California Car Accident Laws – A Complete Guide


Jan Reburiano

With over 39 million people living in California, car accidents continue to wreak havoc across the Golden State as thousands are killed or injured every year. California car accident laws were created to guide victims through the legal process after a crash. These regulations seek to answer questions like:

  • Determining liability
  • What economic damages you may qualify for
  • How the state of California handles car insurance

It is crucial to know California’s accident laws when talking to an auto accident lawyer about your case. Each crash is different and requires the expertise of an attorney to get the most out of your settlement.

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California Car Accident Laws at the Scene of the Crash

Your first priority after an auto accident is to check for serious injuries and to call 911 immediately if anyone needs medical assistance ASAP.

After confirming everyone’s safety, report the crash to the police department or California Highway Patrol for future records.

California Vehicle Code Section 20008 requires you to report the incident within 24 hours if injuries or death occurred. A police report will also strengthen your car accident claim when your attorney has valuable information to determine who is at fault in your case.

CVC §16000 also requires that you report the accident within 10 days when property damage caused by the crash exceeds $1000.

After calling the police, exchange information with the other driver to include:

  1. Names
  2. Phone numbers
  3. Addresses
  4. Driver’s license numbers
  5. Yours and the other party’s insurance info 

Not only is relinquishing each other’s info required under CVC §20003, but trading info ensures no one can accuse you of a hit and run according to CVC §20002.

Take pictures of the crash along with the location. If possible, talk to witnesses who saw first-hand the results of the crash. Avoid saying anything that admits fault when communicating with the other driver. All of this information will make liability clearer for your auto accident attorney so they can represent your claim.

How to Report a Car Accident in California

The first step to reporting a car accident in California is to contact the DMV. Then, give them a completed SR-1 form with necessary information about your car accident as required by CVC §16000.

Only report to the DMV if the accident caused either of these to occur:

  • Accidents that result in property damage that costs more than $1,000
  • Accidents that result in personal injury, however slight
  • Accidents that result in death

Failure to do so 10 days after the accident will risk getting your license revoked.

Filing an SR-1 Form

An SR-1 form can be filled out in person at a DMV office, by mail, or online through the DMV website. The following information is required to fill out the form:

  • Your driver’s license
  • Your license plate number or vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Your car insurance information
  • The license, plate number, and insurance information of the other driver(s) involved if able

If you are having trouble filling out your SR-1 form, it is highly advised to speak to an auto accident attorney to make sure each entry is correct. LegalASAP has resources to connect you to an experienced attorney in your area so the legal process is as smooth as possible.

California Car Insurance Laws

California law requires drivers to “provide evidence of financial responsibility” to police officers when a car accident occurs according to CVC §16028. What “financial responsibility” refers to is car insurance.

Minimum Insurance Requirements

Each state has different insurance requirements, but in California, every driver is required to carry a minimum of 15/20/5 car insurance on their vehicle when they drive the road according to CVC §16028a. This ratio refers to:

  • $15,000 to cover injury or death to one person
  • $30,000 to cover injury or death to multiple people
  • $5,000 to cover property damage as a result of the accident

If you are caught not driving with car insurance to cover your vehicle, you could face fines or up to six months jail time for violating CVC §16028a.

These are the minimum car insurance requirements for all drivers in California roads, but if the accident was severe, minimum coverage might not be enough to cover your damages.

There are additional coverage options you may consider when financing your vehicle that will tremendously help you when dealing with a car accident in California.

Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage

California car accident laws require insurance companies to offer uninsured or underinsured (UM/UIM) motorist coverage to their customers, even though it is entirely optional for you to elect for this coverage.

When you are involved in a car accident with an uninsured driver, this coverage allows your damages to be covered by your insurance company if the accident was not your fault.

Underinsured motorist coverage allows your insurance to cover your damages if the other party has too little insurance to pay for your damages.

California has one of the highest amounts of uninsured drivers in all of the United States, with an estimated 16% of all drivers not carrying insurance on California roads.

