Real Trial
get a free case evaluation

How Is Fault Determined in a Car Accident in California?

by John Gomez | Last Updated: September 14, 2022

How is Fault Determined in a Car Accident in California hero

Insurance companies generally determine fault in car accidents. Under California accident law, at least one party in the accident calls the police, who then files a report based on what they observe at the scene. The report determines whether either or both parties broke any laws, and both parties are given copies of the police report once they are ready. Both parties will provide copies to their insurance companies, which will then assign an insurance adjuster, respectively, to handle the specific claim by talking to the parties involved, reviewing medical bills and records related to the injuries, and reviewing the police report.

To be more specific, there are two major ways that an insurance company can determine fault and culpability in car accidents in California. The first way is to demonstrate that the faulty driver was negligent under American common law, and the second is to establish statutory negligence under violations of the California Vehicle Code or other applicable laws about at-fault accidents.

What Is Common Law Negligence?

Under American common law, four primary elements of negligence need to be established: duty, breach, causation, and damage.

The duty element requires proof that the other driver had an affirmative, legal duty to operate a car. All drivers have a duty to drive safely and responsibly, avoid injuring pedestrians and other vehicles on the road, circumvent dangerous road conditions, and obey traffic laws and ordinances.

Breach of that duty requires that the other driver failed to operate their vehicle with sufficient diligence and care. For determining a breach of the duty of care, the question of whether a reasonable person (i.e., an individual who approaches car operation with an objectively appropriate amount of caution and sensible action) acted with the requisite care required of them in that situation.

To establish causation, one must prove that the breach of the duty directly caused the accident. This is satisfied with a two-pronged test of first determining the legal causation (asking if the resulting harm would still occur if it wasn’t for the wrongdoer’s conduct) and then determining whether the wrongdoer’s conduct was in close enough proximity along a chain of events leading to the resulting harm (the proximate causation).

Lastly, the damages element requires a determinable calculation of physical and mental injuries or losses.

What Are California’s Accident Fault Laws?

Statutory negligence is another way to establish negligence, and it’s often easier than proving common law negligence. Demonstrating that the driver violated the California Vehicle Code or another statute is sufficient to satisfy statutory negligence. For example, if the other driver violated a law from Division 10 of the CVC, which details accidents and accident reports, then the other driver would be negligent because they violated a law put in place to protect drivers on the road. Usually, the police report from the accident will state whether the other driver violated the code, mitigating much of the difficulty in this process.

If both drivers are at fault, California is a comparative negligence jurisdiction, so if the injured party contributes to the accident by being negligent themselves, then their compensation will be reduced in proportion to the percentage of their fault.

How Long Does an Insurance Company Have to Determine Fault in California?

When a car accident transpires, and a claim for the accident is filed, insurance companies involved with the applicable parties view the facts, determine fault, and decide whether one or all parties involved have to pay damages.

Under California accident law, insurance companies have 40 days to investigate a claim relating to a car accident. Should the company need more time, it must notify the victims of a car accident every 30 days from that point on. Upon determining an agreed payment for the damages, it must be elicited within 30 days.

Is California a No-Fault State for Car Accidents?

No. California is considered an at-fault state in cases pertaining to car accidents. What the California at-fault accident law means is that whoever is responsible for the accident will be liable to pay for the damages. All parties involved in an accident should file a claim with the insurance of the person responsible for the accident. This process can be lengthy and expensive, especially if the accident is not clearly the fault of any one party or if the faulty car driver refuses to admit fault.

To illustrate an example of a California at-fault accident, if three people are in an accident caused by one person running a red light and striking the other people, they would all submit a claim with the auto insurance company of the person who ran the red light. These claims can include medical bills and damages to property, including damage to vehicles, property damage, and vehicle damage. If the injured parties can prove the accident was the wrongdoer’s fault, then the wrongdoer would be liable to pay for the damages under their auto insurance plan.

Under no-fault jurisdictions, rather than the guilty party being identified, each victim of a car accident will file a claim with their own insurance company.

Since California at-fault accident laws require identification of the guilty party in an accident, car insurance rates are lower than in some other states; however, a lengthy and expensive legal altercation in the event of an accident should be expected.

Set up an appointment with Gomez Law Firm online or call 619-237-3490 to find out more about remedying any issues regarding California accident law and at-fault accidents.

tell us about your case

no fees unless we recover money on your behalf

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Recent Posts

Client Review

"They are experts in what they do and are a pleasure to work with."
Sergius A.
5 Stars

Contact Us background image


No Fees Unless We Recover Money On Your Behalf

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Core Values

Practice Areas

Map Background image