How to Get Reimbursed in California After an Accident?
Getting into a car accident comes with a wide range of financial, physical, and emotional costs. While the collision is over in seconds, the consequences can last for months or even years.
In California, compensation for your medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and other costs varies based on different factors. The most important factor is whether you were at fault for causing the accident and what type of coverage is available under your car insurance policy.
Navigating the claims process can be stressful, especially if you’re recovering from injuries caused by the crash, but there are many steps you can take to protect your legal rights.
A California car accident attorney can evaluate your unique situation and provide advice for getting fair compensation.
California Follows Pure Comparative Negligence for Car Accidents
In California, car accident claims resolve under an at-fault system wherein victims get compensation by filing a claim under the at-fault driver’s insurance policy. For this reason, California drivers must have liability coverage as part of their car insurance policy. When a driver is at-fault for causing a collision, liability insurance protects both sides from a financial catastrophe.
The minimum amount of liability protection needed under the law is:
- $15,000 for injuries to one person
- $30,000 for injuries to more than one person
- $5,000 for property damage
Pursuing Compensation From The At-Fault Driver After An Accident
If another driver injured you in an accident, seeking compensation usually begins by filing a “third party” claim under the at-fault driver’s insurance policy.
Recovering a fair amount that covers your damages depends on proving two points:
- If the other driver’s negligence led to the collision
- If you’ve sustained specific losses as a result of this negligence
Insurance adjusters have one goal as they evaluate claims: to pay as little as possible. They will actively look for ways to either lower their client’s liability burden or downplay the extent of your damages.
In the days and weeks after the collision, car accident victims can expect to be contacted by the at-fault driver’s insurer with a lowball offer, and they may feel pressure to sign away their rights to pursue further action. It’s critical to avoid signing anything until you’ve spoken to an attorney that can help you determine the full value of your claim.
Working with a skilled California car accident lawyer ensures your interests are protected. With an attorney managing your claim, the steps for getting compensation after a car accident will include:
Step 1: Investigating the crash
When fault is up for dispute, every detail might prove how the accident unfolded and the harm it caused. Your attorney will establish liability by reviewing all available evidence, including the police report, witness statements, physical evidence from the accident scene, and accident reconstruction specialists’ testimony. The attorney will also document all your damages from the accident through hospital bills, vehicle damage, and lost income from your inability to work.
Step 2: Crafting a Demand Letter
Your attorney will begin the negotiation process by sending the at-fault party’s insurer a demand letter with evidence of the crash, the extent of your economic and non-economic losses, and a fair settlement amount that you are willing to accept.
Step 3: Negotiate a settlement
Most car accident claims in California do reach a settlement agreement, but there’s likely to be a back and forth of counteroffers before agreeing to a fair amount. The insurer will present arguments to dispute elements of your case, and it will be up to your attorney to respond with solid evidence. If the negotiation process fails, the last resort is filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver to resolve the claim in court.
Pursuing Compensation From Your Own Insurance Company After An Accident
If you’re assigned most of the blame for causing a car accident, or if the at-fault driver doesn’t have sufficient insurance, the wisest recourse for compensation is your insurer. Depending on the kind of coverage you’ve purchased, your insurance company can provide considerable relief from the financial burden of the accident.
Even in scenarios where the at-fault driver’s insurance covers most of your damages, it’s common to file a claim with your insurer to help you fill in the financial gaps throughout the settlement negotiating process. Providing this form of assistance is the very reason car insurance policies exist.
Getting compensation from your policy is called filing a first-party claim. Dealing with your insurer isn’t as contentious as pursuing damages from the at-fault driver after an accident with disputed liability, but it’s not necessarily smooth sailing.
Policyholders must still prove their damages and may still have to negotiate for a reasonable settlement amount. Insurance companies always try to protect their bottom line, which means you still benefit from having an attorney protecting your interests throughout the claims process. The steps for getting compensation from your insurer after an accident include:
Step 1: Provide notification of the accident
Notify your insurance company that you’ve had an accident promptly since failure to do so may jeopardize your claim. You must provide detailed information about the accident and its aftermath, including documentation about your injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, and other financial losses. First-party claims require an investigation process, and you will provide a statement under oath.
Step 2: Understand the terms of your policy
After the investigation, your insurer will calculate the value of your car accident claim and the type of coverage you’re eligible to receive. California drivers have access to various insurance options that offer variable amounts of protection. Ultimately, your plan terms will affect your covered damages.
First-party claims require policyholders to pay their deductible amount before tapping into their policy benefits. If you weren’t at fault for causing the accident, you may recover the deductible costs via a refund process called abrogation.
The terms of your policy may include:
- Collision coverage: This basic form of protection is in all plans to cover repairs for physical damage your car sustained during the collision, up to the limits of your policy.
- Medical coverage: Many California insurers offer MedPay, an optional form of coverage for medical bills, typically up to $5,000, although it can be higher for your plan
- Underinsured motorist coverage: When the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance, or the cost of your damages exceeds the funds available, this optional type of insurance can provide compensation.
Step 3: Negotiate the Settlement
When you pay into an insurance policy, you believe that it will be there for you if you ever need it. Unfortunately, first-party claims commonly receive a settlement offer that doesn’t adequately cover the policyholder’s damages or maximize the available funds for that plan. If the insurer denies your claim or issues a low offer, you may negotiate or file suit. In that case, the insurer may ask you to provide more evidence of your injuries or solidify other case elements.
Improve the Odds of Getting Your Expenses Covered After a Car Accident
Whether you pursue damages from the at-fault driver, filing a first-party claim with your insurer, or some combination of the two, getting compensation after a car accident can create stress and entail complicated procedures. This challenge is especially true after a severe crash that leaves you with significant injuries, medical bills, and property damage. However, there are many steps you can take to strengthen your case, maximize the value of your claim, and protect your legal rights. These strategies include:
Seek the appropriate medical care for your injuries
The main reason to get medical attention is for your health, but medical documentation will also support your claim during your case investigation. Not seeing a doctor, waiting a long time to get care, or not following through with treatments will likely work against you. Don’t miss any medical care appointments and follow your doctor’s advice to the letter.
Keep track of all your economic damages
Getting adequate compensation will depend on providing enough proof to support your claim. You should maintain careful records of all your financial costs related to the accident, such as hospital bills, medication expenses, vehicle repair estimates, and rental care receipts. Document lost income from any period when you could not work because of your injuries. The more evidence of the financial effects you’ve suffered, the better.
Keep track of all non-economic damages
Along with the financial costs of an accident, your compensation claim can also include intangible damages. The physical and emotional toll of being in a crash may include pain and suffering, trauma, stress, and a decreased quality of life. It helps to write a journal about your recovery experience after the accident to bolster the non-economic damages in your claim.
Don’t accept a settlement offer without speaking to an attorney
After being in a car accident, you may deal with intense financial pressure, making it tempting to accept the first settlement offer even if it’s not adequate. If you don’t have an attorney handling your claim and evaluating the terms of your settlement, you may end up leaving a lot of money on the table and not getting your damages covered.
How an Attorney Can Help You Recover Compensation After a Car Accident
In California, pursuing compensation for your damages from an accident can take time, but you don’t have to navigate it alone. Insurance companies require a mountain of complicated paperwork and generally won’t make it easy to recover a fair settlement offer.
An attorney specializing in car accident claims will have detailed knowledge of the insurance code, extensive experience dealing with insurers, and the skills to help you maximize your claim. Your lawyer will investigate the circumstances of the accident, assess the value of your economic and non-economic damages, gather evidence to support your case, and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. Contact us to begin your process with one of our experienced lawyers.