Even though California does not require drivers to elect for UM/UIM coverage, it is highly advisable as the chance of hitting an uninsured or underinsured motorist in California is high.

Additional California Car Insurance Options

California’s minimum coverage might not be sufficient in covering all of your damages during a car crash. If the collision was your fault, then victims might consult with attorneys to pursue your assets. It would be wise to consider extra coverage when insuring your vehicle. Examples of additional coverage would include:

  • Theft coverage
  • Medical payments coverage
  • Collision coverage
  • Comprehensive coverage

Talk to your insurance provider for further instructions on how to get your car covered in the event that you get into a car accident in California.

California Accident Fault Laws

How do you determine who is at fault in a California car accident? Answering this question is important to finding out who pays for what damages in a crash.

Because California is a pure comparative negligence state according to California Civil Code §1714, more than one person can be responsible for the damages in a car accident.

Comparative Negligence

California implemented pure comparative negligence for two reasons:

  1. This system allows you to recover damages even if you were partially liable for the accident
  2. More than one person can be responsible for different aspects of a car accident

For example, if someone runs a stop sign and crashes onto someone speeding above the limit, both people are partially liable for the crash. One person may be 70% liable for the crash, while the other is 30% liable.

Each person pays according to how responsible they are for the crash, and their settlements are reduced by their percentage of liability.

This system also applies for car accidents involving more than two people according to California Civil Code §1431.2 where everyone must cover their share of liability after an incident of personal injury.

We strongly recommend consulting with a lawyer about liability. This is because a lawyer will tell you how much you and the other party are liable and what damages you deserve.

Insurance companies want to award as little money as possible in order to retain their profits. A legal professional will work in your best interest to make sure you receive the pay you deserve for your losses.

Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents in California

There is a time limit for filing car accident claims involving personal injury and property damage called the statute of limitations. In California, the time limit to file for damages after a car accident is:

  1. Two years for personal injury claims stated in California Civil Code §335.1
  2. Three years for property damage claims stated in California Civil Code §338

Filing your claim before the statute of limitations ends is extremely important because if you miss the deadline to file a claim, you will be unable to file another claim in the future.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

There are few situations where an attorney can extend the statute of limitations in your case. But if you meet these requirements, you may be able to extend your deadline to file a claim if:

Statute of Limitations on Government Claims

If you are involved in a car accident with a government entity, the statute of limitations for car accidents is even shorter. You have only 180 days after the date of the accident according to California Government Code §911.2.

Damages for Vehicle Collision Victims in California

California law allows victims of car accidents to recover damages caused by the negligence of another party. There are two types of damages available to victims, economic and non-economic damages.

Examples of both economic and non-economic damages are provided in California Civil Code §1431.2.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are the monetary, measurable losses you suffered from a car accident. Common examples of economic damages include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Vehicle repairs and maintenance costs
  • Lost income or wages
  • Loss of use of property
  • Lost employment opportunity

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are your non-measurable losses from a car crash. Examples of non-economic damages include:

Due to the nature of non-economic damages, victims may not realize they qualify for a higher payout. Contact an auto accident attorney to make sure you are getting the right payment amount for the economic and non-economic damages you suffered.

Connect With a Local Auto Accident Lawyer with LegalASAP

Car accidents are incredibly complicated to deal with on your own. One misstep in your paperwork and problems show up in the future, and various misconceptions about tort law doesn’t clear the confusion. Not only will an attorney clear up the complex legal process for you, but you may receive a higher settlement than if you agreed to the insurance company’s first offer.

LegalASAP can connect you with an auto accident lawyer in your area to review your case for free. The whole process is free of charge until you win your settlement, so click below to continue:

Jan Reburiano is a content writer and SEO specialist for law firms focusing on personal injury, disability, employment law, among other practices. He has written and edited numerous articles and created commercial spots for broadcasters that you can find in his LinkedIn. Jan currently lives in Los Angeles, California while writing for clients from around the United States.