Seeking Compensatory Damages as a Passenger in a Car Accident

Car Accident Lawyer Los Angeles

Passengers place their trust and safety into the hands of their drivers each time they climb into a car. Despite all the safety precautions drivers may take, however, car crashes still happen for different reasons. In fact, Los Angeles County alone recorded a total of 39,708 vehicular accident fatalities and injuries in 2015.

Getting involved in a car accident as a passenger can be confusing. You may not know which insurer to approach for compensation. Claiming personal injury compensation may also be more complicated when the accident happens while ridesharing.

Haffner Lawyers can help you file for personal injury claims after the accident. We have experience as an Uber car accident lawyer in Los Angeles to help smooth over the process. With us on the case, you can concentrate on recovering and returning to your daily routine. We’ll make sure you receive the maximum amount of compensation you are entitled to have.

Determining the Driver at Fault

Determining which driver was at fault in a two-car accident can be a challenging and drawn-out process. If you were the passenger, however, proving liability in a car crash will be less difficult than if you were a driver.

Filing a passenger injury claim is similar to filing other types of car accident claims. The difference is that unless it’s clear which of the concerned parties is responsible for the crash, you’ll have to file for compensation claims against both parties involved.

Filing a Claim with the Other Driver’s Insurance Company

Filing a lawsuit against the other driver and triggering his or her insurance coverage is usually the first option when seeking compensation as a passenger in a car accident.

Drivers are required to have a minimum car insurance coverage in nearly every state. In California, the minimum drivers should have for Bodily Injury Liability coverage is $15,000 for one person and $30,000 for multiple persons.

There are times when the other driver’s insurance company refuses to pay compensation unless there is a clear guilty driver, though. An attorney can help you get compensation or a settlement without waiting months to determine the responsible party.

Filing a Claim with Your Driver’s Insurance Company

Pursuing a compensation claim against a friend or family member who was driving the car you were riding may be uncomfortable. Remember that you’re not suing them or going after their money. Instead, you’re pursuing a valid personal injury claim from their insurance provider.

In case you were riding an Uber or using another ridesharing service, you may need to file two compensation claims — one against your Uber driver’s insurance firm and another against the company’s insurance provider.

A reliable personal injury lawyer can provide the guidance you need and facilitate a smoother negotiation to ensure you receive compensation.

Compensation You Can Receive

It’s sometimes tough figuring out which type of compensation you are owed after a car accident. Haffner Law attorneys help you determine which of the following apply:

  • Lost wages due to inability to work
  • Lost or damaged property
  • Current and future health expenses
  • Pain and suffering or other non-economic damage

We provide free, no-obligation personal injury consultations or case reviews. We’ll aggressively fight for your right to receive full compensation to ensure your quality of life while you recover. Contact us today.

(This is an attorney advertisement by Joshua Haffner)

Checklist of Actions Following a Vehicular Collision

Checklist of Actions Following a Vehicular Collision

California, per capita, leads the nation in fatal car accidents per year. Car accidents are the fifth leading cause of death in California. Given the size of California’s population, and the high prevalence of car usage, it is not surprising that California has a high number of car accident death.

Preventative measures, many of which have been implemented or proposed, could help reduce deaths caused by car accidents in California. For instance, in Utah, lawmakers lowered their state’s legal blood alcohol levels from 0.08 to 0.05 in an attempt to reduce drunk driving related injuries. This proactive step will hopefully reduce drunk driving deaths. Driving under the influence accounted for 13 percent of the state’s traffic death last year. Imposing stricter and lower alcohol limits to legally drive would likely reduce car accident deaths in California.

Speed is the leading cause of death in California. Slowing down would significantly help reduce fatal car accidents. This is an issue each driver should take to heart. Similarly, putting away the cell phone, and not texting and driving, is incredibly important to car driving safety. This is also an important safety measure each driver needs to strictly adhere to, and the laws in California and elsewhere have begun to reflect that.

Failing to wear a seatbelt significantly increases the risk of death from a car accident. To address this, the California legislature enacted the Motor Vehicle Safety Act which states “a person shall not operate a motor vehicle on a highway unless that person and all passengers sixteen years of age or over are properly restrained by a safety belt.” CA Veh. Code, § 27315. This is an important law for the overall safety of the California roadways, and an issue anyone who travels in a car should take to heart.

Car accidents are a risk we assume every time we drive, and fatalities from car accidents are common. The goal is to reduce fatal vehicular collisions and prevent collision in general. While we hope you never have the need for it, the following is a checklist of actions we recommend following a vehicular collision:

• Get medical help for anyone injured.
• If the accident is significant or if there are any injuries, call the police so there is a police report.
• Exchange information with all drivers.
• Get contact information for passengers and witnesses.
• Take photos of the scene with a camera/phone
• ONLY discuss the accident with police, NOT others involved.
• Talk to a qualified auto accident lawyer in your area.

