Car accidents are some of the most common injury-causing incidents in the country. Over 6 million accidents are recorded annually, equating to one accident occurring every 60 seconds. Many people who experience such accidents suffer serious, debilitating injuries and other damages that significantly impact nearly every aspect of their lives. If you were involved in a car accident, you may be facing expensive medical bills related to your injuries, pain and suffering, and lost wages due to your inability to return to work. You may feel frustrated attempting to negotiate with insurance companies for a fair and just settlement for your damages and losses. Contacting an experienced San Diego car accidents attorney can help ensure your legal rights are protected and you receive the compensation you deserve.
Learn more about car accident injury claims by consulting the information below, then contact Kenneth M. Sigelman & Associates today to discuss your case with the best car accident lawyer in San Diego. As a trained medical doctor and an award-winning trial lawyer, Ken’s background combines in-depth knowledge of the medical field with superior litigation prowess. This unique skillset gives him the ability to fight for you with both medical and legal expertise, a strategic approach that few other California personal injury attorneys offer.
Our expert team of San Diego auto accident lawyers has over 70 years of combined experience delivering successful outcomes to our clients and can provide you with compassionate representation while aggressively advocating on your behalf.
How Does Car Accident Law Work in California?
The state of California has a range of laws that outline the criteria for filing personal injury claims, the types of damages that are available, and the process of navigating insurance claims. Vehicle owners are financially responsible for any car accident they experience and must adhere to certain insurance and reporting requirements.
All drivers must maintain a minimum of 15/30/5 insurance, which offers coverage up to $15,000 for the injuries or death of one individual, $30,000 for the injuries or deaths of multiple individuals, and $5,000 for damage to property. Drivers must have proof of insurance available to show officers in the event of an accident, and failure to do so can result in fines or driver’s license suspension. Additionally, insurance companies must offer uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage and underinsured coverage to cover any injuries or property damage.
Motorists who become involved in a car accident have the legal obligation to stop their vehicles immediately, check other vehicle occupants or pedestrians for injuries, provide first aid if needed, and exchange information with the other vehicle’s driver. If any victims received injuries or died due to their injuries within 24 hours of the accident, the driver must also submit an accident report to California Highway Patrol or the local police department. Any accident leading to injury, death, or property damage over $750,000 must be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days.
Which Injuries Are Most Common in Car Accidents?
The injuries described below are frequently sustained in car accidents. If you receive any of these injuries, your San Diego car accidents attorney may pursue compensation for you.
- Broken Bones – During a car accident, you can receive broken bones in a variety of ways from the rapid force of the collision. You may be forcefully flung against your seatbelts, completely ejected from the vehicle if not wearing a seatbelt, struck by airbags or other objects around inside of the vehicle, or injured when trying to brace yourself. Commonly broken bones include the skull, facial bones, clavicle, sternum, ribs, pelvic bones, fibula and femur bones of the leg, and vertebrae.
- Internal Bleeding – Due to broken bones or other objects puncturing your internal organs during a car accident, you can experience organ damage and life-threatening internal bleeding. During high-speed accidents, victims can suffer damaged kidneys, ruptured spleens, liver lacerations, or punctured lungs, most of which are deadly without emergency surgical procedures. Intense compression of your stomach can also lead to an abdominal aorta aneurysm, an often-fatal injury.
- Concussions and Other Traumatic Brain Injuries – Striking your head on the dashboard, door, or other parts of the vehicle interior can cause a concussion, when a sudden, rapid movement of your head forces your brain to bounce or twist within your skull. Depending on the extent of the damage, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can involve temporary symptoms while more severe injuries can require long-term hospitalization and ongoing medical treatment. If you survive the injury, you face a range of physical complications, issues with cognition and intellectual functioning, emotional and behavioral changes, and altered states of consciousness, such as coma or brain death.
- Whiplash and Other Neck and Back Injuries – Typically caused by rear end collisions, whiplash involves muscle and ligament strains in the neck from rapid, forceful movement forward and backward. This condition usually resolves in a few weeks but can lead to chronic pain and complications that last for years. Other neck and back injuries include ruptured or herniated discs in the spine, lumbar sprains, facet joint injuries, damage to the lumbar or thoracic regions of the spine, and spinal stenosis, a progressive condition that requires prompt medical attention.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – While PTSD is most often associated with veterans, the American Psychological Association found that car accidents are the number one cause of PTSD in non-military individuals. This anxiety disorder can produce a spectrum of symptoms, from aversion to certain images or sounds and sleeping problems to auditory hallucinations or urges to harm yourself or others. Recovering from this disorder involves a long-term, comprehensive treatment plan consisting of medication, therapy, or both.
