car accident lawyers at The Law Office of Black & DePaoli, PC are ready to help. Whether you are facing medical bills, loss of earnings, vehicle repairs, or pain and suffering, our car accident lawyers are a valuable asset to help you win your case.
Is It Worth Getting an Attorney for a Car Accident?
The quick answer is “yes.” In the days and weeks following a car accident, you might feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, the prospect of finding, interviewing, and hiring an attorney can feel like too much on top of recovering from your injuries, navigating the insurance process, and much more. Although this feeling is understandable, it is important to consider the financial and emotional implications of neglecting to pursue compensation for your damages.
Even if it seems obvious that the other driver was at fault, you should still hire a car accident attorney. Sadly, insurance companies are profit-centric and will do everything in their power to leave you with the smallest settlement possible, even when the circumstances surrounding your accident justify full compensation. Insurance companies aim to reduce damage awards and save money, so, it is crucial that you have skilled legal counsel on your side.
When Should You Get a Lawyer for a Car Accident?
You should obtain a lawyer as soon as possible following a car accident. The insurance claims process, in most cases, is designed to proceed as efficiently as possible. As a result, for many car accident injury victims navigating the stressful time after a car accident, leaving the aftermath in the insurance company’s hands can seem tempting. However, the speedy nature of the insurance process is not designed with your long-term financial benefit in mind.
For both insurance companies involved, it is in their best interest to simplify—and cheapen—cases of personal injury following a car accident. This is especially true when personal injury lawyers are not involved. After a car accident, it is vital to refrain from accepting a settlement right away. Instead, take a step back and consider your past and future expenses, as well as your options.
Ideally, you should hire a car accident attorney before you file your car accident insurance claim. Once you file a claim, the insurance companies involved will quickly begin searching for ways to reduce your settlement offer. For instance, after you make a claim, your insurance company may contact you to discuss the accident, and may misconstrue statements you make, no matter how benign they seem. In many states, if the insurance companies can get you to accept responsibility or otherwise “prove” that you are partially to blame for the accident, you will receive a reduced settlement based on the percentage of fault you accept. They may even attempt to downplay the severity of your injuries.
A car accident attorney has substantial experience managing communications and negotiations with insurance companies. If you take the essential step of hiring a lawyer before filing your claim, you will have legal counsel at your side to advise you regarding the statements that can benefit or detract from your settlement. Even in the case of a minor collision, it is best to err on the side of caution and schedule a consultation with a lawyer. By working with an experienced attorney, such as the Sacramento car accident attorneys at The Law Office of Black & DePaoli, PC, you will not have to worry about being misconstrued by your insurance company and can receive the justice and compensation you deserve.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Car Accident Case?
A “statute of limitations” is a law meant to limit the time frame in which you can seek legal justice following an event or accident. The state of California holds a strict statute of limitations for car accident claims. So, how does this affect you when it comes to the injuries you sustain in a motor vehicle accident?
Fortunately, California’s law is fairly straightforward regarding the statute of limitations for car accident claims. According to the California Code of Civil Procedure section 335.1, which first became effective in 2003, victims have a two-year time limit to file an injury-related claim. If your claim pertains strictly to the damage done to your vehicle, California Code of Civil Procedure section 338 provides residents with a statute of limitations spanning three years. Importantly, the clock begins ticking on the date of the car accident and no later. Since the time period to file a claim does not begin after the discovery or diagnosis of an injury, it is essential to seek medical care as soon as possible after the accident.
If you attempt to file a claim after the statute of limitations has expired, California courts will reject your case in all but a few select instances. A major exception to the two-year statute of limitations in personal injury cases is if you received injuries due to a government employee’s negligence. For example, this might involve an accident with a city bus operated by a government employee. You must still provide notice of the claim within six months, making it even more urgent that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible.
The Importance of Establishing Liability
Before the courts can award compensation or arrive at a settlement, your attorney must determine liability and potential negligence. As a result, it is essential that you develop an understanding of both terms.
- Liability. Simply put, liability describes who is legally and financially responsible for the collision. Local, state, and federal laws can all be employed to determine liability following a motor vehicle accident.
