If you were injured in a car accident and thought that another party was at fault, California personal injury law allows you to file for compensation in a civil court. However, you have to prove that another party was negligent and that their negligence caused your injuries. Personal injury lawsuits are not always as straightforward as they might seem. That is why you might need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney to navigate the legal process and prove your case. If successful, you might recover compensation for all your damages, both economic and non-economic. The judge could even grant punitive damages if there was gross negligence involved.

Determining Negligence in a Car Accident

When a car accident occurs, many people at the accident scene believe that they know exactly what happened and who could be responsible. The truth is that it takes a lot of investigation and fact-finding to determine the actual cause of a car accident. From the cause of the accident, it becomes easy to determine liability.

California law gives injured parties up to two years to file a lawsuit in court for compensation after a car accident. This is because the court will need more evidence than hearsay to determine the case and award damages. The plaintiff will also need help to help them navigate the legal process and file the proper documents in court for trial.

The most challenging bit in all this is proving negligence. Once you are sure you have discovered the responsible party for the car accident, you must prove negligence in a civil court. Again, the help of an experienced personal injury attorney goes a long way in ensuring that you have a strong case against the alleged defendant for the court to award your damages. Unfortunately, you may never recover your losses if you cannot prove negligence, even if you are sure about the responsible party.

California personal injury laws provide criteria through which a plaintiff can prove negligence in a civil court. First, you must prove that the other party was careless in causing the accident in which you incurred injuries. Most auto accident lawsuits in California are based on negligence. A negligence claim must involve a complete examination of the circumstances leading to the car accident and how the accident relates to your incurred losses.

As used under this law, negligence refers to careless conduct by one party that causes harm to another party. A road user can be negligent in a car accident situation if they engage in behavior they shouldn’t have, such as speeding. A driver could also be negligent if he/she failed to do something they are required to do while on the road, for instance, yielding the right of way. If any act or omission results in a car accident, the responsible party might be held accountable for the resulting damages for being negligent.

Here are criteria to follow in determining negligence in the car accident in which you’ve been involved.

Duty of Care

California personal injury laws state that every person has a legal duty to abide by a particular reasonable standard of caution and avoid commissions and omissions that could harm others. If one person fails in their duty of care, and as a result, other people are injured, the person could be held responsible for the resulting injuries due to their negligence.

When it comes to car accidents, every road user owes the others a duty of care, a breach of which could cause them to face a lawsuit if anyone incurs injuries as a result.

When a car accident occurs, it is essential to determine the cause of the accident and whether or not it was a case of negligence. It starts with deciding liability, then proving negligence in court for a judge to award compensation for the resulting damages.

For instance, drivers owe other road users a duty of care to operate their vehicles in a way that will not be potentially harmful to them. Other road users include motorists, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Drivers must also be careful enough not to cause property damage negligently. Duties of care for drivers include:

  • To be alert and on the lookout for other vehicles while on the road
  • To watch out for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists
  • To abide by all traffic rules
  • To watch out for road hazards
  • To maintain proper control of their vehicles and drive at a reasonable speed.
  • To ensure that their vehicles are always in proper working condition

The law requires drivers to use ordinary care while on the road. Failing to exercise care towards other road users, which a reasonable person would do under similar circumstances, or taking action that a reasonable person wouldn’t under the circumstances, could be interpreted as negligence.

Breach of Duty of Care

Determining negligence in a California car accident doesn’t end with establishing that the alleged liable party owed the plaintiff a duty of care. You must demonstrate in court that the responsible party breached that duty of care.

Breach of duty means that the alleged liable party failed to observe care as an ordinary person would under the circumstances. For instance, driving a vehicle in a way that is likely to cause harm to other road users could be considered a breach of duty of care. The law compares the alleged liable party’s behavior to what is deemed normal and what an ordinary person would do or not do under the circumstances.

There are many ways a driver could breach or violate their duty of care to other road users. Here are examples of behavior that could be considered negligent and which could cause the driver to be held responsible for the resulting accident:


The basic speeding law in California prohibits motorists from operating at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent concerning the traffic, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway. It is an offense to drive at a speed that could endanger the safety of people and property. California highways have speed limits that are provided, within which drivers must operate. Drivers’ duty of care is to operate their vehicles safely and not beyond the provided limits. Speeding is considered a negligent act as it violates the duty of care and behavior that a reasonable person would not engage in under the circumstances.

Distracted Driving

Similarly, drivers owe a duty of care to other road users to be on the lookout for other motorists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and stationary objects on the road. Distracted driving makes it impossible for a driver to watch out for any danger they could encounter on the road, thereby endangering the lives of other road users. There are many distractive behaviors a driver could be engaged in, which could be considered negligent. For instance:

  • Eating or drinking while driving.
  • Texting or calling on the phone
  • Engaging in deep conversations with their passengers or people outside the vehicle while driving
  • Adjusting their seats
  • Reaching into the backseat
  • Removing something from the glove compartment

Any behavior that will take your eyes off the road is considered distractive and negligent if it causes you to drive dangerously.

Intoxicated driving

California has apparent laws against driving while intoxicated. The law applies to both alcohol and drugs. Driving under the influence is a criminal offense that attracts severe criminal penalties if you are found guilty. It is also negligent behavior that endangers the lives of other road users. An intoxicated motorist is unable to make sound and quick judgments while on the road. That is why DUI is among the leading causes of car accidents in the state. A driver’s duty of care includes being careful enough not to operate under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Taking prescription medicine that compromises your driving amounts to negligence. Some medicines are known to make a person drowsy. They are highly prohibited, especially for those behind the wheel.