What Does a Car Accident Attorney Do?
If you sustained injuries from a car accident, hiring the services of an experienced San Diego car accidents attorney is the best step you can take to ensure you receive the best possible results for your personal injury claim. While the specific details and complexity of your case dictate the actions your attorney will take, a car accident attorney can offer the following support:
- Inform you of your legal rights and help protect them
- Offer expert legal advice based on years of training, education, and hands-on experience
- Investigate and analyze the details of your accident
- Gather evidence of the accident, such as photographs, video footage, police reports, and witness statements
- Utilize a network of investigators and experts to substantiate your claim
- Calculate losses for medical bills, lost wages, future loss of wages, property damage, and pain and suffering
- Communicate with your healthcare providers to obtain the medical information you need to prove damages
- Organize documentation of your injuries and damages, including medical reports and hospital bills
- Create and file a personal injury claim with the insurance company covering the driver who was at fault for the accident
- Ensure no statutes of limitations (deadlines) are missed, resulting in the inability to file a claim
- Present supporting evidence to prove negligence and calculate damages
- Negotiate with the insurance company to determine a fair settlement
- File a claim to seek compensation for damages if the insurance company is unwilling to negotiate or engages in dishonest tactics
- Represent you in court and advocate on your behalf during the entire process
Proving Negligence in a Car Accident Case
The main legal concept that drives every personal injury claim is negligence, or one party’s failure to use reasonable care in a given situation. When a driver fails to exercise reasonable care on the road, drives dangerously, or otherwise disregards the safety of other drivers nearby, this behavior can easily result in catastrophic injuries and expensive damages to other drivers.
The courts determine negligence by examining the circumstances of the accident and evaluating whether a reasonably cautious driver would have operated the vehicle in the same manner under those circumstances. To prove negligence in the state of California, an attorney must prove each of four necessary elements:
- The other motorist had a duty to operate their motor vehicle safely. They must reasonably anticipate potential hazards and drive in a manner that avoids collisions or harm to others. In addition, the motorist must remain aware of the damages neglecting this duty could cause and minimize the risk of harm.
- The motorist who caused the car accident breached this duty. Actions like distracted driving, reckless driving, and failure to abide by traffic laws can constitute a breach of duty. Failures to act or prevent a potential car accident because of poor road or weather conditions may also constitute a breach of duty.
- The motorist’s actions that breached their duty of safety caused the car accident in question.
- The car accident caused by the other motorist directly caused your specific property damages, injuries, and/or other losses.
California is classified as a pure comparative negligence state, meaning that fault for an accident and its associated damages can be distributed among multiple parties. In fact, drivers receiving 99% of the fault for an accident can still claim damages for the remaining 1% caused by the other drivers involved. For example, if state courts award you damages of $10,000 but also determine that you were 30% at fault for the accident, your award is reduced to $7,000. These circumstances mean that proving negligence by the other driver is especially critical.
What Is Considered Negligence?
Negligence for car accident claims can involve numerous driver actions or failures to act, including:
- Distracted driving, such as texting, talking, eating, adjusting the radio, or entering information into a GPS.
- Fatigued driving or falling asleep at the wheel.
- Traveling at excessive speeds that cause a safety hazard to the public.
- Failure to appropriately modify driving behavior for poor road conditions, such as potholes or construction obstacles.
- Failure to pay attention and slow down during extreme weather conditions that affect the surface of the road, limit visibility, and reduce stopping time.
- Failure to obey traffic laws, signs, or lights.
- Neglecting to maintain a safe following distance.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other controlled substances.
The purpose of a personal injury claim is to hold a negligent party accountable for the damages they cause. If you know that another party is responsible for the auto accident you recently experienced, San Diego auto accident lawyers can help you hold that party accountable and obtain the compensation you need to recover. Your attorney will help you positively identify the party or parties responsible for your damages, gather the evidence you need to establish the full extent of the injuries and damages you suffered, and assemble the evidence and expert witness testimony required to prove the at-fault party violated their duty of care on the road.
