As a California driver, you know that you’re legally required to carry car insurance, but if you’ve never been in an accident, you may not understand how the claims process works. How do you file a claim after a car accident? What compensation is available? When can you expect to be paid?
At the Kuvara Law Firm, we’ve helped many injured clients receive the financial settlement or award they need to rebuild after a serious car accident. In this blog, we explain the insurance claims process so that you have a reasonable idea of what to expect when you go to file a claim.
- Filing a California Car Accident Claim
- Compensation in a California Car Accident Claim
- Timeline for Receiving Your Payout / Settlement
- Get Experienced and Assertive Car Accident Representation
Filing a California Car Accident Claim
In order to file a car insurance claim in California, you must notify your insurer about the accident as soon as possible. You can make a claim by calling the telephone number listed on the insurance card of the policy holder. You can also file a claim online through the insurer’s website or mobile app.
Regardless of whether or not you have insurance, you may want to retain a car accident lawyer as soon as you know you’ve sustained injuries. In some cases, you’ll know right away, while other times, it takes a thorough medical examination to detect injuries that don’t immediately display symptoms.
An Insurance Adjuster Will Contact You
You’ll hear from an insurance adjuster within 15 days after the company receives notice of your claim. Usually, they’ll call you, but you might receive a letter or email. Regardless of the contact method, they will ask you to make a statement as part of their process for assigning fault and determining damages.
What you need to remember is that auto insurance companies are like any other business- their goal is to protect their bottom line, and they do that by paying as little compensation as possible. Even a benign comment like “I’m feeling fine” can be used later on to downplay the value of your claim.
An experienced California personal injury lawyer will help you preserve your right to maximum compensation. They will assume responsibility for providing the adjuster with the evidence they need, which may include:
- Your claim form
- Your medical bills
- Medical reports
- Evidence supporting your claim for lost wages and/or lost earning capacity
- Statements from the at-fault driver and any eyewitnesses
- Photos of the accident scene
- Damage reports for your car from an auto repair shop
The Initial Offer
Following an investigation, the adjuster usually makes a settlement offer. Sometimes the amount is fair compensation for your damages, but a lot of insurance companies make a lowball offer to begin with. They may be hoping that you’re desperate enough to grasp at any initial offer, or they may be hoping to limit the company’s exposure if you’re still undergoing medical treatment. Regardless of the reason, a personal injury attorney can step in and work to negotiate a more favorable amount.
Negotiation is the most important part of a car insurance claim. In this step, your lawyer declines the initial settlement offer and presents the evidence justifying the requested amount. Sometimes the adjuster will be eager to bring the case to a quick resolution and agree, but occasionally you may have to file a lawsuit for the money you need. It should be noted that comparatively few personal injury cases make it to court: even if a lawsuit is initiated, the matter can be settled before the court date.
The Settlement Agreement
Upon coming to an agreement with the adjuster, you will be asked to sign a settlement agreement. Ensure that you read and understand the settlement agreement since it is a complete and final settlement of your claim.
By signing a settlement agreement, you waive your right to sue, even if you later discover that you were injured more seriously than you originally thought or your car needs further repair. This is one of the reasons why you should work with a personal injury lawyer: without an experienced advocate who knows how to value your claim, you could end up receiving a lot less than what you need to recover.
Compensation in a California Car Accident Claim
You can cover both economic and non-economic damages in a California personal injury claim.
Economic damages are determined by the actual costs that you incurred as a result of your accident, which includes:
- Medical treatment (includes prescription medications and assistive or medical devices)
- Rehabilitative therapy, such as physio
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earnings
- Property damage
Non-economic damages do not have a specific dollar amount. They include but are not limited to:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
California requires all vehicles registered in the state to have a minimum of 15/30/5 coverage:
- $15,000 in liability insurance for injuries to a single person in a single accident
- $30,000 overall liability for injuries to multiple people in a single accident
- $5,000 for property damage
Higher limits can be purchased for an increased premium.
If your damages exceed these limits, your personal injury lawyer at the Kuvara Law Firm will help you pursue additional avenues for compensation.
Timeline for Receiving Your Payout / Settlement
California law requires insurance companies to open a good faith investigation within 15 days of being notified of a claim. The insurer must accept or deny the claim within 40 days after it has been proven, meaning that you’ve established your right to financial recovery and the amount you are entitled to.