(This is an attorney advertisement by Joshua Haffner)

Canceling Automobile Insurance Under California Law For Failing To Provide Requested Information

In Mills v. AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah Insurance Exchange (2016) 3 Cal.App.5th 528, the California Court of Appeal recently clarified when an insurance company may cancel an automobile policy under California Code of Regulations § 2632.19(b)(1).

California statutory law provides that an insurance company may cancel an automobile policy when there is a substantial increase in the hazard insured against. (Cal. Ins. Code §1861.03(c)(1)(c).)  Under the regulations, a substantial increase in the hazard occurs when the insured failed to provide information necessary to accurately underwrite the risk within 30 days after a reasonable written request.  (Cal. Code Regs. §2632.19(b)(1).)

In Mills, the defendant insurance company, AAA, had been providing automobile insurance to three members of the Fields family, Jeff Fields, Denise Fields, and their daughter, Krystal Fields.  Patrick Fields, the son of Jeff and Denise was not on the policy.  In February 2005, Patrick, while driving a vehicle covered by the insurance policy, collided with a parked car.  Shortly after the accident, on March 23, 2005, AAA sent a written letter to the Fields family informing them that if they wanted to exclude Patrick from the policy they could fill out and return the enclosed form.  However, if they wished to add Patrick to the coverage or had any questions, they should contact AAA.  The letter further provided notice that if the Fields family did not respond by April 22, 2005, AAA would cancel the policy.

After receiving the letter the Fields family took no action and neither excluded Patrick from the policy nor contacted AAA.  AAA then sent another letter on April 28, 2005 informing the Fields family that AAA was cancelling the policy effective May 28, 2005.

Shortly thereafter, on July 6, 2005, Krystal Fields was involved in a car accident while driving one of the vehicles previously covered by the AAA insurance policy.  Krystal and her passenger, Trent Mills, suffered serious brain injuries as a result of the crash.  Mills brought suit against Krystal, which she subsequently tendered to AAA.  However, AAA denied the claim because the Fields’ policy had been terminated.  AAA also denied Mills’ request for uninsured motorist benefits on the same basis.  In response, Mills and Fields brought suit against AAA.

The insureds challenged the cancellation in a civil action, arguing the information requested of the Fields family in the March 23, 2005 letter was not reasonable.  In particular, the insureds argued that the request was not reasonable because it did not request specific information nor information necessary to determine risk.

The Court of Appeal rejected this argument, holding that for a request for information to underwrite risk to be “reasonable,” the request must be rational, appropriate for the circumstance, and necessary to the insurer’s ability to evaluate risk.  Applying this standard, the Court of Appeal in Mills held that a written request need not contain specific information requested to be reasonable.  AAA’s March 23, 2005 letter was a reasonable written request because if the Fields family was willing to exclude Patrick, no further information would be needed as the policy would not change.  However, if the Fields family was not willing to exclude Patrick from the insurance policy, AAA would need more information to analyze the risk involved in adding Patrick to the policy.  Thus, the Court upheld the trial court ruling finding that AAA made a reasonable written request for information necessary to underwrite the risk of the Fields family’s automobile insurance policy.

Arbitrating Your Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Claim Under California Law

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If you are in an automobile accident in California caused by another driver, and suffer injuries, you can make a claim against the negligent driver’s insurance. Often, however, that driver has no insurance or, if they have insurance, it is not enough to compensate for the injuries suffered.  Where a negligent driver that causes injury is uninsured or underinsured, the injured party may be able to make a claim to his or her own insurer, if the injured person’s automobile policy includes such coverage.  With respect to underinsured motorist coverage, the claim is not triggered until the negligent driver’s policy limits has been collected.

Whether it is an uninsured motorist claim or an underinsured motorist claim, if the injured-insured and his or her insurance company cannot agree on the amount of the claim, the claim must be submitted to arbitration.  (California vehicle Code §11580.2(f).)  Except in unusual circumstances, the insured cannot bring suit against the insurer prior to arbitration because arbitration is a condition precedent to payment of policy benefits.  (Kortmeyer v. California Insurance Guarantee Ass’n (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 1285, 1291.)

Thus, regardless of how unreasonable or in bad faith an insurance company is in refusing to pay an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim, to sue the insurance company for bad faith, the insured must first go through arbitration.  This does not mean, however, that the insurance company is immunized from bad faith conduct pre-arbitration, like making low-ball settlement offers.  To the contrary, California law imposes a “duty” on insurance companies to in good faith “attempt toreach an agreement with its insured before” invoking arbitration.  (Brehm v. 21st Century Ins. Co.(2008) 166 Cal.App.4th  1225, 1245.)  Forcing an insured to participate in arbitration because the insurance company made unreasonably low offers, or otherwise acted in bad faith, is thus actionable.  But the key is, before being able to file a lawsuit, the insured must first go through the arbitration process and get an award establishing the amount of loss.

