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Car Accidents in California

With a little over 39 million residents, California is the most populous state in the United States. So if you drive on California’s freeways, you know that the state’s hefty population translates into countless cars on the road and endless opportunities for car accidents to occur.

Although we all hope never to be in a car accident, they’re sometimes unavoidable. And with car accidents come vehicle and property damage, injuries, and, in some very unfortunate instances, fatalities.

At Chain | Cohn | Clark, we are here to make sure you’re well-informed about car accidents in California, know what to do if you are in a car accident, and understand how our experienced California car accident lawyers can help you through the process of seeking compensation if you’ve been injured due to another driver’s negligence.

Car Accidents in California Statistics

California car accident statistics are staggering.

A 2022 study by QuoteWizard analyzed data for speeding tickets, other citations, accidents, and driving-under-the-influence (DUI) incidents to rank drivers in the seventy largest cities in the US. Of the ten cities with the country’s worst drivers, eight were in California—and the city with the worst drivers in America was Bakersfield. Not only that, the top five cities in the nation for DUIs were all in California.

So it’s no surprise that, according to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS), there were 269,031 injuries and 3,737 fatalities in car crashes in California in 2019.

Safe Driving Practices

Although these statistics are alarming, there are a few simple steps you can take to dramatically lower your risk of being injured or killed in a car accident.

  • You’ve probably heard it for most of your life—seat belts save lives. Here are the numbers to prove it: According to data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), a full 25% of those killed in traffic accidents in 2020 weren’t wearing a seat belt. Of those involved in crashes that resulted in just injuries, only 3.4% weren’t wearing a seat belt.
  • Don’t drink and drive or drive under the influence of illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs. Of the 38,824 car accident fatalities in the US in 2020, nearly 1 in 3 involved alcohol use. Getting a ride home from a designated driver or taking an Uber or Lyft could save your life.
  • Next, slow down. NHTSA data show that 26% of car accident deaths in 2020 were speeding related, involving either driving faster than the posted speed limit or exceeding safe speeds for road or weather conditions. In California, the percentage of traffic fatalities that were speeding related was even higher—30%.
  • Don’t drive distracted. The NHTSA defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving.” The worst culprit? Texting while driving. It’s safer to leave phone calls, texts, and even eating for another time and focus on the road. California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 23123 prohibits hand-held cell phone use while driving.
  • Don’t drive when you’re sleepy. The NHTSA estimates that drowsy driving resulted in 50,000 injuries and almost 800 fatalities in 2017. If you’re struggling to stay awake at the wheel, it’s better to find a safe place to stop and take a power nap than to keep going.

This list of safe-driving practices isn’t exhaustive, but it does highlight the practices that are most critical to preventing serious harm to you and your family on the road.

Causes of Car Accidents

The most common car accident causes in California align with many of the safe-driving practices covered above:

  • Distracted driving
  • Speeding
  • Drunk driving
  • Driving under the influence of drugs
  • Drowsy driving

Some driving practices (in addition to speeding) are often a factor in car accidents:

  • Reckless driving (e.g., weaving through traffic)
  • Tailgating (following too closely)
  • Ignoring signals and road signs
  • Making illegal turns

Last, some car accident causes are unrelated to the driver:

  • Vehicle mechanical issues (e.g., brake or steering failure)
  • Tire problems
  • Weather conditions
  • Animals in the roadway

Types of Car Accidents 

Car accidents are typically categorized by collision type. NHTSA statistics show that just seven types of collisions account for more than 98% of all car accidents in the US. The seven types from most to least frequent are:

  1. Rear-end collisions—when one vehicle hits another vehicle from behind
  2. Side-impact collisions (also known as angle or T-bone collisions)—when a car crashes into the side of another car
  3. Collisions with fixed objects—when a car hits a tree, streetlight, wall, curb, ditch, or some other fixed object
  4. Collisions with objects that are not fixed—when a car strikes a pedestrian, bicyclist, animal, train, or any other object that is not fixed
  5. Sideswipe collisions—when there’s a glancing impact between the sides of two cars, often because of carelessness in changing lanes or merging
  6. Head-on collisions—when two cars crash while driving toward each other
  7. Rollovers—when an accident causes a car to roll over onto its side or upside down

According to the same NHTSA accident statistics, rear-end and side-impact collisions account for half of all car crashes in the US. The two types of collisions that don’t involve two cars—collisions with fixed objects and collisions with objects that are not fixed—are responsible for 53% of all car accident fatalities. And although head-on collisions and rollovers are relatively rare (3.7% of all accidents), they’re particularly deadly, resulting in 17.7% of crash-related deaths.

Injuries from Car Accidents

Millions of injuries result from car accidents every year in the US. Some car-crash injuries are easily treated and heal within days or a few weeks, but many are more severe, resulting in months, years, or even a lifetime of rehab, disability, and/or supportive care. In addition to the physical toll accidents can take on the body, there’s often a psychological toll as well.

Physical and emotional injuries, in turn, translate into a financial burden—paying for doctor and hospital bills, rehab, and counseling; losing wages because you’re unable to work; or perhaps dealing with permanent disability.

If you or a loved one is injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by someone else, contact a California car accident attorney to discuss compensation for the costs you’ve incurred and your physical and emotional pain and suffering.

Concerned you might not be able to afford a lawyer? Don’t be. The California auto-accident lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Clark work on a contingency basis. This means you don’t pay anything up front; your lawyer’s fee is paid out of the settlement or trial award they win for you.

