California Personal Injury Law FAQ
Answers you can trust from experienced attorneys
When you’re injured in an accident, it’s normal to be absolutely bewildered. Health is precious and losing it can affect every aspect of your life. You have more questions than answers. The Swanson Law Group can help. We’ve walked with so many Californians in similar situations, and we can guide you down the path ahead.
- What should I do if I’m injured?
- What can I get compensation for in a personal injury case?
- What if multiple parties are at fault for my accident?
- Can I recover if I’m partially at fault for my accident?
- Should I accept a personal injury settlement?
- How much time to do I have to file a personal injury lawsuit?
- How much does it cost to hire a personal injury lawyer?
Remember, these questions and answers are general information about personal injury cases in California, not advice on your specific legal situation. If you’ve been injured, we strongly encourage you to speak with a California personal injury lawyer about your rights and options. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.
What should I do if I’m injured?
Your first priority is to make sure you are safe. Then, start collecting evidence. Take pictures of the scene and save any objects that were involved in your accident. Get names and contact information for any witnesses. Call the police to investigate your accident and make sure you get a copy of the accident report, as well as any other documents (such as an incident report prepared by the property owner).
Get medical attention right away, even if you feel fine. You may have an injury with delayed-onset symptoms. When you see the doctor, tell them about all your symptoms, no matter how minor, and follow their instructions. Seeing a doctor not only protects your health but also creates a record of your injuries to support your personal injury claim – so be sure to save copies of every document.
Then, you need to talk to a personal injury lawyer right away, before you speak with an insurance company. We can protect your rights and interests while you focus on getting better.
What can I get compensation for in a personal injury case?
In personal injury claims, there are two main types of damages (financial compensation): economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages, as defined by California law, are “objectively verifiable monetary losses” (Cal. Civ. Code §1431.2). In other words, these are losses that can be measured, computed, and tied to a specific dollar figure, such as:
- Medical expenses, including ambulance fees, hospital bills, surgery, medication, medical devices, physical therapy, home care, and more.
- Lost income while you are unable to work or working reduced hours due to your injury.
- Lost earning capacity if the injury will permanently affect your ability to earn income.
- Domestic services such as childcare, yard work, maintenance, and cleaning.
- Vocational rehabilitation if you must change jobs due to the injury.
- Property damage
Non-economic damages are subjective losses without a specific monetary value. These include but are not limited to:
- Pain and suffering, emotional distress, and mental suffering.
- Loss of consortium: the loss of love, companionship, care, and affection experienced by family members, or the loss of intimacy and ability to have children with one’s spouse or domestic partner.
- Loss of society and companionship
- Injury to reputation and humiliation
If your injury was caused by particularly egregious or intentional conduct, you may also be able to recover punitive damages, which are intended to punish the at-fault party and send a strong message that their conduct is not acceptable in California.
In California, the principle of comparative negligence is used for cases where multiple parties are at fault for an accident. For instance, if you were in a car crash where a vehicle manufacturer was 70% at fault and the driver of another vehicle was 30% at fault, then the manufacturer should be responsible for 70% of the damages and the other driver is responsible for 30%.
California uses joint and several liability for economic damages, but several liability for non-economic damages. That means if you are seeking compensation for objectively verifiable losses such as lost wages, medical bills, and similar, you can sue a single responsible party for 100% of your compensation; it’s up to that responsible party to recover the portion that the other parties are responsible for. However, if you are seeking compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, or other subjective losses, you have to sue each responsible party separately for their share of the damages (Cal. Civ. Code §1431.2).
California uses the “pure” comparative negligence standard for personal injury cases, which means even if you were partially at fault, you can still recover compensation for whatever portion of your injury was not your fault. For instance, if the accident was 60% your fault and 40% someone else’s fault, you can still pursue financial compensation for that 40%. In theory, you can even take legal action if you are 99% at fault for your own injury, although as a practical matter that’s not likely to be worth the effort.
You should never accept a settlement offer from an insurance company without talking to a lawyer first. Once you take the insurance company’s money, your case is over; you can’t go back for more if the cost of your injury turns out to be higher. That’s why they often make “lowball” offers intended to manipulate injured people into settling their cases for much less than they’re worth. A good lawyer can fully investigate your claim and may determine that the full value is substantially higher than the amount the insurance company originally offered.
In California, the statute of limitations (legal deadline) for most personal injury claims is two years from the date of the accident. Tighter deadlines might apply in some circumstances, particularly if the responsible party is a government agency. Regardless, it’s in your interest to talk to a lawyer much sooner than that so we can start investigating and building your case.
California law allows personal injury lawyers to work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay a cent out of pocket. We pay the costs to move the case forward up front, and if we win, our fee is a percentage of the recovery. If we don’t win, there is no attorney’s fee at all. Working this way gives injured people access to the justice system regardless of their ability to pay.