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June 10, 2024

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Understanding Fault in California

Comparative Negligence

California follows a comparative negligence system, which can significantly impact how fault is determined and how damages are awarded in car accident cases. Under this law, fault is not an all-or-nothing proposition; instead, each party involved in an accident can be assigned a percentage of fault based on their actions leading up to the collision. Here’s how it works:

Proportional Responsibility: If you are involved in a car accident and found partially at fault, your compensation will be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if you are awarded $100,000 in damages but found 20% at fault, you would receive $80,000.   

Multiple Parties: Comparative negligence also allows for situations where more than one party is at fault. Each party’s level of responsibility is assessed and factored into the final compensation amounts.

Evidence and Argument: Proving the other party’s greater degree of fault requires strong evidence and a compelling argument. This often involves demonstrating how the other party’s negligence contributed more significantly to the accident than your own actions.

Legal Definition of Fault

Fault in a car accident under California law is typically determined by examining whether a party’s negligence or wrongful action directly caused the accident. Here’s what constitutes fault:

Negligence: This is the most common basis for establishing fault. Negligence occurs when a driver fails to exercise reasonable care, resulting in harm to another person. Common examples include speeding, running a red light, or driving under the influence.

Violation of Traffic Laws: Drivers who violate traffic laws and cause an accident are often found at fault. Examples include failing to yield, illegal turns, and improper lane changes. The violation itself is evidence of negligence.

Duty of Care: All drivers have a duty of care to operate their vehicles safely and follow traffic laws. Breaching this duty of care, such as by distracted driving or aggressive driving, can establish fault if it leads to an accident.

Causation and Damages: To prove fault, it must be shown that the negligent actions directly caused the accident and resulted in damages. This requires linking the driver’s actions to the injury or damage suffered.

Key Steps to Prove Fault

Gather Evidence at the Scene

Photographs and Videos

- Take clear photos and videos of the accident scene, including all vehicles involved, their positions, any visible damage, skid marks, road conditions, traffic signs, and any relevant surroundings.

- Use your phone or camera to take multiple angles of the scene. Capture close-up shots of damage and injuries as well as wide-angle shots of the entire scene. Ensure the images are time-stamped if possible.

Witness Statements

- Speak with any bystanders who witnessed the accident. Politely ask them for their contact information and a brief account of what they saw.

- Write down their statements or, if they consent, record their accounts using your phone. Ensure to include their full names, phone numbers, and addresses.

Obtain Official Reports

Police Reports

- Police reports often contain crucial information such as the date and time of the accident, location, involved parties, witness statements, and the officer’s assessment of fault.

- Request a copy of the police report from the local law enforcement agency that responded to the accident. This can usually be done online, in person, or by mail.

Accident Reconstruction Reports

- Accident reconstruction experts can be employed in complex cases where fault is disputed, or the circumstances are unclear.

- These experts analyze evidence such as vehicle damage, skid marks, and road conditions to recreate the accident. Their professional findings can provide a detailed and scientifically backed account of how the accident occurred and who is likely at fault.

Medical Documentation

Immediate Medical Attention

- Seeking medical help right away ensures your injuries are documented and treated promptly. This creates a medical record that can be used as evidence of the severity and cause of your injuries.

- Ensure that the medical report includes details about your injuries, recommended treatments, and any immediate procedures performed.

Ongoing Medical Treatment

- Keep detailed records of all subsequent medical visits, treatments, and therapies related to your injuries.

- Consistent medical documentation demonstrates the long-term impact of the accident on your health and can help substantiate claims for pain and suffering, lost wages, and future medical expenses.

Using Expert Testimony

Accident Reconstruction Experts

Accident reconstruction experts play a crucial role in complex car accident cases where determining fault is challenging. These experts use scientific methods to analyze physical evidence from the accident scene and recreate the sequence of events leading to the collision. Here’s how they can help:

Evidence Analysis: Accident reconstruction experts examine various forms of evidence, including skid marks, vehicle damage, debris patterns, road conditions, and weather conditions. They use this information to reconstruct the accident accurately.

3D Models and Simulations: They often create detailed 3D models and simulations to visually represent the accident. These models can illustrate the dynamics of the collision, showing the positions and movements of the vehicles involved.

Expert Reports and Testimony: The expert's findings are compiled into a comprehensive report, which can be presented in court or during negotiations. Their testimony can provide a clear, authoritative explanation of how the accident occurred and who is likely at fault.

