Personal Injury Attorneys in California
When you have an auto accident and incur injuries as a result, you may think about hiring a personal injury attorney. Before you file a lawsuit, you should consider the state's statute of limitations, fault laws that can affect your compensation, and limits on personal injury damages in the state. Going into a lawsuit informed and with the right attorney will help you get the highest level of compensation possible.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
Not all auto accidents that result in injury will require the help of an attorney. You may be able to handle your case quickly with your car insurance company, or even use alternative dispute resolution in lieu of going to court.
However, a lawyer experienced in personal injury law can prove to be an extremely useful resource in certain situations. For example, you might consider getting help if:
- You suffer serious injuries.
- You feel uncomfortable negotiating with your claims adjustor.
- Your case becomes too complicated for you to work through alone.
- You would like to seek compensation for general (non-economic) damages such as pain and suffering.
What to Know Before You Hire an Attorney
Before you hire a personal injury attorney, make sure you understand the following:
- Experience matters. Look for an attorney who has a good deal of experience in personal injury litigation so they can guide you smoothly through the process.
- Recommendations help. It's always a good idea to get recommendations from friends or family. There are a lot of lawyers seeking business, so asking around can help you narrow your search.
- Education isn't the biggest factor. While you'll want an attorney with a good education, you'll want to pay more attention to their track record. How many cases have they taken on? How many have they won?
- It's best to avoid unsolicited contact. If you were in an accident, you might be contacted by a personal injury lawyer who is scouting for cases. It's better to seek an attorney you can trust on your own and with recommendations from friends.
Personal Injury Attorney Fees
There are several types of fee structures that personal injury attorneys use. Understanding these can help you find an attorney whose fee structure best fits your financial situation.
Fee types include the following:
- Contingency. You only pay fees if your attorney wins the case. The fees come out of the settlement amount.
- Retainer. This is the fee you pay upfront to retain an attorney's services.
- Hourly. Fees based on the time your attorney spends working on your case.
To learn more about fees you may encounter, visit our Personal Injury Attorney Fees page.
Once you decide that you need to go to court and hire an attorney, there are certain other matters you should understand, such as the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit and how the laws affect potential compensation. Continue reading to learn more.
Statute of Limitations
When you get into a car accident and get injured, you may file a lawsuit for damages if you cannot successfully resolve your claim with your auto insurance company (or that of the other driver).
However, it's important to realize that you can only file a lawsuit for a limited period of time. This is called the “statute of limitations" and it varies by state.
In California, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is 2 years from the date of the injury.
CA Fault Laws That May Affect Your Damages
State laws regarding fault vary. For example, certain states have insurance laws that say that if you are less than 50% at fault, you can collect 100% of the damages. In CA, it does not work this way.
Pure comparative negligence laws apply in California. In plain language: how much fault you had in the accident determines how much you are entitled to get in a settlement.
Let's say you were involved in an accident in which you were T-boned by another driver, but the investigation finds that you were 20% at fault because you were speeding at the time.
If the total compensatory damages were $100,000, you could collect $80,000 ($100,000 reduced by 20%).
The other driver, conversely, would only be able to seek up to $20,000.
Limits on Damages for Uninsured Drivers
If you were driving uninsured and got into an accident, you can still get an attorney and file a lawsuit; however, it's important to understand that there may be limits to your compensation.
First, CA bars most drivers who were uninsured at the time of the accident from seeking non-economic damages in personal injury cases.
What Are Non-Economic Damages?
This refers to any type of compensation that is not for a specific economic loss. Non-economic damages vary and include, but are not limited to, compensation for:
- Pain and suffering.
- Loss of companionship/loss of consortium.
- Decreased quality of life.
EXCEPTION: If the other driver was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of the accident and is convicted of a DUI, the uninsured driver can seek non-economic damages in a lawsuit.
Before deciding to file a lawsuit, make sure you discuss all considerations and openly ask your attorney any questions you have. And remember, you want a lawyer who is concerned about your case; if he brushes off your questions or concerns, consider finding another attorney.