In order for an auto accident victim to receive compensation for their injuries under California law, they must prove that the other driver was at fault in causing the crash. Very often, insurance companies shortchange or deny claims by accident victims, leaving them little other recourse than to file a lawsuit to recover for their medical costs, loss wages and pain and suffering. If you’re faced with proving a claim in court or in settlement negotiations, it is important to understand the legal standards that apply.
Fault for an accident is usually established by showing negligence, which is defined as failure to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. Negligence must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, which simply means it is more likely than not that the defendant in a lawsuit is liable for all or part of the plaintiff’s harm. However, partial recovery is possible even if the plaintiff shares heavily in the blame.
In order to meet their burden of proof regarding the other driver’s negligence, a plaintiff can offer direct and circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence includes the plaintiff’s own testimony and that of witnesses to the accident, including fellow passengers in their own vehicle. Police reports and testimony of police officers responding to accident are admissible as evidence. Along with this, photographic and forensic evidence, such as skid marks and physical damage at the accident site, can also be used to help reconstruct an accident and support a case of negligence.
If a plaintiff offers evidence showing that a defendant violated a statute regulating motor vehicles, it creates a rebuttable presumption that the driver was negligent. This may include evidence that the defendant was driving at an excessive rate of speed, failed to yield the right of way at an intersection, was driving under the influence of alcohol or had failed to properly maintain critical equipment in their vehicle, such as brakes.
All of this evidence, in addition to supporting a victim’s case against another driver, will also help defeat or minimize the effect of comparative negligence law, which in California apportions liability and damages based on the accident participants’ relative degrees of fault. In contrast to some other states, a driver in California who is mostly responsible for a crash can still recover damages from other drivers at fault, though he or she will be liable to them proportionally. A skillful auto accident attorney can build strong evidence demonstrating the other drivers’ negligence and its impact in causing the victim’s injuries.