Personal Injury Laws In California

A wooden gavel stacked on top of two law books.

Different branches of law include criminal, civil, and tort law. Personal injury claims fall within the tort law branch. Personal injury lawyers play a crucial role in seeking justice for those coping with accident injuries or wrongful death. Individuals already dealing with physical harm or loss from the negligence of others can suffer additional harm without a personal injury law expert to guide them through the legal process and fight for them to receive justice.

At Sette Law, we understand the challenges personal injury victims face and how overwhelming it can be to deal with legal and financial matters while struggling with loss or injuries. If you’re coping with personal injuries or a wrongful death, you don’t have to face your situation alone. Let’s look at California’s personal injury law and how we can help you get the settlement you deserve.

If you have been injured, let Sette Law fight for you.

What Constitutes A Personal Injury In California?

Establishing a party’s liability and grounds to file a lawsuit begins with verifying the four elements of a personal injury claim are present.

1. Duty Of Care

When someone has a duty of care, it means they have a responsibility to act in a way that prevents harm. Suppose someone is driving home from work. They have a duty of care to follow local traffic laws. Duty of care stems from the social contract applied to members of society. 

2. Breach Of Duty

When someone disregards their social contract and engages in actions they know may harm others or refuse to take precautions that could prevent harm, they do not fulfill their duty of care. Consequently, they have breached their duty and may be guilty of negligence or gross negligence.

3. Causation

Causation is sometimes referred to as proof of negligence. It is the evidence that a person’s breach of duty has caused harm to another. Causation is essential when proving liability. Causation focuses on establishing that the at-fault party caused the damages the victim suffered and that they would not have sustained those damages if the at-fault party had acted differently. 

4. Damages

In personal injury law, damages refer to two distinct things. When establishing grounds for a personal injury claim, damages refers to the harm a person suffered because of a person’s negligence. In this context, injuries and wrongful deaths are damages. 

Types Of Personal Injury Claims

Personal injury law encompasses several types of personal injury claims. The type of claim you file depends on the source of your injuries. 

Traffic Accidents

In 2019, U.S. traffic accidents involved over 12 million vehicles. These accidents injured more than 2.7 million people and caused 36,096 fatalities. They involved passenger cars, commercial trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians, and bicycles. 

Car Accidents

Car accidents refer to motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) involving passenger vehicles. Consequently, accidents involving personal trucks, sport utility vehicles, and minivans are considered car accidents. Injuries from car accidents range from minor lacerations and bruises to severe injuries and death.

Pedestrian Accidents

Legally, pedestrian accidents occur when a motor vehicle impacts a pedestrian. In this context, the pedestrian could be someone walking alongside or crossing a road or jogging alongside or across a roadway. Pedestrians have no protective gear to prevent injury when they’re hit by a motor vehicle, increasing their risks of suffering severe injuries or death. 

Bicycle Accidents

Although motor vehicles must share the roadway with bicycles, there are hundreds of fatal collisions between drivers and bicyclists yearly. Like pedestrians, bicyclists are vulnerable on roadways. While wearing helmets can help prevent traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in some cases, bicyclists who survive traffic accidents are at risk of internal injuries, broken bones, spinal cord injuries (SCIs), and other life-altering injuries. 

Commercial Truck Accidents

Commercial truck accidents involve commercial vehicles, such as buses, construction vehicles, and tractor-trailers. These cases can be more complex than car accidents because the company that owns the vehicle may share liability or be solely liable for the accident. Vehicle maintenance records and hiring and training practices may be relevant factors establishing fault for commercial truck accidents. 

Motorcycle Accidents

Motorcyclists are vulnerable because they do not have a vehicle’s shell to absorb a collision’s impact. Since motorcycles take up less space on roadways, they can be more challenging for other motorists to see, resulting in collisions. It’s common for motorcyclists to suffer severe injuries or death because motorcycle accidents can involve two or more vehicles traveling at rates of 30 mph or more, depending on the speed limit on the roadway where the accident occurs. Like cyclists and pedestrians, motorcyclists do not have as much protection as other motorists.

Boat Accidents

Like other motorists, boaters must comply with state laws when operating vessels. Suppose a person is injured in a boating accident because a boat operator violated state laws, such as exceeding the speed limits or operating a vessel while under the influence, which can be grounds for a boat accident lawsuit.

