Determining Fault in a California Car Accident


rear-end collision

Car accidents occur on a daily basis on California’s highways and streets. There were 16,400 serious auto accident injuries and 3,606 auto accident fatalities in California in 2019, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data.

Car accident injuries can be very severe, and they often leave their victims with large medical debts, permanent disabilities, and a loss of income due to being unable to work. The families of those killed in car accidents are left with grief, lost household support, and lost financial contributions. Luckily, California car accident victims have options for holding at-fault drivers responsible for their financial losses.

You need to determine and prove that another driver was at fault for an accident to find them financially liable for damages. There is often a whole lot of money at stake in car accidents, so mere accusations won’t be adequate. You will need to provide an adequate amount of evidence that someone else is at fault for your injuries.

There are a lot of rules regarding fault in car accidents in California, and these rules must be followed during the legal process. Also, different methods of determining fault may be used by different parties. Determining who is at fault for a car accident in California can be complex, so it is vital that you have an experienced personal injury attorney like the lawyers at Nadrich & Cohen handling your case and helping you recover financially.

How Do You Figure Out Who Is at Fault for an Accident in California?

The two primary ways of determining auto accident fault in California are negligence and violation of a statute.

To demonstrate that another driver is at fault due to negligence, an injury victim needs to demonstrate that the at-fault driver failed to operate their vehicle with adequate care. This often involves witness statements, investigatory tools, and police reports. Injured parties need to prove that their injuries and damages were caused by another driver’s negligent actions.

Fault for California accidents can also be determined by statute. If a driver involved in an auto accident violated the California Vehicle Code, that driver will often be presumed to be negligent. This is known as negligence per se.

Determining Fault by Proving Negligence

Determination of fault via proving negligence in California accidents started as a “common law” tort theory. This means that courts, over time, created this theory to allow for injured parties to be compensated by at-fault parties. In more modern times, California’s legislatures have altered the theory of negligence by creating laws relating to accident fault which change how negligence is proven and evaluated.

To demonstrate that another party is at fault for an accident in California, an injured party needs to show that the at-fault driver failed to operate their vehicle with an appropriate level of care. Drivers are judged by a “reasonable person” standard, meaning each driver on the road is duty-bound to operate their vehicle with ordinary care. This means that each driver is duty-bound to use reasonable care when operating their vehicle in order to prevent harm.

Those in California who are injured in auto accidents also need to demonstrate that the at-fault driver breached their duty of care to drive cautiously, or that they failed to use the level of care or caution necessary. Injured parties then need to prove that the at-fault driver’s negligence caused their accident and that the negligence caused them to be injured or suffer damages.

When injured drivers prove that other drivers failed to use the necessary amount of care in operating their vehicle and were thus negligent, and that said negligence caused their injuries, injured drivers are entitled to compensation under California law for their damages.

Determining Fault by Proving a Statute Violation

Fault is also commonly determined by showing that a party violated the laws of California. When drivers violate parts of the California Vehicle Code and this leads to an accident, those drivers are often considered “negligent per se,” meaning they are presumed to be negligent or presumed to have not exercised adequate caution and care in the operation of their vehicle.

Negligence per se was also a “common law” doctrine originally. Judges designed it to be a way for fault in accidents to be assigned. California adopted the doctrine of negligence per se as a legislative statute. This statute is the California Evidence Code, Section 669. This section states that drivers are considered negligent per se when they violate a statute that was designed to prevent accidents like the one which happened.

It is not typically difficult to demonstrate that drivers are negligent in car accidents when they violate the California Vehicle Code since most of the Vehicle Code’s statutes are designed to protect other drivers by preventing car accidents. Drivers involved in accidents who are presumed to be negligent need to prove they were not negligent, or they will be held liable for any injuries and damages in the accident.

Police reports will often state whether a driver was negligent under a statute.

Comparative Negligence and Fault

Car accident claims aren’t always over when a party demonstrates another party is negligent. In California, the amount of money a negligent driver must pay to an injured party can be reduced when the injury victim’s actions were also negligent and contributed to the auto accident.

California is a pure comparative negligence state. This allows parties to collect financial compensation for their injuries even when they are 80 percent at fault for an accident. Pure comparative negligence functions in accidents in California by assigning a percentage of fault to each party, then reducing damages by those percentages.

For example, if an injured party suffers $200,000 in hospital bills, pain, and suffering, and is found to be 80 percent at fault, their damage award is reduced by 80 percent from $200,000 to $40,000.

Police and Identifying Fault in Car Accidents

motorists arguing over who is at fault

It is always advisable to remain at the scene of an auto accident until law enforcement arrives. This is critically important if you think another driver was responsible for your injuries. Officers will interview everyone involved in the crash, as well as any witnesses in order to put together the most accurate version of what occurred.

