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An Overview of Personal Injuries Laws In California

Personal injury law is something that is often at its core the same regardless of the state you’re in, but there are also some differences to be aware of. Below, we talk more about personal injury law and the specific laws in California.

What Is Personal Injury Law?

Personal injury law is tort law. 

The objective of this area of the law is to protect if you or your property suffers harm because of the actions of someone else or someone else’s failure to act. 

When your tort action is successful, then the person responsible for the harm or injury compensates you, as the person who suffered losses. 

Every tort claim has two core components—liability and damages. The goal of these cases is to prove a defendant was responsible for your damages. Then, from there, the extent and nature of the damages need to be determined. 

If you can prove both liability and damages, you’ll usually either settle with the other party or their insurance company, or the justice system will provide compensation. 

In car accidents, which are among the most common types of personal injury cases, a driver has a duty to use reasonable care. This duty to use reasonable care means the person has to avoid injuring anyone on the roadway. If a driver doesn’t use reasonable care, which leads to your injuries, the driver is liable to you. Liability means they’re responsible. 

Above are the generalities of personal injury cases, and below, we go more into specifics in California. 

Is California a No-Fault State?

California is not a no-fault state. This means that you can sue a third party for your injuries and associated property damage if you’re in an accident. 

If you’re involved in an accident in a state that is no-fault on the other hand, you have to make a claim through your own policy. In a no-fault state, you use personal injury protection (PIP) if you’re in an accident. 

A PIP policy in a no-fault state reimburses medical expenses, no matter who caused the accident. 

If there’s property damage in a no-fault state, you might have to file a claim under your collision coverage. In some no-fault states, you also have to file a claim for property damage with the other driver’s damage liability coverage. 

Since California is an at-fault state, if you’re injured in an accident, you can file a claim against the party responsible. You do, as was touched on above, have to prove fault against the other party before you can recover compensation. 

If your claim is successful, you could get reimbursement for medical costs, lost wages, and potentially non-economic damages as well. 

California, more specifically, is what’s known as a comparative fault state. In a comparative fault state, someone is responsible for the percentage of the accident they are found to have caused. For example, if you’re found liable for 20% of an accident, you can recover 80% of the damages you incurred including medical expenses and car damage. 

Essentially, this means that you can recover damages even when you’re partially to blame for an accident, which isn’t always the case in every state. 

California is a pure comparative state at that, meaning that a victim can still recover some damages even if they’re 99% atfault in an accident. By contrast, a modified comparative fault state is one where the plaintiff cannot recover damages if they are 50% or more atfault. 

If your case goes to trial, the jury decides what percentage of your negligence contributed to your injuries. 

Comparative fault applies to most of the personal injury cases in California including not just car and bike accidents but also premises liability, slip and fall accidents and medical malpractice. 

You may sometimes hear comparative fault referred to as shared fault laws. 

California’s Filing Deadlines

Every state has a limit on the amount of time available to you to file a lawsuit in civil court after you’re harmed. These laws are called the statute of limitations. The deadlines vary depending on the specific type of case you file. 

In California, for personal injury cases, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the injury. That means if you’re the injured party, you have two years from the date of your accident o file a lawsuit against the parties who could be at fault. If you don’t take action within this time, the court will probably refuse to accept your case any time in the future, and you’ll lose your right to compensation. 

If you’re filing a claim against a government agency in California, including at the city, county, or state level, you only have six months to file it, and there are a strict set of procedures you have to follow. 

Limit on Damages

In California, the law prevents most uninsured drivers from recovering non-economic damages following an accident, even if the other driver is entirely at fault. Non-economic damages include compensation for emotional distress, inconvenience, pain and suffering and scarring. 

There’s one critical exception—an uninsured driver can recover non-economic losses if they’re in an accident with a driver who’s under the influence of drugs or alcohol and is convicted of a DUI related to the accident. 

There is also a cap on non-economic damages in California medical malpractice cases. The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) places a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. 

There’s another term— punitive damage. Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant who’s seen as engaging in behavior that’s especially egregious. Punitive damages aren’t common in the civil court system, but in California, you may be able to recover these damages. To do so, you would have to show the defendant’s actions were oppressive, malicious or fraudulent. 

Overall, personal injury laws in California are similar to other states that are at fault and have comparative fault guidelines in place.

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