“Do I Need A Lawyer After A Car Accident In California’s Inland Empire?”
With a population of over 4 million, the Inland Empire region of southern California is known for its traffic congestion. And with that congestion comes a high rate of car accidents. Indeed, a 2007 Forbes article ranked the Inland Empire as the least healthy place to commute in the United States, thanks in part to its high rate of fatal accidents, a problem that has only grown worse in the last decade.
Even a seemingly minor car accident can have massive implications for the lives of people injured in a crash. That’s why it’s so important for victims to understand their rights and options in the wake of an auto accident, including hiring an attorney to help with their injury claim.
Facts About Auto Accidents in California
California is the most populous state in the United States, and consequently also has more auto accidents on a yearly basis than any other state. But last year was even worse than normal for California in terms of car accidents.
Nationwide, last year was the deadliest year for drivers since 2007. According to estimates from the National Safety Council, there were 40,200 motor vehicle fatalities last year nationwide, an increase of 6 percent compared to 2015, when there were 37,757 fatalities.
In California, there were 3,680 motor vehicle fatalities in 2016, an increase of 13 percent compared to 3,249 fatalities in 2015, the highest number of motor vehicle fatalities in the state since 2007. California’s increase is partly due to people driving more last year. But according to NSC officials, the increase in fatalities far exceeded the increase in mileage.
Thousands of people are also regularly injured in car accidents in California every year. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, there were a total of 223,128 injuries in motor vehicle accidents in 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Many of those injuries are to the most vulnerable road users, including cyclists and pedestrians. There were 13,283 injuries to bicyclists, 11,946 to motorcyclists, and 12,331 to pedestrians.
What makes the roads in the Inland Empire so dangerous?
The Inland Empire region of Southern California routinely ranks among the most dangerous places in the nation for auto accidents. In part, this is because of the level of traffic congestion on the roads, which is disproportionately high even in the context of the area’s high population.
Many people live in the Inland Empire because housing there is fairly affordable in comparison to the remainder of Southern California. However, many higher-paying jobs are located in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties, which forces residents of the Inland Empire to commute to other cities in Southern California. Moreover, the Inland Empire is fairly large geographically, covering more than 27,000 square miles depending on how narrowly or broadly the area is defined. This means that hundreds of thousands of workers must commute over long distances to work daily, sometimes traveling two hours or more in each direction.
Somewhat unusually for a major metropolitan area, the Inland Empire has relatively little public transportation. According to a 2004 study, fewer than five percent of working-age residents of the Inland Empire use public transportation for their commute. This means that passenger cars are overwhelmingly the most common way for Inland Empire residents to commute.
Causes of auto accidents in the Inland Empire
The vast majority of car crashes are caused by human error on the part of a driver. In the Inland Empire, some of the most common causes of car accidents include:
- Distracted driving. Because motorists in the Inland Empire tend to have very long commutes, the impulse to pick up a cell phone or engage in other distracting behavior behind the wheel can be particularly strong. Many motorists may believe it is safe to text and drive while in stop-and-go traffic, putting them at an increased risk of causing accidents such as rear-end collisions.
- Road rage. According to a survey published by the Los Angeles Times, the Inland Empire leads the nation in fatalities caused by aggressive driving and road rage. This makes intuitive sense, as motorists tend to become frustrated and angry in heavy traffic, especially when they need to commute long distances after getting up early to go to work or after working an eight- to 12-hour day.
- Driving under the influence. Despite decades of public awareness campaigns, drinking and driving remains a serious issue in the Inland Empire and throughout California. Driving under the influence of other substances can also lead to serious accidents, and with the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in California, those crashes may become even more common.
In some cases, an entity or company other than a motorist may be responsible for an accident. In the Inland Empire in particular, there have been notable issues with the maintenance of some of the highways and roads, including theft of guardrails, wire and tools from traffic signals and fixtures. Mechanical defects with vehicles can also contribute to accidents, and to sustaining more significant injuries when crashes occur.
Compensation for people hurt in auto accidents
California is considered a “fault” or tort state regarding compensation for auto accidents. That means the person responsible for causing an accident, or his or her insurance company, is responsible for paying damages (financial compensation) to those injured in the accident. In cases where multiple parties share responsibility for a crash, California uses a system of pure comparative negligence, which means each responsible party pays compensation in proportion to his or her percentage of responsibility.
In order to recover financial compensation after an accident, the injured person needs to prove that someone else was at fault for the crash and demonstrate the extent of his or her financial losses as a result of the crash. Many of these damages are “economic damages.” This is compensation for documented financial losses attached to a specific dollar figure. Those losses could include:
- Medical expenses, including hospital bills, prescription medications, in-home care and even mileage to and from appointments;
- Lost wages, if the injured person missed work due to injuries or needs to work reduced hours or a “light duty” position for less pay;
- Property damage, including repairs or replacement of a damaged vehicle as well as any other personal property;
- Household services, such as childcare, house cleaning and yardwork, that may be needed while the injured person recovers;
- Disability or disfigurement, if the victim has a permanent injury or scarring.
In addition, people injured in auto accidents may have a claim for “non-economic damages.” These damages are not attached to a specific dollar figure but still represent real, demonstrable losses that a person has suffered. These damages may include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of care, companionship and enjoyment of life
How an attorney can help victims move forward
Because California uses a fault-based system to compensate accident victims, most people injured in auto accidents will end up dealing with another motorist’s insurance company. Such interactions can be very contentious. That’s because the other driver’s insurance company will likely do anything it can to pay accident victims as little as possible.
Because insurance companies handle thousands of claims and have professional adjusters and attorneys working on cases, the average motorist is left at a serious disadvantage. The insurance company, for example, may offer a “low-ball” settlement, downplay the extent of damages, or even dispute fault for the accident itself.
An experienced attorney can help accident victims move forward and take on insurance companies. A car accident attorney can conduct a thorough investigation into the causes of an accident. Using such evidence, an attorney can then build a strong case proving that another motorist, or other entity, was at fault.
In addition, an attorney should always take into consideration the long-term effects of any injury when negotiating a settlement offer with an insurance company or presenting a case to a jury for a favorable verdict. For example, an attorney might advocate for a client with a knee injury to receive compensation not only for short-term treatment, but also for a knee replacement that will be needed 10 or 20 years later as a result of the accident.
Study after study has shown that injured people who hire a lawyer recover much more money than those who represent themselves. For example, a 2004 report from the Insurance Research Council (IRC) indicated that auto accident victims who hire an attorney to represent them recover 3.7 times more on average in insurance payouts compared to those who represent themselves.
For more information
Contact The Law Offices of Brian Brandt, an injury law firm with extensive experience representing auto accident victims in the Inland Empire. The firm’s main office is located in Upland, CA, with several satellite locations throughout Southern California.
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