Officers will then put that account of what happened into their official police report. This report may or may not include who they think was at fault for the crash. Even when police reports do include statements involving fault, these statements are not necessarily definitive in terms of legal responsibility. While police reports are inadmissible in court and do not mandate fault, they can be very persuasive to insurance companies, who often settle car accident claims out of court.

Also, if the police think a driver violated the law, they can give them a ticket, investigate further, or even arrest them. For example, the police can perform blood tests, breath tests, or roadside sobriety tests on drivers who appear to be intoxicated. This can help them obtain solid evidence that a driver was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

It can be important evidence of fault when drivers are cited or charged with crimes. Thus, the police can be very important in terms of determining fault in auto accidents.

However, it is important to note that police reports are not admissible in court in car accident lawsuits, and you may still be able to obtain a financial recovery even if the police report says you’re at fault since police reports aren’t always right. Experienced personal injury lawyers like Nadrich & Cohen can help you win a case even if the police report says you’re at fault for an accident.

Supporting Your Car Accident Claim

You should act immediately after your accident in order to support your claim. There are numerous ways to help make sure that you have enough evidence to support your claim.

Two key things you can do are to make sure insurance claims and police reports are filed. Also, take notes of what occurred and get the name and phone number of every party involved, in addition to comments from them. This can give you their perspective on what happened. Comparing their perspective with your own can help you wrap your head around what may have ultimately caused the crash.

Appropriately determining who is mostly at fault for a crash includes:

  • Police reports
  • Witness statements
  • Driver admissions

Types of evidence that can support a car accident claim include:

  • Detailed medical records and doctor statements as well as any medical records from before your injuries
  • Videos and photographs of the accident scene, your injuries and any other damages
  • Receipts, bills, and other documents demonstrating lost wages, medical costs, property damage, and other financial losses
  • Testimony and statements from accident witnesses
  • Testimony and evaluation from experts in the fields of accident reconstruction, medicine, economics, biomechanics, occupational retraining and more

What Damages Are Available After a Car Accident?

Three types of damages available after car accidents in California are economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages compensate plaintiffs for losses that can be accurately quantified by a dollar figure. These damages are calculated by figuring out the amount of losses an injury victim suffers out-of-pocket and/or will expect to suffer because of their injuries.

Examples of economic losses include lost wages, medical bills, and loss of earning capacity.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages compensate injury victims for subjective losses rather than out-of-pocket losses. Examples of non-economic damages include loss of enjoyment of life, pain, suffering, and emotional distress.

Punitive Damages

California courts may also award punitive damages, which are intended to punish bad behavior and deter others from behaving similarly. These damages are awarded in cases when defendants behave especially egregiously, such as in drunk driving accidents. Punitive damages are typically only awarded in about five percent of verdicts.

California Automobile Insurance Requirements

Victims of California auto accidents can seek damages from negligent drivers who cause accidents. To make sure this system works, California requires that drivers pay a $35,000 deposit to the DMV or carry liability insurance in the following minimum amounts:

  • $5,000 for property damage
  • $15,000 for death or injury to a single person
  • $30,000 for death or injury to multiple people

Drivers need to show proof they are insured when:

  • Law enforcement officers request it
  • Car owners renew the registration on their vehicle
  • Their vehicle is involved in an accident

When accidents happen, the drivers involved need to exchange insurance and contact information. After this, you can file a claim with the insurance company insuring the other driver.

Experienced Lawyers Can Help You Get Compensated Fairly

wrecked vehicle at night

If you’ve been seriously injured in a car accident, or your loved one has been killed in an accident that wasn’t their fault, a battle-tested, expert personal injury lawyer like the lawyers at Nadrich & Cohen can fight for you and help you obtain the compensation and justice you deserve. Experienced car accident lawyers can do many things for you, including:

  • Investigating your case
  • Determining fault
  • Proving fault
  • Communicating with the other party’s insurance company and/or lawyer for you so that you don’t accidentally admit fault
  • Leveling the playing field between you and the at-fault party’s lawyer or insurance company
  • Hiring experts to testify for you
  • Arranging for witnesses to testify for you
  • Gathering evidence to build a strong case for you, including working with your medical providers to obtain your medical records and thoroughly document your injuries
  • Negotiating a fair and just settlement
  • Preparing your case for trial, if necessary
  • Trying your case in court, if necessary

Contact Us Today for a Free Consultation – No Fee if No Recovery

Do you need help fighting to obtain every penny you’re entitled to under California law for your car accident injuries? You have found the right lawyers. Call Nadrich & Cohen today, text us from this page, or contact us online for a free consultation. We will not charge a fee to represent you until and unless we obtain financial compensation for you and we will put this promise in writing.


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