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Insurance Requirements in California

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Archive: Oct 2019

Insurance Requirements in California

Driving in California comes with certain legal requirements. One of the most well-known – and important – requirements is that of carrying adequate automobile insurance. State car insurance laws aim to protect all roadway users after traffic accidents. In California, the party not at fault for the collision will not be financially liable for damages. The state’s tort-based insurance system requires all drivers to maintain certain insurance amounts to cover victims’ losses if the driver causes an auto accident. Ignoring California’s insurance requirements could lead to significant consequences.

What Insurance Must You Carry in California?

Auto insurance requirements differ from state to state. It is important to research the insurance laws when you move or purchase a vehicle for the first time. Failing to meet at least the state’s minimum required amounts of insurance is against the law and could lead to consequences. In California, all drivers must carry three main types of coverage.

  • $5,000 in property damage liability insurance
  • $15,000 in bodily injury liability insurance per person
  • $30,000 in bodily injury liability insurance per collision

Drivers must waive uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage if they do not want this insurance in California. It is optional to carry additional types or amounts of insurance coverage for better protection in auto accidents. Drivers can purchase comprehensive insurance, collision coverage, medical payment insurance and personal injury protection coverage. The total amount of insurance carried is up to the driver as long as he or she at least meets the minimum.

Penalties for Driving Without Insurance in California

It is against the law to operate a motor vehicle without enough car insurance. If a police officer pulls you over and you cannot show proof of insurance, you may receive a fix-it ticket. You can avoid paying the fine if you appear in court and show proof that you did have auto insurance but simply did not have proof during your stop. If you did not have insurance at all, you could face more serious penalties.

  • $100 to $200 fine for a first offense (plus additional fees)
  • $200 to $500 fine for a second or subsequent offense (plus additional fees)
  • Vehicle impoundment with towing and storage fees
  • Temporary license suspension

The potential legal penalties should be enough to convince a driver to purchase the correct amounts of insurance before driving in California. If not, the possibility of having to pay for someone’s expenses out of pocket after an accident may be a stronger incentive.

What to Do After Collisions With Uninsured Drivers

Not all drivers in California take the state’s auto insurance requirements seriously. Unfortunately, hundreds of drivers take to the road while uninsured or not carrying enough insurance. If you get into a collision with one of these drivers, it may be difficult to know how to seek damage recovery. The at-fault driver should be legally responsible for your damages. Without adequate insurance, you may be unable to afford to pay your bills out of pocket.

If you get into a collision and discover the other driver does not have enough car insurance, call the police for an official report. The police can impose fines and other penalties on the uninsured/underinsured driver to force him or her to purchase insurance in the future. The police can also write up a report that could help you document your crash to your insurance provider. You will have to file a claim with your auto insurer if you have uninsured or underinsured motorist insurance.

If you do not carry this type of coverage, your other potential option for recovery may be a personal injury lawsuit. You could bring a suit against the at-fault driver or another party, such as a roadway maintenance crew or vehicle manufacturer, for contributing to your car crash. A lawsuit against one or more parties could help you recover compensation even if the guilty driver does not have insurance.

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Is it Illegal to Eat While Driving in California?

Distracted driving is one of the most dangerous driver habits in California. Too many drivers take slow traffic or busy lives as excuses to multitask while driving. Doing anything other than driving while behind the wheel, however, can put roadway users at risk. Nationwide, over 3,100 people died in distracted driving accidents in 2017 alone. One of the most common types of driver distractions in California is eating or drinking while driving.

The Legalities of Distracted Driving

Although distracted driving in any form can constitute driver negligence, it may not be a crime depending on the situation. California only criminalizes certain types of distracted driving. Like most states, California passed laws prohibiting cellphone use behind the wheel. It is illegal to write, read or send text messages using a cellphone while driving in California. It is also against the law to use a handheld phone to make phone calls or perform other tasks, such as watching videos or looking at social media sites. Breaking the state’s cellphone law could result in traffic citations and fines.

A police officer in California can pull a driver over only for breaking the cellphone law. An officer cannot, however, pull someone over just for eating while driving. Eating and driving is technically not against the law in California. A law does exist, however, prohibiting drivers from exhibiting a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others. This reckless driving law (California Vehicle Code 23103) makes it a crime to drive a vehicle without regard for the safety of other people or property. The penalties for reckless driving can be up to $1,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 90 days.

When Is Distracted Driving Reckless Driving?

