Who is Liable in a Car Accident in California?

April 18, 2022

Who is Liable in a Car Accident in California? Post Image

Every day in California hundreds of car accidents happen. These accidents result in millions of dollars in economic damages. Traffic-related accidents leave victims facing lost income for missing work, medical debt, and sometimes permanent disabilities. This leaves the question of who is responsible when it comes to car accidents in California.

Car Accidents Involving Vehicles

Drivers have a duty to exercise “due care” for the safety of others on the roadway. The lack of due care (negligence) is the cornerstone of every car accident in California. Negligence happens when a party fails to act with the reasonable care. This reasonable care would otherwise be expected in a particular set of facts or circumstances. Generally, the party who is found to be most negligent in a situation will be liable for the damages caused.

Because California is a “comparative fault” state, even if the victim of a car accident also acted negligently, they may still be able to recover damages. This is oftentimes determined by a jury based on the facts. For example, if one party is deemed to be 80% negligent and the other party is only 20% negligent, then the person who is 20% negligent would still be awarded damages for their injuries. The amount of the award, however, will be reduced based on their 20% fault.

When the Driver is Not the Owner

Who is liable for a car accident when you are injured by a car driver who is not the owner of the car? In California, the general rule is as follows. If the at-fault driver was operating the vehicle with permission from the owner of that vehicle, the owner is liable for the accident. But, typically, the liability of the car owner is limited. However, there are three important exceptions to this rule. Car owners can be fully liable in a car accident even if they weren’t the ones driving.

  1. If the car owner lends their vehicle to an unlicensed driver, they are considered negligent. The driver is negligent under the law and will be fully liable for your damages.
  2. The second exception is where a car owner lends their vehicle to someone even though they knew it was unsafe, either because of a defect or a malfunctioning component (e.g. faulty brakes or recalled airbags).
  3. When the driver is in a work vehicle.

When the Driver is in a Work Vehicle

Sometimes, car accidents happen when the at-fault driver is driving a work vehicle. If the driver was on-the-clock for the car owner when the car accident occurred, the owner or employer is generally liable for accident damages. This means that the driver is using the vehicle for work purposes or driving directly to or from a work site (e.g. from one work location to the next, if the employment responsibilities includes travel to multiple locations).

If a driver is using a work vehicle for non-work purposes then the owner or employer is generally not held liable. Additionally, when the driver is not on-the-clock and using the vehicle for personal the driver is held responsible.

Car Accidents Involving Pedestrians

Generally speaking, who is liable when a car accident involves pedestrians?

In Short, California, in most instances where a driver might encounter a pedestrian, the pedestrian has the right-of-way. Additionally, because drivers have a duty to exercise care for the safety of others on the roadway, they are most oftentimes liable for any injuries a pedestrian suffers in a car accident.

The longer answer involves looking to the California Vehicle Code. This states that drivers “shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.” Even if a pedestrian is crossing a section of the road that is not a crosswalk, drivers still maintain a duty to exercise due care for the safety of pedestrians.

Car Accidents Involving Bicyclists

Many times, road conditions can be a cause of bike accidents. For example, damaged road signs can lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings between bicyclists and drivers. Because bicyclists are exposed on the roadway to vehicles the consequences of missing or damaged road signs can be devastating. Additionally, if road conditions led to a car accident involving a bicyclist, the city or property owners can be responsible. If they are responsible for maintaining appropriate signage, they may be responsible for negligently causing the accident. In 2017, the city of Los Angeles paid over $19 million in damages to cyclists and their families for injuries caused by dangerous road conditions.

According to some state laws, bicyclists can be considered drivers or pedestrians depending on where they are located. For example if they are located on the roadway vs at a crosswalk. California is not one of those states. In California, bicyclists are almost exclusively considered to be “drivers” and have the same rights and responsibilities.  Accordingly, car accidents involving bicyclists largely follow the same set of rules as set out above in car accidents involving (only) other vehicles.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney Today

If you are the victim of a car accident, you should speak to an attorney who can help you navigate the complexities of your specific situation. This is especially true if you are injured or currently recovering from injuries. Spend your injury resting and recovering from your injuries – and allow your attorney to handle your legal questions. The attorneys at B|B Law Group have expertise in personal injury and will answer your questions. Contact the B|B Law Group to schedule a consultation today.

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