Calculating Damages in a Car Accident Case
The personal injury laws in the state of California allow a plaintiff to claim compensation for any and all damages resulting from another party’s negligence. Some of the potential damages a plaintiff can recover with help from a San Diego car accidents attorney comprise both economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages include:
- The cost of repairing damages to the victim’s vehicle or replacing the vehicle if it is not salvageable.
- Repayment of medical bills resulting from the accident, including emergency care services, surgical procedures, rehabilitative treatment, prescription medication, and assistive devices like wheelchairs.
- Cost of future medical treatment, such as additional surgeries or physical therapy.
- Lost wages from time spent out of work due to injuries.
- Lost employment or lost employment opportunities.
- Loss of future earning capacity, including the inability to reenter the industry or position you worked in before sustaining your injuries.
- Burial and funeral expenses if injuries result in a fatality.
Non-economic damages include:
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Mental or emotional distress or anguish.
- Disfigurement or disability negatively impacting the victim’s quality of life.
- Loss of reputation, including personal and/or professional reputation.
- Loss of society and companionship normally available to surviving spouses and children.
- Loss of consortium, which consists of the love, comfort, affection, sexual relations, and other aspects of a relationship affected by the injuries.
Negotiating with Insurance Companies
Auto accidents in the Redlands area also often bring up the question of automotive insurance. This coverage exists in countless forms from many different carriers. Typically, an at-fault driver’s insurance company will be responsible for paying for damages a policyholder caused. Many drivers believe that if an accident occurs, their auto insurance will handle the resulting damages, but this is often not the case.
The auto insurance system exists to offset the financial burden that auto accidents cause. Unfortunately, many drivers encounter difficulties when it comes to navigating the insurance claims process. Their claim may involve damages not covered by their policies, or an insurance company may simply prove to be very difficult when it comes to negotiating a settlement amount. Additionally, even if an insurance company agrees to a settlement to the upper limit of an at-fault driver’s policy, there is no guarantee the full policy coverage amount will be sufficient to compensate the victim’s total damages.
Unfortunately, insurance companies typically attempt to limit the amount of liability and compensation they pay to victims of car accidents. They will never prioritize a victim’s best interests, but instead focus on trying to reduce your claim, minimize the compensation you receive, or dismiss your claim altogether. An experienced San Diego car accidents attorney understands that insurance companies sometimes implement a variety of dishonest, manipulative tactics and knows how to fight back against them. Common tactics include:
- Trying to obtain all medical records of a victim, instead of ones that only pertain to the accident, to identify pre-existing conditions that would remove their responsibility to pay a fair settlement.
- Recording conversations with victims and attempting to use their words against them to offer lower settlement amounts.
- Intentionally delaying car insurance claims simply to frustrate the victim into accepting a lower settlement than they deserve.
- Waiting so long to respond to communications that the victim misses the statute of limitations deadline to file a claim in court, which effectively prevents them from receiving any form of compensation for their injuries.
How Is Pain and Suffering Valued?
California law does not feature a set formula to calculate a car accident victim’s pain and suffering, but it requires the victim to present compelling evidence that they have sustained this harm or are reasonably certain to suffer harm in the future. Your San Diego car accidents attorney will investigate your case and organize the evidence. Then, the court will review this evidence and employ common sense to choose a reasonable award for your damages. The value calculated for pain and suffering compensation depends on several factors, primarily:
- The extent of the victim’s economic losses.
- The severity of the physical injuries sustained from the accident.
- The intentional or reckless nature of the defendant’s actions.
- The strength of the supporting evidence provided by the victim.
- The skill and experience of both parties’ attorneys.
Your San Diego auto accident lawyers will evaluate a broad range of evidence when preparing your personal injury claim, including:
- Medical records, such as lab test results, X-rays, and other evidence of injury and/or treatment.
- Notes from treating doctors or therapists.
- Photographic proof of the physical injury.
- Photos or videos that demonstrate the victim’s activity level before the injury and how it has reduced or ceased after the injury.
- Sworn testimony from friends, family members, and coworkers.
- Records of lost work time due to the injury.
- Sworn testimony or records from the victim’s workplace that show differences in job functioning before and after injury.
