After a car accident, the parties involved investigate who was at fault for causing it. The extent to which fault will impact your ability to recover compensation depends, in part, on whether you live in a “no-fault” state or an “at-fault” state. In no-fault states, parties first seek compensation for injuries from their insurance. This drastically changes the insurance recovery process. However, California is an at-fault state, not a no-fault state for car accidents.
Difference Between At-Fault and No-Fault Laws
The main difference between how at-fault laws work and how no-fault laws work is insurance. You seek compensation first from your personal injury protection (PIP) insurance in a no-fault state. You seek compensation from the at-fault party’s insurance in an at-fault state.
No-fault states have higher insurance premiums because adding PIP coverage is generally more expensive than just having basic liability insurance since it covers far more possible harms that can befall you in a car accident. On the other hand, at-fault states like California provide much more legal freedom to sue for damages and hold the at-fault party directly responsible for the injuries that you suffer.
How No-Fault Laws Work
There are currently 12 states in the U.S. that are no-fault, and California is not one of them. No-fault car accident laws ensure that everyone injured in an accident can get basic compensation without first determining fault. The legislature requires drivers to carry PIP coverage. Personal injury protection insurance covers medical costs, and sometimes other economic damages, up to the policy limits. Some states have minimal policy minimums. For example, in Florida, PIP insurance covers only up to $10,000, which has been unchanged since 1979.
Pros of no-fault insurance
The benefits of having PIP insurance are that it lessens possible litigation costs and provides an immediate source of money to pay for damages. PIP insurance provides flexibility and more timely payment of money for injuries you suffer. Additionally, if you carry PIP insurance, you are protected, up to a certain point, from most lawsuits by other drivers if you are at fault. A no-fault system doesn’t mean there is no blame placed on drivers for negligence at all. No-fault state lawsuits are less common because of PIP coverage.
Cons of no-fault insurance
The negative side of no-fault insurance is that your ability to sue an at-fault party for damages is limited. Typically, you can sue an at-fault party only if your damages exceed a certain amount or a certain level of seriousness. For example, New York, a no-fault state, requires drivers to carry minimum PIP insurance of $50,000. You cannot sue unless your damages exceed this threshold. Additionally, you can sue an at-fault driver for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, only if you sustained a “serious injury” in the car accident. Individuals cannot sue other parties for damages unless they meet each no-fault state’s specific standards in its laws. Therefore, no-fault states somewhat protect drivers who are at fault for causing car accidents.
The higher cost of no-fault insurance creates a second negative. No-fault states represent some of the highest car insurance premiums in the nation, with two no-fault states, Florida and Michigan, being in the top three most expensive states. This is because PIP insurance is usually more expensive than basic liability insurance because it covers more liabilities.
How At-Fault Laws Work
The remaining 38 states of the U.S., including California, are at-fault states for car accidents. As opposed to no-fault states, at-fault states have a system of laws that fully enables individuals to pursue legal claims against at-fault drivers.
California drivers carry basic liability car insurance because it is required by statute. This insurance helps pay for damages caused to another driver in an accident. In an at-fault system, you can seek your total damages against an at-fault driver’s insurance up to the limits of the driver’s policy. If the policy is inadequate to cover your injuries, you have the option to sue the driver directly to recover. This creates more freedom to sue and to seek more compensation.
How to Prove Fault in a California Car Accident
When an accident occurs, the police will investigate and provide an opinion on which party is at fault. Additionally, you can perform your own investigation of the scene to help determine who was at fault. You can take photographs, collect information from witnesses, and secure any other evidence at the scene. Any evidence you can collect will go a long way to helping your potential case in a lawsuit. Injured parties commonly use negligence as a legal theory in car accident cases. Negligence requires proof of the following four basic elements:
- The defendant (the at-fault driver) owed a legal duty to you;
- The at-fault driver breached their legal duty;
- You suffered actual injuries because of this, including physical injuries or financial injuries; and
- The breach was the cause of your injuries.
You must gather evidence from the police, witnesses, and your own investigations to back up your claim. Your claim won’t succeed unless you can prove all the elements of negligence. For example, if you didn’t suffer any sort of quantifiable injury in a car accident, such as a physical ailment or provable financial harm, a lawsuit wouldn’t satisfy the negligence theory even if the other driver was truly responsible for causing the accident.
Our Team Is Here to Help
If you suffer an injury in an auto vehicle accident in California, do not hesitate to reach out to the legal team at Henderson Law today. Our team has recovered over $10 million for our clients. We will listen to your story, and we know how to fight for the compensation you need for your injuries. Contact us now.