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Your Guide to California Car Accident Laws

With more than 39 million residents, car accidents in the state of California are a daily occurrence resulting in thousands of injuries and deaths every single year. The state’s car accident laws were designed to help navigate injured victims through the personal injury process following a crash. These laws cover topics such as:

  • How liability is determined
  • What damages victims might be entitled to
  • California car insurance requirements

If you are involved in a car accident in California, it is important to be familiar with the state’s accident laws. Every accident is unique, and each case requires the aid of an experienced lawyer to get the most out of your personal injury settlement. 

At Local Accident Reports, our nationwide car accident attorneys know how profoundly traumatic car accidents can be. Our goal is to support our injured clients and protect their right to compensation. Contact us to find out more about what we can do for you after a serious car accident. 

California Accident Laws: Scene of the Crash

Your Guide to California Car Accident Laws

Your main focus after a car accident is to check everyone for injuries and call 911 if anybody requires medical assistance.

After making sure that everyone is safe, report the accident to the California Highway Patrol or a local police department.  

California law gives you 24 hours to report the crash if death or injuries occur. A police crash report will also support your claim and give your lawyer some very important details regarding liability in your case.

For car accidents that do not result in bodily harm but cause more than $1000 in property damage, the accident must be reported within ten days. After law enforcement has been notified, you will need to get some information from the other driver or drivers involved, including their:  

  • Name
  • Contact details
  • Driver’s license number
  • Auto insurance policy information

Not only is providing this information required by law but doing so also guarantees that nobody will be able to accuse you of fleeing the scene. 

If you can safely do so, take videos or pictures of the vehicles and as much of the crash scene as possible. Try to talk to any bystanders who may have witnessed the incident. Never say anything that can be interpreted as an admission of guilt, including apologizing. Collecting as much information as you can will help your attorney prove liability and build a strong claim for compensation.  

How Do I Report a California Car Accident?

Most car accidents get reported immediately, especially if there are injuries. You most likely had police at the scene of your accident if any legitimate property damage or injuries occurred, so there may already be a police report you can get a copy of.

If you do need to report a California car accident, your first step should be to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles. You only need to report your crash to the DMV if it resulted in the following:

  • Property damage valued at $1,000 or more
  • A physical injury, no matter how minor
  • Loss of life

If you fail to follow proper accident reporting procedures, you run the risk of having your driver’s license revoked.  

Filing an SR-1 

The SR-1 form may be completed online via the DMV website, by mail, or in person at your local DMV office. To fill out the form properly, you will need to have the following information:  

  • Your driver’s license number
  • Your vehicle identification number or license plate number
  • Your auto insurance information
  • The driver’s license info, license plate number, and auto insurance information of the other driver(s)

If you are having difficulties completing your SR-1, you should speak with an experienced California car accident lawyer for help. Local Accident Reports has the resources to connect you to a reputable lawyer in your area who can ensure that the legal process goes as smoothly as possible. 

California Auto Insurance Laws

California law states that all drivers must “provide evidence of financial responsibility” when renewing their vehicle’s registration and when prompted by law enforcement officers in the event of a car accident. In this context, financial responsibility refers to auto insurance.

Insurance Minimums

Every state sets its own auto insurance requirements. In California, drivers are required to carry 15/20/5 as the minimum amount of auto insurance if they are operating a vehicle. This means California drivers must carry:

  • $15,000 bodily injury or death per person
  • $30,000 bodily injury or death per accident
  • $5,000 property damage per accident

If you are caught driving with no or insufficient auto insurance, you could face up to six months in jail as well as hefty fines. 

Although you have technically met your legal obligation by carrying the minimum amount of car insurance, if your accident was serious, the minimum coverage is probably not going to provide adequate coverage for your injuries and damages.

Fortunately, California does offer additional insurance coverage options that could be enormously helpful to you when dealing with a major car accident. 

Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage

California law requires car insurance companies to offer their customers uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. Although insurance companies are obligated to offer this coverage, you are not required to purchase it. UM/UIM is considered additional coverage.  

If you are ever involved in a traffic accident with a driver who is uninsured, UM coverage makes it possible for your injuries and other damages to be covered by your insurance carrier, provided that the crash was not your fault.

UIM coverage lets your insurance cover your injuries and damages in the event the other driver does not carry enough insurance to do so. 

According to recent statistics, California is in the top 10 states with the highest percentage of uninsured drivers at 16.6%. The state with the most uninsured drivers is Mississippi, at 29.4%. 

Although California drivers are not required to purchase UM/UIM coverage, it is strongly recommended since the odds of being involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist are extremely high. 

Other Auto Insurance Options in California

As previously stated, California’s minimum insurance coverage requirements may not be enough to cover all of your accident-related damages. If you were liable for the accident, the victim could consult with a car accident lawyer about pursuing your assets. It is in your best interests to purchase additional coverage when you insure your vehicle. Some examples of additional insurance coverage are:

  • Medical payments coverage
  • Theft coverage
  • Comprehensive coverage
  • Collision coverage

Contact your insurance company for additional information on how to make sure you have ample coverage in case you are involved in a California car accident.  

