California Law: Car Accident Compensation


Californian cities are infamous for having high-density traffic congestion. As a result, accidents are a common occurrence. So, anyone who drives regularly in the golden state needs to be familiar with California car accident compensation laws. 

As with many other states, California has an “at fault” system for insurance claims. In other words, the driver seeking compensation must show another person was at fault for the accident.

Who is responsible?

Should a car accident case shift from the insurance realm into full legal proceedings, it will become a matter of “pure comparative negligence”. This means that more than one person can share responsibility for the negligence. Therefore, a plaintiff who is partially responsible for an accident can expect an adjustment on their compensation.

For example, an accident may cause $20,000 worth of damage to a vehicle, however, if the plaintiff is 20% responsible for the accident they will only receive $16,000 (80%) in damages.

Insurance Requirements

All cars registered within the State of California require a document that demonstrates financial responsibility. For instance, this can be done by obtaining a car insurance policy. This is the most common way to satisfy the legal requirements you have as the owner of a registered vehicle.

When it comes to insurance coverage, California insists on a minimum amount of coverage.

California Vehicle Code requires all drivers to maintain a minimum of 15/30/5 coverage on all registered vehicles: 

(a) No policy or bond shall be effective under Section 16054…unless the policy or bond is subject, if the accident has resulted in bodily injury or death, to a limit, exclusive of interest and costs, of not less than fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000) because of bodily injury to or death of one person in any one accident and, subject to that limit for one person, to a limit of not less than thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) because of bodily injury to or death of two or more persons in any one accident, and, if the accident has resulted in injury to or destruction of property, to a limit of not less than five thousand dollars ($5,000) because of injury to or destruction of property of others in any one accident.

Californian Insurance Minimums Overview

A vehicle insurance policy is void in California unless it covers:

  • $15,000 for injury or death to one person
  • $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person
  • $5,000 for property damage. 

Insurance documents should always be available to hand when driving in California.

Statute of Limitations

There are time limits when it comes to filing a vehicle accident claim in the state of California. 

  • 2 years for an accident that leads to a personal injury lawsuit
  • 3 years for an accident that leads to a  property damage lawsuit 
  • 6 months for any claim involves a government agency 

In certain cases, the court will also grant an extension of the statute of limitations:

  • There is a reasonable delay in the discovery of an accident-related injury
  • The defendant cannot be located 
  • The defendant is in prison
  • The victim was a minor or disabled at the time of the accident

Accident Reporting Requirements

You are legally obliged to report an accident in California if:

  1. It leads to property damage in excess of $1,000.
  2. It leads to personal injury.

The report has to be made to the DMV within 10 days of the accident.

Form SR-1

This is the specific accident report form you will complete in the event of an accident. It must include:

  • Name(s) & address(es) of any anyone involved in the accident 
  • Time 
  • Date
  • Location of the accident
  • Personal information of any drivers involved (name, address, birth date, driver license information)
  • Your own personal information
  • Insurance information on any drivers involved (company, policy number, expiration)
  • Details of both the injuries and damage


By California law, Personal injury victims are legally encouraged to claim economic and non-economic damages in the case of an accident.

The California Civil Code defines economic damages as: 

“… objectively verifiable monetary losses…” 

  • medical expenses
  •  loss of earnings
  •  burial costs, loss of use of property
  •  costs of repair or replacement
  •  costs of obtaining substitute domestic services
  •  loss of employment and loss of business or employment opportunities

Non-Economic Damages:

“For the purposes of this section, the term “non-economic damages” means subjective, non-monetary losses including…”

  • pain
  • suffering,
  • inconvenience 
  • mental suffering 
  • emotional distress 
  • loss of society and companionship,
  • loss of consortium,
  • injury to reputation and humiliation

Drivers forfeit the right to compensation for pain and suffering, mental distress, and other non-economic injuries in the following cases:

  • They did not obtain car insurance or otherwise satisfy the state’s financial responsibility requirements
  • They were convicted of a DUI at the time of the accident

This is meant as a resource guide only. However, being aware of these basic principles of Californian car accident compensation laws will help you protect your rights while out on the road.

Are you seeking compensation from a car accident related injury? California.Law’s list of legal specialists could help you through this process.