All major insurers indicate their payment recovery timelines on their websites. With GEICO, the average published timeline is six months. USAA states that more complex claims may take ‘weeks.’ It is important to note that these are all educated guesses and not guarantees.
How soon you receive your claim payout or settlement will depend on a variety of factors. The most significant variables are outlined below.
Determination of Liability
Things can get tricky if there is some question about who was at fault for the collision. If more than two parties are at fault, then this question is even more important, as they need to be assigned a degree of liability under California’s comparative negligence rules. If liability can be determined at the onset, claims will be resolved more quickly.
If there is no clear evidence as to who was at fault, reaching a settlement is more difficult and will therefore take more time. In order to establish liability, your attorney must hire experts to examine the scene of the collision, the vehicles involved, and other factors.
The Severity of Your Injuries
The process may take more time than normal if there are significant injuries because the long-term impact of the injuries will need to be evaluated. Your attorney will want to wait until the full extent and impact of your injuries are known, along with the treatment you will need.
For example, having a long-term injury that permanently impairs your life may lead to a lawsuit for major damages. Knowing the extent of your injuries and what you can expect in medical costs will help your lawyer to better prepare for settlement negotiations.
In general, if you are seeking a high amount of compensation and the insurance company does not believe your injuries warrant it, the case is unlikely to settle and may have to proceed to trial. Insurers usually strive to minimize payouts in order to protect profits, even if it means going from negotiation to litigation.
When your lawyer cannot reach an out-of-court settlement, they will have to file a lawsuit and pursue the case in court. The civil litigation process is notorious for its lengthy delays. Hearings and meetings may be scheduled weeks or months in advance. It might be a long time before the case is finally tried in court, but your attorney will continue advocating for you, and it’s always possible that the insurer will finally settle before the first court date.
Do I Need to Notify the California DMV After My Accident?
Under California law, you must notify the DMV within 10 days of an automobile accident if
- Anyone was injured (no matter how slightly) or killed in the collision or;
- There was property damage valued at more than $1,000
Contacting the DMV is not the same thing as notifying your auto insurer about the collision: you still need to reach out to them separately. If you don’t submit a report on an SR-1 form within the required time frame, your driver’s license could be suspended for up to one year.
What if I Was At Fault?
As of now, California follows a system of comparative negligence to award damages to victims of car crashes and other torts. Comparative negligence refers to a method of determining the relative liability of defendants and the damages available to victims. A pure comparative negligence jurisdiction holds every defendant liable only for their proportion of fault.
What this means is that you can still recover damages even if you were partly to blame for the accident, but your compensation will be reduced in accordance with your assigned degree of fault. For example, if you are awarded $50,000 but found to be 40% at fault, you will receive $30,000 instead.
Even if you are 100% liable, certain types of insurance policies, such as collision insurance or MedPay, cover damages without regard to fault. Your personal injury lawyer can explain how this process works and how you should proceed with making a claim.
What if I Don’t Have Insurance?
If you don’t have insurance, you can file a claim with the other party’s auto insurance provider if you were not totally at fault for the accident. However, there is a limit to the amount of compensation you can recover. Specifically, you can seek economic damages from the other driver’s policy (for example, medical bills) but you can’t be compensated for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or loss of quality of life.
You might want to take a look at whether you really were uninsured at the time of the accident. You may not maintain an auto insurance policy, but if you were driving someone else’s car with their permission, you are covered by their insurance. In other words, if you are borrowing your sister’s car and you have an accident, her car insurance may be able to pay for the damages you cause.
How Long Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
For personal injury cases in California, the statute of limitations allows you two years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit against those at fault. If you do not file a personal injury suit within this two-year period, the court will likely refuse to hear your case in the future, and you will lose your right to seek compensation.
If your claim is against a city, county, or state government agency, the time limit for an injury claim is only six months, so if you were hit by a postal truck or another government vehicle, you will need to act more quickly.
Get Experienced and Assertive Car Accident Representation
At Kuvara Law, we help car accident victims and their families receive the compensation they deserve after an accident. We will protect your rights and refuse to accept anything less than what you need to recover personally and financially from your injuries. Initial consultations are free and we never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule an appointment with a San Rafael car accident lawyer, call us today at 415-479-7070 or fill out our online contact form.