Can You Sue in California For A Car Accident if You Are Not Hurt?

California is an at-fault state for car accident claims. Drivers are required to carry minimum amounts of liability insurance for car accidents. If a driver causes a car crash, they could be personally liable for damages caused by the wreck if they do not have sufficient insurance to cover the damages.

Car accident victims generally have the right to sue the at-fault driver for damages. Damages include property damages, economic damages, and noneconomic damages. Punitive damages may be available in some cases, but it is rare to recover them in a car accident case.

What Must You Prove to Recover Compensation if You Sue for a Car Accident?

You have the burden of proving the elements of negligence to recover compensation for your damages. 

The elements of negligence are:

  • Duty
  • Breach of Duty
  • Causation
  • Damages

You must prove that the other driver owed you a duty of care and breached the duty. Then you must prove that the breach was a direct and proximate cause of your injuries, and you sustained damages because of the accident.

Personal injury damages in a car accident claim may include:

  • The cost of medical treatment and care
  • Cost of personal care
  • Loss of income and benefits, including future lost wages and decreases in earning potential
  • Pain and suffering damages, including mental trauma, anguish, emotional distress, and physical discomfort
  • Decreased quality of life and loss of enjoyment of life
  • Scarring, disabilities, permanent impairment, and disfigurements
  • Psychological injuries

Property damage is a separate claim from personal injury damages.

What if I Did Not Sustain Injuries in the Car Accident?

If you did not sustain injuries, you might only have a property damage claim. Most property damage claims are settled without lawsuits. 

The only time that you might need to sue would be if the insurance company denied liability for the accident. In that case, you might need to initiate a lawsuit to prove that the other driver caused the crash, entitling you to compensation for damage to your vehicle.

Depending on the amount of damage, it may or may not be worth filing a lawsuit for a property damage claim. There could be other alternatives to a lawsuit. It would be wise to discuss your case with an accident lawyer to learn about your options for a property damage claim.

What If I Suffered Emotional Distress But I Did Not Sustain Physical Injuries?

An accident victim may experience emotional distress after a car crash with or without a physical injury. 

Examples of emotional distress include, but are not limited to:

  • Mental anguish
  • Emotional trauma
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Night terrors
  • Flashbacks
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Sleep disturbances

Serious emotional distress could be debilitating and require mental health care. Severe cases of emotional distress could result in lost time from work and the inability to perform daily activities.

Many states require that a person sustain physical injuries to sue for emotional distress. It is presumed that when you sustain physical injuries, you also experience emotional distress. However, California does not. So, you could sue for emotional distress after a car accident, even if you were not physically injured.

Filing a Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim

Under a Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED) claim, you must prove:

  • The other driver was negligent; 
  • You sustained severe emotional distress because of the accident; and
  • The other driver’s negligence conduct was the direct cause of your emotional distress

You must have sustained “serious” emotional distress to recover compensation. Proving you sustained serious emotional distress can be challenging when you did not sustain any physical injury. 

A jury must find that the other driver acted negligently, and the crash resulted from that negligence. If so, the next question for the jury to decide is whether a reasonable person under similar circumstances would be able to cope with the mental and emotional stresses of being involved in the car crash.

A “reasonable person” is a hypothetical person. It is up to the jury to decide based on the facts of the case what a reasonable person would experience. If they find that a reasonable person would experience serious emotional distress because of the circumstances of the accident, they might award you compensation for your emotional distress.

Always Seek Medical Treatment After an Accident

It is generally in a victim’s best interest to see a doctor after a car crash. They could have minor injuries or even a serious injury that they are unaware of until a few hours or days after the accident. Reporting symptoms and seeking treatment create a medical record and evidence.

It is not impossible to recover compensation for emotional damages without an injury, but it can be challenging. If you experience emotional distress after a car wreck, talk with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your rights and options.