- Expert testimony involving medical suffering, loss of earning capacity, or any other relevant effects of the accident.
The law does not require you to seek mental health treatment to receive damages for pain and suffering, but your chances of a successful outcome in your case increase significantly if you have received a formal diagnosis from a mental health professional. Common mental health disorders resulting from car accidents include anxiety, depression, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In some cases of negligence involving willful or reckless infliction of emotional distress, physical injuries may not exist. Under California law, it is not necessary to sustain a physical injury to recover compensation for pain and suffering damages. However, you will be more likely to receive a damage award if you suffered a physical injury in addition to any of the following:
- Permanent loss of function or disfigurement
- High medical costs
- Injuries verifiable by objective diagnostic criteria
- Recovery that was difficult and/or took or is expected to take a lengthy amount of time
How Long Do Auto Accident Settlements Take?
There is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the outcome of the claim and the length of each step involved in the process can vary widely depending on the circumstances of the accident. The majority of personal injury claims for car accidents settle outside of court via negotiations between a San Diego car accidents attorney and the defendant’s insurance company. The typical process of an auto accident settlement is outlined below, accompanied by estimated timeframes.
- The victim hires a personal injury lawyer and files their claim.
- The victim serves a copy of the complaint to the defendant. This generally takes a few weeks but can last several months if it is especially difficult to locate the defendant.
- The defendant officially responds to the complaint. Different courts require different statutes of limitations, but the defendant usually has one month to file their response to the complaint.
- The discovery process begins, during which both parties request and exchange information that may serve as evidence for the claim. Discovery requires a minimum of a few months but can sometimes take a year or more depending on the complexity of the case.
- The victim’s attorney will attempt to negotiate a settlement with the defendant’s insurance company. If the insurance company refuses to negotiate or is unwilling to agree on a fair settlement amount, the claim proceeds to trial, which normally takes only a day or two to conclude.
- If either party is dissatisfied with the results of the trial, they can appeal the decision with the court. A contested verdict can undergo several sets of appeals, with even one level lengthening the case by up to several years.
From the filing of the claim to the conclusion of the case, a car accident claim takes a minimum of one year, assuming it leads to a trial and does not involve any appeals. A case can settle almost immediately following the filing of the complaint, after the trial concludes, or at any point throughout the process. If both sides agree on the nature and extent of the victim’s damages, the case is likely to reach a settlement after deposition. The majority of settlements occur between discovery and the initiation of the trial, meaning most cases will settle between a few months to a few years after the claim’s filing.
Is It Worth It to Get a Lawyer for a Car Accident?
As demonstrated in the information provided above, car accident claims can be extremely complex, difficult, and overwhelming to handle. Your best chance at receiving compensation for damages you incurred due to injuries sustained in a car accident is to immediately retain the services of a San Diego car accidents attorney. Hiring an attorney can not only make it easier to navigate complicated and frustrating insurance claim processes, but also obtain recovery beyond what an insurance company might provide. Connect with a reliable and experienced attorney to maximize your chances of successfully obtaining compensation for your injuries and damages.
Why Hire the Legal Team of Kenneth M. Sigelman & Associates?
Finding the right San Diego car accidents attorney can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of a personal injury claim for a car accident. Ken Sigelman, a licensed physician as well as an award-winning trial lawyer, has had an exceptional record of verdicts, settlements, and arbitration awards. His wide-ranging experience gives him a unique perspective on car accident claims and a depth of understanding of the resulting medical issues that few attorneys can match. For decades, our team has been recognized as the best car accident lawyer in San Diego, and we are ready to put our experience to work for you.
If you sustained serious injuries from a car accident that was not your fault, contact Kenneth M. Sigelman & Associates immediately to learn more about your options for legal recourse. We understand how hard it can be to handle the aftermath of a car accident, especially one that causes injuries that leave you unable to return to work or handle daily tasks, so we work diligently and efficiently to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Our expert legal team will fully investigate the breadth of the medical complications you face and help you secure fair compensation for all your damages.
Contact our experienced and compassionate car accident attorneys at 866-971-8956 or submit the form on our website to schedule a free consultation. Whether you sustained injuries in a hit-and-run in Redlands or in a fender-bender caused by another driver’s negligence in San Bernardino County, California, our legal team can help you receive justice and fair compensation for your injuries.