- Negligence. When an individual or individuals fail to take the responsible measures necessary to protect those around them on the road, they are engaging in negligence. It is not necessary that the other party made a deliberate attempt to harm another person in order for the courts to establish negligence. What matters is that the other driver had a duty of care to drive responsibly, then acted carelessly, leading to the avoidable injury of another party. Determining negligence allows attorneys and insurance companies to assign liability for the accident.
After opening a personal injury case, your attorney can attempt to identify any and all parties that may share fault for your injury. Did dangerous road conditions amenable by the city, county, or state contribute to the accident? Did malfunctioning automobile parts cause the accident, leaving the manufacturer liable? These entities may assume some responsibility for compensating you for your damages.
More often than not, collisions and car accidents are caused by negligence on the part of one or more drivers. Examples of negligent actions indicating a party’s liability include (but are not limited to):
- Failure to watch or maintain attention on the road
- Failure to yield when it is appropriate to do so
- Ignoring stop signs and red lights
- Driving outside the range of the speed limit
- Behaviors associated with distracted driving, such as texting or talking on the phone
- Failing to perform necessary repairs on your vehicle, compromising vehicle safety
Comparative Negligence and Comparative Fault
As noted above, in many cases, the courts determine that more than one party caused a car accident. In the legal system, this situation refers to “comparative negligence.” If the courts cannot attribute fault to a single party, each party becomes responsible for a portion of the financial damages. For example, a car manufacturer and a driver can share fault for a car accident caused by faulty parts and negligent maintenance. Similarly, two drivers can share fault for the same accident.
California is what is known as a “pure comparative fault state.” For instance, an individual in California can claim damages even if they are 99% responsible for the accident. This makes California different from “modified comparative fault states,” where an individual must be less than 50% responsible for the accident in order to receive damages. The percentage of responsibility, based on the degree of negligence, will be determined by the courts. For example, if you claim $100,000 in damages but were 20% at fault for the accident, the courts will reduce your compensation by 20% to $80,000.
Assessing Damages Associated With a Car Accident
As a part of your case, the courts will determine both special (economic) and general (noneconomic) damages owed, following the establishment of liability.
Potential special damages include:
- Medical bills, both current and future
- Prescription medications
- Medical equipment
- Rehabilitation or physical therapy
- Car and other property repairs or replacement
- Wages lost due to being out of work or an incapacity to earn
- Any other damages with a clear financial cost
General damages are far more subjective and lack a definitive cost. They generally relate to pain and suffering faced by the victim following the accident. For example, general damages often include the weight of emotional distress or mental anguish, since the trauma that can result from a car accident and the injuries sustained can impact quality of life moving forward.
The umbrella of general damages covers a number of physical and psychological circumstances. These might include:
- Grief, especially if the accident resulted in the death of one or more parties
- Physical pain resulting from the injuries, as well as the associated psychological distress
- Loss of quality of life, or loss of the overall enjoyment of life
- Loss of reputation
- Permanent disfigurement
The courts award general damages on a case by case basis, purely dependent on the case’s unique circumstances. As such, there is no guarantee you will receive compensation for emotional distress or any other general damages. However, California courts often award up to three or four times the cost of medical bills to compensate for general damages.
What Is a Reasonable Settlement for a Car Accident?
While general damage settlements can reach up to three to four times the cost of the victim’s medical bills, exactly how are these settlements calculated? What factors help determine settlement payouts?
The total settlement payout is dependent on a variety of factors, all considered by the courts. Factors include the type of injury sustained, details of the victim’s treatment plan, how long the victim is estimated to remain in therapy or treatment, severity of the accident, eventual disability, and the potential loss of income. Generally, settlements are higher in the case of severe or permanent injury. Additionally, you will likely see a larger settlement that includes compensatory damages if the courts determine the other party was driving under the influence or with the intent to harm.
In the United States, the average car accident injury settlements fall between $14,000 and $28,000. However, depending on your damages, the circumstances of your accident, and whether you choose to hire a car accident attorney, your unique case may fall well outside these limits. Contact a car accident attorney to retain the best chance at obtaining full compensation for your damages.