Premises Liability

Premises liability cases involve incidents occurring on another person’s property or public property. Property owners or managers may be liable if a person is injured because they did not take appropriate steps to ensure the property was safe. They can also be liable for injuries occurring on their property because they failed to alert visitors to potential hazards, which can be grounds for a personal injury claim. People also have obligations when using public spaces and could face a premises liability suit if they do not comply with regulations and that failure harms another person. 

Slip And Fall

In legal terms, slip-and-fall cases include the following:

  • Slip and fall: Slips occur when someone slides on a wet or icy surface or loose object
  • Step and fall: When someone unexpectedly steps onto a lower surface, they’ve had a step-and-fall accident. Suppose a person who is walking steps into a hidden hole and falls. That is a step-and-fall accident. A step-and-fall accident also occurs when someone’s foot breaks through a faulty surface, such as a rotten step or floorboard.
  • Stumble and fall: These incidents occur if your foot strikes an object on the floor or ground, such as a toy, and causes you to stumble and fall
  • Trip and fall: Trip-and-fall cases apply when someone trips over something and falls. Objects you can trip over include objects left lying around and objects that should be secured. Suppose you trip on a loose carpet or tile; that’s an example of tripping over an object that isn’t secured to the floor. 

Dog Bites

Dog owners are responsible for their dogs’ conduct and may be liable if they bite someone. Liability depends on the circumstances surrounding and the location of the incident. Suppose a dog owner does not have their dog on a leash in a public area despite signs indicating dogs must be leashed; the dog owner can be liable for breach of duty because they failed to control their dog. 

Wrongful Death

Wrongful death cases apply when a person’s negligence causes an accident that results in a person’s death. California also classifies deaths from criminal actions and medical malpractice as wrongful deaths. 

What Damages Can You Seek For A Personal Injury?

Most personal injury victims can seek economic and non-economic damages from a personal injury lawsuit, and some can also seek punitive damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages refer to costs resulting from injuries or wrongful death. Grounds for these damages include costs from the following:

  • Burial 
  • Childcare
  • Funeral
  • Lost wages
  • Medical
  • Property damage
  • Transportation

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages recognize the victim’s suffering because of their accident injuries or the loss of a loved one. Reasons you can seek these damages include suffering from any of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Loss of intimacy
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Pain
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages apply to cases involving gross negligence, where a person’s reckless endangerment of others justifies punishment from the courts. 

How Long Do I Have To File A Personal Injury Lawsuit?

California’s statute of limitations allows personal injury victims two years to initiate a personal injury lawsuit. However, the statute of limitations is 365 days from the date of discovery if the victim did not learn of the injury immediately. 

Things To Think About Before Filing A Lawsuit

You should consider the following before filing a personal injury lawsuit:

  • Responsibility: Who caused your injury?
  • Jurisdiction: Did the accident occur in Sacramento, or do you need to file a claim in another county or city?
  • Cause: Do you have grounds for a personal injury claim?
  • Proof: What evidence do you need to support your claim?
  • Damages: What injuries did you suffer as a result of the incident?
  • Shared liability: Is more than one party responsible for your injuries? Under California’s comparative negligence laws, you can seek as little as 1% of the total damages owed from a party who contributed to your injuries.

How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You

A personal injury lawyer can help you with all aspects of your injury claim. Your attorney will handle the following:

  • Provide a free consultation to confirm you have grounds for a claim
  • Complete and file legal forms
  • Meet the filing deadlines
  • Help you calculate the damages to seek
  • Communicate with defendants and insurance companies
  • Investigate, gather evidence, and establish who was negligent
  • Attempt to negotiate a settlement that provides fair compensation
  • Represent you in court if the case goes to trial

Personal Injury Law Attorneys

Along with fighting for justice for Sacramento’s personal injury victims, lawyers throughout the nation have been instrumental in many major decisions that impact the lives of thousands of people. Most cases pitted large corporate entities against individuals or groups that suffered a personal injury. Lawyers look at the circumstances and history in preparing and presenting their evidence and at applicable precedents in personal injury law. But, when the issue involves powerful entities with additional lawyers at their command, personal injury attorneys must be ready for a lengthy public relations battle in addition to the legal dynamics.