Medical Experts

Medical experts are essential for establishing a direct link between the accident and the injuries sustained. Their expertise can demonstrate the extent of your injuries and how they were caused by the accident. Here’s what they contribute:

Medical Evaluations: Medical experts conduct thorough evaluations to diagnose and document your injuries. They provide detailed medical records that describe the nature and severity of your injuries.

Causation Testimony: They offer testimony that links your injuries directly to the accident. This can be critical in proving that the injuries were not pre-existing and were indeed caused by the collision.

Long-Term Impact: Medical experts can also provide insights into the long-term effects of your injuries, including potential future medical treatments, rehabilitation needs, and any permanent disabilities. This information is crucial for calculating appropriate compensation.

Other Relevant Experts

In addition to accident reconstruction and medical experts, other specialists can provide valuable testimony to strengthen your case. Here are a few examples:

Vocational Experts: These experts assess how your injuries impact your ability to work and earn a living. They can testify about your loss of earning capacity and the need for job retraining or accommodations.

Human Factors Experts: These specialists study how human behavior and perception contribute to accidents. They can analyze factors such as driver reaction times, visibility, and whether distractions or impairments played a role in the collision.

Engineering Experts: In cases involving vehicle defects or road conditions, engineering experts can provide insights into whether a mechanical failure or poor road design contributed to the accident. They can examine the design, manufacturing, and maintenance aspects related to the vehicles and infrastructure involved.

Forensic Accountants: If the accident has resulted in significant financial losses, forensic accountants can help quantify these losses. They analyze income statements, tax returns, and other financial documents to calculate economic damages accurately.

Legal Documentation and Evidence

Traffic Laws and Regulations

Local traffic laws and regulations are pivotal in establishing fault in a car accident case. Here’s how you can use them to support your case:

Identify Violations: Determine if the other driver violated any traffic laws at the time of the accident, such as speeding, running a red light, or failing to yield. Traffic violations can serve as strong evidence of negligence.

Gather Evidence: Collect evidence of these violations, such as witness statements, police reports, and any citations issued by law enforcement officers. Highlighting these violations can help demonstrate the other party's responsibility for the accident.

Reference Specific Laws: Cite specific traffic laws and regulations that the other driver violated. This can be done through official documents or legal references. Providing these references strengthens your argument by clearly linking the other driver’s actions to a breach of legal duty.

Surveillance Footage

Surveillance footage can be invaluable in proving fault. Here’s how to obtain and effectively use this footage:

Identify Potential Sources: Look for surveillance cameras near the accident scene. These could be at traffic lights, businesses, or private residences. Note the locations and owners of these cameras.

Request Footage: Contact the owners of the surveillance cameras and request a copy of the footage. Be polite and explain that the footage is needed for legal purposes related to the accident. If necessary, your attorney can issue a subpoena to obtain the footage.

Analyze the Footage: Review the footage carefully to identify critical moments that show how the accident occurred. Pay attention to traffic signals, vehicle movements, and any other relevant details.

Presenting the Footage: Use the footage as visual evidence in your case. It can be presented during negotiations with insurance companies or in court to provide a clear, objective account of the accident.

Phone Records

Phone records can help establish whether a driver was distracted at the time of the accident. Here’s how to obtain and use these records:

Obtain Phone Records: Request the phone records of the other driver. This can often be done through a subpoena issued by your attorney. The records will show the times of calls, texts, and data usage around the time of the accident.

Analyze for Distractions: Review the phone records to see if the driver was using their phone just before or during the time of the accident. This can include calls, text messages, or internet usage. Any activity on the phone can indicate distraction.

Expert Analysis: If necessary, hire an expert to analyze the phone records and provide a professional opinion on whether phone use likely contributed to the accident.

Presenting Evidence: Use the phone records as evidence to show that the other driver was distracted. This can significantly strengthen your claim by demonstrating that the driver was not paying full attention to the road.

Proving fault in a car accident case in San Fernando Valley, CA, requires a thorough understanding of California's comparative negligence system and the ability to gather compelling evidence. By documenting the accident scene, obtaining witness statements, and leveraging expert testimony, you can build a strong case to demonstrate the other party's negligence. Understanding your rights and taking the appropriate legal steps can help you secure the compensation you deserve.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident and need assistance proving fault, the Law Offices of Tim D. Wright are here to help. Our experienced attorneys will guide you through the process, ensuring that all necessary evidence is collected and presented effectively. Contact us today for a free consultation and let us help you navigate your car accident case with confidence. Visit our website at or call us at (323) 379-9995 to get started.