It is common knowledge that to safely and prudently operate a vehicle, a driver must keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road. A reasonable driver, therefore, would recognize the potential dangers of eating while driving. Eating can distract a driver’s attention from the driving task manually, visually and cognitively. Distracted driving is an act of negligence that may border on recklessness in certain situations.

  • In school zones
  • Around bicyclists or pedestrians
  • With children in the car
  • While speeding
  • If weaving through traffic
  • If unable to control the vehicle

Eating while driving may be negligent, but it is not a crime until it meets the definition of reckless driving. If eating makes a driver do reckless things, such as running a red light, only then may an officer pull the driver over. Simple negligence behind the wheel is not enough to constitute a crime or give an officer the right to conduct a traffic stop. It can, however, be enough to make the distracted driver liable for a related car accident in California.

Eating While Driving and Civil Liability

Even if eating while driving is not illegal in California, it is a dangerous practice that could kill. A driver distracted by food or drink behind the wheel may have delayed reaction times, poor judgment and lack of vehicle control that ultimately causes a vehicle collision. In these cases, the distracted driver may be civilly liable for a victim’s damages.

The at-fault driver may be responsible for paying for the victim’s medical bills, property repairs and other losses. Civil liability could increase a driver’s insurance premiums and add points to his or her driver’s license. If the distracted driver recklessly took a life, he or she may face criminal charges such as vehicular manslaughter.

Eating while driving can have extremely serious consequences. It could inflict life-changing or fatal injuries on victims – especially bicyclists and pedestrians. It could also lead to criminal and civil liabilities for the at-fault driver. All drivers must take reasonable care not to eat while driving.

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California Subrogation Laws

Subrogation is an insurance term you may encounter after a personal injury accident in California. Subrogation is an action your insurance company can take to recover the amount it gave you to cover your medical expenses. The insurer will not request a subrogation payment from you, but rather from the party that caused your accident. Since your insurance company was not liable for your injuries, it has the right to seek compensation from the party that did cause them. A subrogation payment will come from a compensatory damage award you receive from the at-fault party during an injury claim.

Collecting Insurance Payments Before a Settlement or Verdict

Even a simple or straightforward insurance settlement after an accident can take around three months to complete. Many cases are much longer, with personal injury trials taking a year or more on average. An accident victim will need medical care long before the completion of an insurance claim or injury lawsuit. In these situations, the injured party’s insurance company may pay for the victim’s medical treatments up front, then file a subrogation claim with the defendant in the future for reimbursement.

California’s subrogation law gives insurance companies the right to seek reimbursement from the at-fault party of the amounts they spend on a claimant’s damages. The subrogation law holds that since the insurance company did not cause the accident, it should not be legally responsible for paying a victim’s damages. While most insurers will cover the immediate costs for the benefit of the policyholder, including medical bills and property repairs, they will have the right to seek subrogation later. After a successful case resolution, the insurance company generally expects repayment.

How Does Subrogation Work?

An insurance company only has the right to subrogation if someone other than its policyholder was at fault for the accident. If the policyholder caused the accident, the insurance company will not have grounds to seek subrogation payments from anyone. The insurer will have to cover the policyholder’s damages without reimbursement if the claimant has the correct type of insurance. An insurance company also cannot seek subrogation from the covered party. Since the policyholder pays for liability coverage, seeking money from the victim would defeat the purpose of having insurance.

If an insurance company has the right to seek subrogation pay, it will have three years from the date of the accident to file a claim, in most cases. As a victim, you and your personal injury lawyer can negotiate subrogation to ensure you receive your fair share. The insurance company will seek to take a portion of your settlement or verdict award to make up for what it spent on your medical bills, property damage repairs, lost wages and other expenses. More than one insurance company may have the right to request subrogation from your compensatory damage award.

Subrogation Limits

Although an insurance company has the legal right to request subrogation payments, the Made Whole Doctrine prevents the insurer from claiming 100% of your settlement or judgment award. An insurance company must give the first opportunity for reimbursement to you as the accident victim. The compensation award must make you whole or give you enough to cover your damages before an insurer can receive any money in subrogation. Note, however, that an insurance contract may have language that overrides the Made Whole Doctrine.

Other rules, such as the Common Fund Doctrine, may also limit an insurance company’s ability to obtain reimbursement. This law makes insurance companies give some money to the accident victim’s lawyer if the insurance company did not hire its own attorney to handle the subrogation. This doctrine can motivate your attorney to negotiate insurance subrogation. An attorney could help you understand the state’s subrogation law and how to handle this aspect of your claim after a serious personal injury in California.

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