I do not want to see anyone involved in an accident. The suffering and pain associated with an accident is not worth it, ever. But here is another truth, accidents happen no matter how much we try to avoid them. Knowing that statistically there is a high chance that sometime in your life there you will have an accident, you need to know what to do. So here are five things you should do before an accident, which if you don’t do, could devastate your ability to recover all you should receive from your accident claim.
1. Make Sure You Purchase Liability Insurance for Any Car You Own
In California, if you do not have liability insurance, and you are in an accident, even if you are completely free from fault, you limit your right of recovery. The law prohibits the recovery of pain and suffering damages, or what is sometimes called non-economic damages. So your only recovery includes things such as medical expenses, loss of wages and/or property damage. The fact you are seriously injured and have lost your enjoyment of life is irrelevant because these damages are immediately prohibited. This same limitation does not apply to the passengers. So while a passenger and a driver have the same injuries, the passenger will be able to recover non-economic damages but the driver will not. There is nothing that can be done to change that unless you have liability coverage. There are very few exceptions to this draconian rule.
2. You Need to Have High Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Keeping with the theme of insurance coverage, it is critical that you have uninsured motorist coverage. About 25% or all motorist in California are uninsured or underinsured for the damages caused by their accidents. There have been way too many times when we have had a seriously injured client, but the other driver did not have enough insurance coverage to pay for all the losses. At that point, we either settle the case for only the available insurance or, if the client prepared herself with uninsured motorist coverage, we turn to her own insurance to make up the difference, up to the policy limit of her own insurance. My own recommendation is to spend the small amount of extra money for at least $100,000 in uninsured motorist coverage. More is better. See your insurance agent right away to make that change.
3. When You Get in Your Car, Make Sure You Are Wearing Your Seat Belt
To me this is really so obvious, however, I have been surprised at the number of people who fail to wear their seat belt even though the mandatory seat belt law has been in place for many years and there is so much evidence that seat belts save lives and generally reduce injuries. From the legal side of the evaluation, if you are involved in an accident, you were not wearing your seat belt and you suffered serious injuries, but those injuries could have been avoided through the use of the seat belt, then the defense can avoid liability for the more serious injuries because of your failure to comply with the law. This is a major deal. An ejection from a vehicle can result in paralysis, but if the other passengers who were belted in the car did not suffer serious injuries, the more serious injuries would be excluded from recovery.
If you have children in the car, make sure car seats and booster seats are properly placed and belted and are not in the front seat where airbags can deploy. A car seat not properly attached can become like a projectile upon impact. Please, never start driving without your seat belt on.
4. Don't Get Behind the Wheel if You Are Not Physically Capable
We become so accustomed to jumping in our cars and driving away. Unfortunately, there are those moments in time when to do so puts our safety in jeopardy and the safety of everyone around us at risk. These moments include when we are too tired to drive with the attention required, when we have had even the slightest too much to drink or if we are impaired because of prescription or non-prescription drugs. While you may not cause an accident, the likelihood goes up that you will be unable to avoid an avoidable accident. This would then make you comparatively negligent for the accident and can be used to reduce your right of recovery.
5. Don't Let Yourself Get Distracted
Distractions come in so many shapes, sizes and sounds. Smoking, cell phones, music, eating, applying make-up, an attractive billboard, friends, noise in the car, etc. No matter what the source of the distraction, limit them as much as possible. If you are alert and attentive to the road and the surrounding conditions, your reaction time will be quicker thereby keeping you safer or better prepared to deal with an impending accident. There is no distraction more important than your safe travel.
If You've Been in an Accident, Our Attorneys Can Protect Your Legal Rights
All of these things seem relatively common sense. But I bet in the last thirty days, or even now, some of us have committed one or more of these "mistakes". We at the Inland Empire Law Group want you safe and sound in your travels as well as better prepared in the event of an accident. For more information, give us a call at 909-481-0100. We have offices in Rancho Cucamonga, and proudly serve all of the Inland Empire and High Desert.