The result of the arbitration will usually dictate whether there is a viable bad faith case.  A good arbitration award, meaning significantly higher than the insurance company’s pre-arbitration offer, is often the best evidence that the insurer low-balled the claim in bad faith prior to the arbitration.  Conversely, an arbitration award at or near the amount offered by the insurance company pre-arbitration usually makes a subsequent bad faith case difficult or impossible.

Where an insurer’s bad faith necessitates arbitration, and the insured subsequently sues for bad faith, the insured can claim as damages costs associated with the arbitration, including the attorney’s fees the insured was required to pay.  In many insurance bad faith actions arising out of uninsured or underinsured motorist claims, the main element of economic damages is the attorney’s fees the insured paid to the attorney who handled the arbitration.

An insured with an uninsured and underinsured motorist claim, who has been unable to agree on the amount of loss with his or her insurer, will likely have to go to arbitration in order to pursue the claim.  Insureds facing such a circumstance should consider seeking legal representation in connection with the arbitration.  If an insurer’s bad faith forces the insured to arbitrate, attorney’s fees the insured paid to the attorney who handled the arbitration can be claimed in the bad faith action.  The outcome of that arbitration will often dictate whether a bad faith claim lies.

Opening Automobile Policy Limits In California

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California, and Los Angeles in particular, is known for its cars, traffic, and a cultural penchant for driving.  As a result, California experiences a large number of car accidents.  In fact, Los Angeles ranks as having the second highest pedestrian deaths caused by automobile in the United States.

When you are in a car accident that is not your fault, one of the first things that usually occurs is an insurance claim is made to the negligent driver’s insurance company.  The negligent driver’s insurance will often have policy limits which may not be adequate to cover the injuries that were caused.  Yet, the insurance company nevertheless frequently refuses to settle with the injured victim for an amount at or under the negligent driver’s policy limits, preferring to take their chances at trial.  The negligent driver, however, not the insurance company, is the one that stands to lose if the insurance company’s gamble does not pay off, because she or he is liable for the judgment.  The California Supreme Court has explained that the duty to settle is important “to protect the insured from . . . the insurer’s gamble—on which only the insured might lose.”  (Murphy v. Allstate Insurance Company (1976) 17 Cal.3d 937, 941.)

If the insurer refuses a reasonable settlement offer within policy limits, it is playing a risky game.  If, ultimately, “the judgment exceeds the policy limits,” the insurance company is liable “for the entire judgment,” including the amount in excess of policy limits.   (Blue Ridge Ins. Co. v. Jacobsen (2001) 25 Cal.4th 489, 502.)  This is what is referred to in the insurance industry as “opening up” a policy.

Opening up a policy can be a technically tricky maneuver to pull off, but it is a potentially powerful tool claimants possess to get insurance companies representing negligent third parties to pay policy benefits.  This is important, because as has beenpreviously discussed on this blog, an insurance company only owes a duty of good faith and fair dealing to its own insured, not third-party claimants.

Several steps must be accomplished to open a policy.  First, the claimant must make “a reasonable settlement offer within the policy limits.”  (Blue Ridge, supra, 25 Cal.4th at 502.)  A demand that is “plainly beyond the policy limit” does not open the policy.  (Heredia v. Farmers Ins. Exchange (1991) 228 Cal.App.3d 1345, 1355.)  Second, the claimant must provide the insurance company with access to all information reasonably necessary to make a decision on the claim, including liability and damages.  (Isaacson v. California Ins. Guar. Ass’n (1988) 44 Cal.3d 775, 792.)  In addition, claimants must allow the insurance company sufficient time to consider and evaluate the demand and information about the claim, and an unreasonably short “deadline imposed by the offer’s terms” may prevent opening the policy.  (Coe v. State Farm Mutual Auto Ins. Co.(1977) 66 Cal.App.3d 981, 994.)  Further, the claimant must offer a full release of liability relating to the accident because an insurance company is not allowed “to make a payment that would bankroll a plaintiff’s caseagainst the insured.”  (State Farm Mutual Autmobile Ins. Co. v. Crane (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 1127, 1136.)  Finally, the offer to settle must be a “reasonable settlement” offer under the circumstances, it is not enough that it just be below policy limits.  (Comunale v. Traders And General Ins. Co. (1958) 50 Cal.2d 654, 660.)  Whether an offer is reasonable, in many cases, is a highly factual and debatable question.

Persons who have been injured by a negligent driver in California who may not have enough insurance to cover the damages caused, should consider making a policy limits offer to settle, and take the steps necessary to provide the negligent driver’s insurer with any reasonably necessary information, so that any refusal to pay those limits risks opening the policy.