What Happens if You Are Sued After Causing a Collision?

California is an at-fault state for car accidents. If you cause a car accident, you can be sued by the victims for damages. If you are found at fault, you could be personally liable for paying the victims for their damages.

How Long Does Someone Have to Sue Me After a Car Accident?

Each state has a statute of limitations for personal injury cases. A statute of limitations is a deadline for filing a lawsuit seeking damages after an injury.

California’s statute of limitations for car accidents is generally two years from the injury date. However, there are some exceptions to the general rule.

If a government agency is involved in a car accident, you must file a claim with that agency within six months of the car accident. Failing to file the claim with the correct agency before the deadline may result in losing your right to sue. 

Minors may have longer to file a personal injury lawsuit. Also, if an injury is not discovered right away, the deadline to file a lawsuit may differ. If the person leaves the state of California, the deadline might pause until the person returns to California.

What About Car Insurance? 

All drivers in California are required to have minimum car insurance coverage. 

The minimum car insurance requirements are:

  • $15,000 for the injury or death to one person
  • $30,000 for the injury or death to multiple people per accident
  • $5,000 for damage to another person’s property

Liability coverage compensates the victims of a car accident. It does not compensate you for your damages.

If someone sues you for causing a car accident, your insurance company generally retains an attorney to handle the lawsuit. However, the insurance company is only liable up to your policy limits. 

Therefore, if you have minimum insurance coverage, you would be responsible for any amount awarded to the victim above $15,000. California allows wage garnishments for civil court judgments. The court could grant a wage garnishment request by the victim to withhold part of your wages to pay the judgment. 

It is always wise to discuss coverage limits with your insurance agent. You can purchase higher coverage limits to protect yourself and your property if you cause a car accident.

What if I Am Only Partially at Fault for the Cause of the Collision?

Never assume that you are at fault for a car accident until you speak with a personal injury lawyer. A police officer might state that you are at fault, but the police officer’s opinion is not always correct. There could be other factors that the officer is not aware of or did not investigate.

A car accident lawyer investigates to determine how the accident occurred. If you were not entirely at fault for the collision, you might only be liable for a portion of the victim’s damages. In some cases, you could receive money for your damages.

California uses a pure comparative negligence standard to assign damages for a personal injury claim. Under this legal standard, fault is assigned to each party for their contributions to the accident, if any. Each party could be equally at fault for the cause of a crash, or one person may be slightly more at fault for the cause of the wreck.

For example, say your car accident occurred at an intersection. You turned left in front of the other car. At first, it appears that you are entirely at fault for the cause of the accident.

However, an investigation determines that the other driver was going 15 miles over the posted speed limit at the time of the accident. The fact the other driver was speeding could have contributed to the cause of the accident. 

A jury may find that you were 60 percent at fault and the other driver was 40 percent at fault. If that is the case, you would only be liable for 60 percent of the other driver’s damages. You could even file a counterclaim seeking 40 percent of your damages.

Never admit fault at an accident scene. Tell the truth to the police officer, but stick to the facts and do not offer an explanation. Do not apologize or say you are sorry.

Talk to a lawyer about your car accident before speaking with an insurance company or another party. Understanding your legal rights and seeking counsel is the best way to protect yourself from being unfairly accused of causing a car accident.