Two men exchanging insurance after a car crash

Everything You Need to Know About California’s Car Insurance System

Car insurance is complicated, especially when each state has its own method of distributing fault and insurance coverage. With so many different kinds of car insurance systems, many Californians aren’t quite sure how it works or what having more fault means for their recovery. For that reason, we’ve put together this guide explaining everything you need to know about California’s car insurance system.

Pure Contributory Negligence

California currently uses the “pure contributory negligence” system of car insurance. That means in most car crashes, each driver is assigned a percentage amount of fault, adding up to a total of 100%.

Whereas some states prevent the “at fault” driver (whoever holds more than 50% of the fault) from claiming damages, California allows both drivers to recover compensation in most cases.

However, there is an important caveat. The insurance company will reduce your appraised damages in proportion to your amount of assigned fault. That sounds complicated, but it’s fairly straightforward. Let’s look at some examples to elaborate.

Jose is in a car crash and is seriously injured. The insurance company and his attorney determine that Jose suffered $100,000 in damages. However, his settlement will be reduced according to his fault.

  • If Jose is found 0% responsible, he is awarded the full $100,000
  • If Jose is found 50% responsible, his damages are reduced to $50,000
  • If Jose is found 99% responsible for the crash, he would receive $1,000.

This system allows almost anyone to recover damages, but it raises a frightening question: How is fault determined?

Car accident insurance is a complex topic. If you need professional legal advice, speak to an attorney at Ayala, Morgan & Buzzard.

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Assigning Fault

The problem with any system of percentage-based negligence is that it is highly subjective, and even a few percentage points can have an enormous impact on your recovery, especially in cases with extensive damages.

There’s no hard science to decide whether someone should hold 36% or 38% of the fault. The insurance adjuster has guidelines that help them determine who should hold the majority of the fault, but that’s not always a reliable path to truth or justice. Not only that but assigned fault can shift significantly as new evidence comes forward.

For that reason, it’s often wise to consult an experienced car accident attorney who can negotiate for a fair fault assessment and advise you on strategies to prevent fault redistribution.

Protecting Your Recovery

When you’re severely injured, the insurance company is looking for any evidence (even circumstantial evidence) that might shift the assigned fault and justify a smaller recovery. The problem is that the bar for evidence is extremely low. In fact, we often see that it’s a client’s own words used against them that shifts the assigned fault. Here are some examples:

Recorded Statements

When you call to report your crash to the insurance company, be extremely careful about your phrasing and what you say while you’re on hold. These days, it’s not uncommon for insurance companies to record the entire call and use anything you say against you.

Phrases that seem innocent, like, “I didn’t have time to get out of the way.” could be taken to mean you weren't paying attention and therefore should receive more of the fault. More often than not, speaking to the insurance company without an attorney will only hurt your case.

Social Media

Similarly, you should be extremely careful what you post on social media. If the insurance company discovers any information related to the crash on your Facebook or Twitter, they are allowed to subpoena for access to your account where they’d also have access to your private messages and comments in private groups.

As tempting as it is to let friends and family know you’re okay after a crash, it’s wise to avoid posting anything about the accident on social media until your case is settled.

Moving Forward

As you can see, there are a lot of pitfalls to making a car insurance claim, even in California. For that reason, it’s wise to discuss your case with an experienced car accident attorney. When you hire an attorney, they’ll handle all the negotiating and paperwork, so you have a better chance at earning the full damages you need to move forward.

If you suffered severe injuries in a car crash, our team is here to help. If you’d like to schedule a free case consultation with an experienced California car accident attorney from Ayala, Morgan & Buzzard,please send us an emailor call (925) 744-8869.


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