There’s a long list of injuries that can occur in a car accident, but some of the most common injuries include:

  • Cuts and bruises
  • Whiplash, caused by the head snapping rapidly back and forth on impact
  • Concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), often caused by the head hitting an airbag, the steering wheel, or a side window
  • Chest injuries—sometimes caused by a seat belt preventing worse injury—such as bruising, broken ribs, organ damage, or internal bleeding
  • Back injuries, such as a herniated disc
  • Broken bones and joint dislocations, usually at the elbows or knees
  • Emotional injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

If you’re injured in a car accident, it’s important to get a full medical examination as soon as possible.

First, not all injuries are apparent after an accident. For example, if you experience whiplash, your neck may feel fine immediately after the crash but be very sore the next day. Or, you may not realize you have internal bleeding, but it can be life-threatening if it’s not treated promptly.

Second, getting a medical evaluation right away after an accident begins the chain of evidence you may need to prove that the accident caused your injuries and you therefore deserve compensation.

What to Do if You Get in a Car Accident in California

It’s important to know what to do after a car accident for three reasons: 

  1. To keep safe and prevent any further harm to persons or property. 
  2. To comply with California’s accident-reporting requirements
  3. To ensure you have the information and evidence necessary to support property damage and/or injury claims.

Staying Safe and Preventing Further Harm

Should you move your car after an accident? Or is it illegal to move your car after an accident?

Actually, California law indicates that, if possible, you should move your car out of traffic to a safe location after an accident.

What’s illegal to do is to leave the scene of a crash, especially if someone has been injured or killed. You can be fined and/or jailed for fleeing the scene of a car accident.

Here are a few other steps you should take:

  • Call 911 to summon emergency personnel and police to the scene.
  • Check on your passengers and the occupants of the other car involved in the crash. Help in any way you can.
  • Exchange contact, driver’s license, and insurance information with the other driver.
  • Provide the police with the same information. Give the police your story of what happened in the accident, but don’t admit fault.

California Car Accident Reporting Requirements

California law requires you to report car accidents under certain conditions:

  • Any car accident in which someone is injured or killed must be reported within 24 hours to the nearest California Highway Patrol department or to the police department of the city in which the accident occurred.
  • After any car accident in which someone is injured or killed or that caused at least $1,000 in property damage, you must also file California Form SR-1 with the Department of Motor Vehicles within ten days.

Information for Property Damage or Injury Claims

Getting the name and address and insurance information for the other driver involved in a car crash is only the beginning of collecting the information and evidence you need to support an insurance claim—or, if you’re not offered an adequate insurance settlement, a lawsuit.

You should also:

  • Collect the names and addresses of any witnesses to the accident.
  • Take photos of the cars and the accident scene.
  • Write down how the accident took place before your memories of the accident fade.
  • Get a full medical evaluation for yourself and your passengers.
  • Report the accident to your insurance company, but don’t admit fault.
  • Keep records of all doctor’s visits and medical bills.

If you or your passengers were injured in a crash, it’s a good idea to talk to a California car accident lawyer as soon as you can. Your lawyer can investigate the crash, help you collect evidence, help with reporting requirements, negotiate with the insurance company, and, if necessary, bring your case to trial.

How Do You Know if You Have a Car Accident Case?

The simplest way to know if you have a car accident case is to reach out to a California car accident attorney for a free consultation.

In most instances, a car accident lawyer will tell you that if there were no injuries or fatalities in the accident, the settlement offered by the insurance company should cover the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle—the value of property damage is quite straightforward. However, you may still want legal representation if the insurance company claims you were at fault when you weren’t.

If there were injuries or fatalities in the accident, the associated costs are much more difficult to estimate, and it’s much harder to get a fair settlement without the help of a car accident lawyer.

Does It Matter Who’s at Fault in Car Accidents in California?

Does it matter who’s at fault in a car accident in California? Yes, it does matter. But there’s a bit more to the picture.

California is an at-fault state. This means that under California law, the party that causes an accident is liable (or legally responsible) for any property damage, injuries, or deaths that result from the accident. In this regard, it very much matters who’s at fault in an accident.

However, California applies a legal doctrine called pure comparative fault. Under pure comparative fault rules, multiple parties can be held responsible for an accident. The insurance company (or in the case of a lawsuit, the judge or jury) determines how much fault each party involved in an accident bears. This degree of fault is determined as a percentage. You can only collect damages based on the percentage of the blame that doesn’t rest on you.

In other words, if a jury says the other driver was 100% at fault in the accident, you can collect the full amount of any damages awarded. But if you were partly to blame—say, 30% at fault—then you can only collect 70% of the damages awarded.

What Kinds of Compensation Can I Get from a Car Accident Claim?

The types of compensation available for car accident claims include:

  • The cost to repair or replace your vehicle
  • Reimbursement for expensive items in your vehicle that were damaged or destroyed
  • Medical and rehabilitation expenses
  • The value of lost wages while you recover from an injury
  • Damages for permanent disability or disfigurement
  • Damages for emotional trauma or PTSD
  • Payment for the pain and suffering you’ve endured

Time Limits for Filing Claims in California

State laws specify the time limits, or statute of limitations, within which you need to file various kinds of claims after an accident. This applies both to insurance claims and civil lawsuits.

In California, there are three time limits that you need to be aware of:

  1. Property damage claims must be filed within three years of when the damage occurred.
  2. Injury claims must be filed within two years of when the injury occurred.
  3. Property damage or injury claims against government entities or public agencies are an exception to the above two time limits—they must be filed within six months of when the incident took place.

Contact a Bakersfield Car Accident Attorney

If you or a family member have been injured in a car accident that someone else caused, the Bakersfield car accident attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark can help you through this difficult and often bewildering time. Contact us today for a free consultation.


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