In many of these high-profile cases, personal injury lawyers have created results that protect entire communities today. For example, in the 1980s, breast implants were in demand and popular until there was evidence the implants often leaked and sometimes ruptured, causing harm to women across the nation and in Sacramento. Personal injury lawyers represented a group of thousands of women who had undergone cosmetic surgery and sued medical practitioners as well as the makers of the implants. As a result, personal injury victims received millions of dollars, and the public was protected in the future across the U.S. and in Sacramento.

Personal injury law can extend beyond an individual’s complaint to impact a general population. In Sacramento, personal injury lawyers assess how a case might apply beyond to a larger group of people. If multiple victims are involved, a Sacramento personal injury case may become a class action lawsuit.

Famous Personal Injury Cases

One of the most famous cases was that of Erin Brockovich, who stood up to PG & E. She alleged the company allowed toxic chromium to seep into her community’s well water. Personal injury lawyers across the country followed the case with intense interest. But the public likely better recalls the movie “Erin Brockovich,” starring Julia Roberts as Ms. Brockovich. It was a difficult, lengthy struggle, but a court awarded a $333 million judgment. That affirmed personal injury that extended to the entire community of people harmed.

Thousands in our community frequently cross local bridges across the American and Sacramento rivers. Some of those structures are very old. A tragic event happened in 2007 in Minneapolis when the main span of a bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota collapsed during rush hour. Scores of people were injured, and 13 lost their lives. Lawsuits against the companies responsible for the design and engineering of the bridge were lodged. In that case, many personal injury lawyers and other attorneys worked pro-bono to represent the public interest and the well-being of the personal injury victims.

The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case

One of the most famous personal injury lawsuits is widely derided and misunderstood. The 1992 incident in which a 72-year-old woman spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee on her lap has been much debated in the media. Stella Liebeck’s injuries were extensive — requiring skin grafts and hospitalization. While some commentators called the case “frivolous,” this is not the case in this particular instance. Third-degree burns and lesser burns on 22% of one’s body are hardly frivolous. Permanent disfigurement and a disability lasting for years add up to qualify as a valid personal injury lawsuit. Mcdonald’s further refused to cover Ms. Liebeck’s medical costs and showed no compassion for the personal injury victim until a Texas personal injury lawyer took on the case and accused McDonald’s of gross negligence.

McDonald’s required that outlets serve coffee up to 190˚F degrees — experts reported it would take only two to four seconds for coffee that hot to cause third-degree burns to customers. McDonald’s had previously received hundreds of complaints from other customers who said their intensely hot coffee burned them. A jury eventually awarded damages to Ms. Liebeck, who, without the expertise of dedicated personal injury lawyers, would most likely have been ignored and left to suffer alone, financially as well as emotionally.

These and other high-profile personal injury lawsuits speak publicly to the work we do on behalf of personal injury victims on a daily basis. Most often, these cases do not make headlines but do result in profound financial losses and physical injuries for victims. Our commitment as personal injury lawyers is to give each case our complete attention as if it were of global importance.

Forms for Filing a Personal Injury Case in California

Filing a personal injury case involves using appropriate court forms for your claim. The following list includes the primary forms claimants must use:

Claimants must also use the appropriate cause of action form from this list:

If You Have Been Injured, Let Sette Law Fight for You 

Coping with the aftermath of an unexpected incident can be frightening and stressful. Whether you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one or personal injuries, you may not be able to focus on legal matters. You may also be overwhelmed with expenses.

At Sette Law, we help you protect your legal rights while seeking fair compensation. We’ll handle the legal matters and investigation so you can focus on your recovery. Our Sacramento team will be with you throughout the entire process. We don’t charge any fees until we win your case, ensuring financial concerns do not prevent you from seeking the justice you deserve. 

Call Sette Law today for your free no-obligation consultation.

Sources:

Bicyclists and Other Cyclists. (2023). 

Boating laws rules and license requirements. (2024). 

Carlier, M. (2023). Road accidents in the United States – Statistics & Facts

Dorian, M., et al. (2021). Erin Brockovich: the real story of the town three decades later. 

Hayes, A. (2024). Tort Law: What It Is and How It Works, With Examples

Number of road traffic-related injuries and fatalities in the U.S. from 1990 to 2020. (2024). 

Ray, D. (2024). Wrongful Death Lawsuits in California.

Shaper, D. (2017). 10 Years After Bridge Collapse, America is Still Crumbling

The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case. (2024).