California Fault Laws

One question that California car accident attorneys often get concerns how fault is determined in a car accident. Understanding how liability is assigned is important because it dictates who is liable for damages.  

California abides by the doctrine of pure comparative negligence. This means that multiple parties can be liable for damages caused by a single accident. 

Comparative Negligence

Pure comparative negligence laws meet two distinct needs:  

  • They allow victims to recover compensation even if they share in the liability for the crash 
  • Different parties can be liable for different elements of the crash

For instance, if a driver runs a red light and crashes into a vehicle traveling well over the speed limit, then both drivers would be partly responsible for the collision. The driver who ran the red light might be found 75% at fault, while the speeding driver is liable for the remaining 25%. Each party will pay according to their percentage of fault, and their settlement awards will be decreased by that same amount.  

If a car accident involves more than two vehicles, each driver will have to cover their percentage of liability.

California car accident victims should always consult with an attorney if they have questions about liability. An experienced car accident lawyer can accurately establish fault and determine what damages you are entitled to. 

Insurance companies are concerned with their bottom line, not the rights of an accident victim. To protect their company’s profits, they strive to award the smallest payout possible. A qualified personal injury attorney will have your best interests in mind and work hard to ensure you get the financial compensation you are entitled to for your damages.  

California Civil Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is a time limit set by the state and imposed on filing personal injury claims, including those involving car accidents. The statute of limitations for filing for damages after a car accident in California is:

  • Two years for claims of personal injury  
  • Three years for claims of property damage  

It is crucial that your claim is filed before the statute of limitations expires. If you miss the deadline, you will not be permitted to file another claim and will be barred from receiving any financial recovery at all.  

Tolling the Statute

There are some circumstances under which a lawyer would be able to prolong the statute of limitations. This delay is referred to as tolling the statute and may be applicable to your case if:  

  • An injury related to your car accident was delayed in its discovery and diagnosis  
  • The defendant is unable to be located
  • The defendant is incarcerated
  • The victim is either a minor or disabled

Statutes on Government Claims

If your car accident involved a government vehicle or agency, the statute of limitations is significantly decreased, giving you only 180 days from the day of the crash to file.  

Potential Damages for California Car Accident Victims  

California personal injury laws allow car accident victims to recover damages caused by someone else’s negligence. Generally speaking, car accident victims are eligible for two forms of damages: economic and non-economic.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are the objective monetary losses you incurred from the accident. Examples of common economic damages are:

  • Current and projected medical bills
  • Vehicle replacement or repair costs
  • Lost earnings
  • Reduced or lost earning capacity

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are the subjective non-monetary losses you incurred from the accident. Common examples of non-economic damages are:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of reputation
  • Loss of fellowship
  • Mental anguish 
  • Emotional trauma
  • Disability

Given the intangible nature of non-economic damages, many victims do not realize they are entitled to more compensation. Reach out to a California car accident lawyer to ensure you are being fully and justly compensated for all of the economic and non-economic damages you sustained.

Talk to a California Car Accident Attorney

If you were injured in a California car accident caused by another driver, you could be eligible to recover compensation for your medical bills, lost income, and more. The nationwide auto accident lawyers at Local Accident Reports can help you secure financial compensation that covers your physical injuries and emotional trauma. You can also find many other California car accident resources to help you during this trying time.

Call us at (888) 657-1460 to schedule your free consultation and find out what course of action our California car accident attorneys recommend for you. 

Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by this accident.

If you or a loved one were injured in this incident, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Having your case evaluated by a lawyer immediately will ensure your rights are protected. The first step is to request a police report, and we can do that for you. 

Contact us today at


to get the help you deserve. 

Local Accident Reports is here to provide you with valuable resources after you have been injured in an accident. In addition to your free police report, you can also schedule a free consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys right now to find out more about pursuing compensation. If you any have questions at all about your legal rights following an accident, please don't hesitate to call. 

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Note: These posts are created solely for the use of Local Accident Reports. We have not verified the information in these posts as the information is gathered from secondary sources. If you have personal knowledge that the information contained in these posts is inaccurate, please contact Local Accident Reports immediately so we can make the necessary corrections or remove the story.

Disclaimer: We are providing this information to the general public as a resource to use in the event you or a family member are injured in a similar incident. Every effort is put forth to honor the victims of accidents, and hope the information presented helps others avoid the same type of accidents in the future. The photos depicted in these posts are not representative of the actual accident scene. Please contact Local Accident Reports at (888) 657-1460 to be connected with an attorney in your area who will answer any legal questions you may have.

Harvey Barbee is our chief content writer who also has nearly 15 years of experience as a practicing attorney. Combining his skillset as a strong writer along with his in-depth knowledge of the legal system, Harvey uses his talents to write informative pieces for law firms about a variety of topics that affect individuals. He enjoys helping people find creative solutions to their legal problems. When he is not writing or practicing law, Harvey enjoys golf, gardening, and spending time with his family in North Carolina.

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