California laws prohibit drivers from following other vehicles too closely while on the road. You must maintain a prudent and reasonable distance between your car and one in front, considering the speed at which the vehicle is moving and traffic. A 3 to 4-second distance is fair enough and would allow you enough time to stop if the other driver stops abruptly.

Running Red Lights

Drivers must always stop and yield right of way at a red light. Running a red light is among the leading causes of car accidents across the country. Distracted driving, speeding, and DUI are among the reasons most drivers run red lights in California. If an accident occurs as a result of that, you will be held responsible for the resulting damage.

Ignoring Traffic Signs and Signals

Traffic rules and signals are there to enhance safety for all road users, including pedestrians and bicyclists. A driver who fails to abide by these signs and signals endangers themselves and other road users around him/her. For instance, failing to stop at a STOP sign is a dangerous behavior that puts other road users at risk of suffering injuries.

Establishing Causation

Again, proving that one party breached their duty of care is not enough to hold them responsible for the resulting damages. The court will require you to demonstrate that their breach of duty of care was the direct cause of the accident in which you were involved. It means that you must verify before a judge that if the driver did not act the way he/she did, the accident would not have occurred. In this third criterion, you will be explaining the relationship between the liable party’s behavior and the result, which in this case is the car accident.

In car accident cases, causation is categorized into:


It means that the liable party’s negligence was the direct cause of the car accident. Proving the actual cause of an accident is sometimes straightforward. For instance, intoxicated driving would be considered a direct cause of the accident if the drunk driver lost control of their vehicle and crashed into other vehicles or pedestrians. Running a red light, tailgating, fatigued or distracted driving are other conducts that could be considered a direct cause of a car accident.

Proximate Cause

It means that the liable party’s conduct was an indirect cause of the accident in which you were injured. For instance, if a distracted or intoxicated driver hits a utility pole, and then it falls on your car, injuring you and your passengers, and damaging your car. The direct cause of your injuries would be the utility pole. But the utility pole cannot be held responsible for the resulting damages because of the involvement of the intoxicated or distracted driver.

The proximate cause would be the legal cause or one that the law considers the primary cause of the resulting injuries. It is the action that created foreseeable consequences without another party’s intervention. A judge in a civil court will expect you (the plaintiff) to demonstrate that your injuries were a natural and direct result of the proximate cause, without which you would not have incurred the injuries.

Determining the proximate cause of an accident can be a significant challenge. That is why you might need to engage the help of an experienced personal injury attorney. An experienced attorney will hire an accident expert to determine how the accident occurred. From the expert’s report, it would be easy to determine whether an injury would not have happened were it not for the alleged liable party’s negligent omission or commission. When it is determined that the damage would not have occurred but for the other party’s actions, that would establish the proximate cause.

Damages Awarded in a Car Accident

The last criterion in determining negligence in a car accident in California is proof of damages. Damages refer to the costs and losses associated with an accident and the resulting injuries. Car accidents can be devastating, which means that they leave a trail of destruction behind. The injured must demonstrate in court that the cause of the accident was the direct cause of their damages. It is the only way you convince the court to award all your damages in a personal injury case.

A car accident is likely to result in all kinds of damages, both monetary and nonmonetary. The judge will expect you to express your damages in numbers; otherwise, the court could deny or reduce your claim. It helps to work alongside an experienced personal injury attorney. He/she will guide you in the kinds of damages to include in your claim, how much money you should claim for every damage, and how you can aggressively fight to receive the compensation you deserve.

Having demonstrated in court the defendant’s role in causing the accident, the last bit would be to establish the relationship between the accident and your damages.

Damages in a car accident are categorized into:

Economic Damages

They include all losses that have a dollar amount attached. Examples of economic damages include current and future medical bills, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, the need for a caregiver, vehicle repair/replacement, and any other property loss you might have incurred in the accident.  You will need to provide support documents to show how much money you have lost for all damages you’ll include in your claim.

For instance, all your medical records must show how much money you have spent on treatment since the day of the accident. Documents from your workplace will show the number of days you have missed work due to the accident and how much money you have lost in wages.

Non-economic Damages

They include all losses you have incurred in the accident that does not have a dollar value attached. They might consist of the pain, suffering, and emotional distress you have experienced due to the accident. An aggressive San Diego personal injury attorney will demonstrate to the court the impact the accident has had on your life to ensure that all your non-economic losses are well compensated.

For instance, your ability to enjoy life might have been affected by the accident. As a result, you are always unhappy, as opposed to the life you lived before the accident. The accident might have also taken your ability to enjoy the company of your partner or children. All these losses must be considered and awarded as non-economic damages.

Find a San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm Near Me

If you have been injured in a car accident in San Diego, CA, you must prepare your case well if you wish for the court to award all the losses you have incurred. The main part of your civil lawsuit would be to determine and prove negligence in the car accident. The help of an experienced personal injury attorney goes a long way in ensuring that your case will be a success. At San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm, we will ensure that you have all the evidence needed for a solid and successful case. Call us at 619-478-4059 for more information and help in claiming the compensation you deserve.