The time to understand car insurance is before you get into an accident. But if you’ve been in a recent collision, don’t despair. Car insurance laws can be complicated, but we’ll break down the important parts so you can be informed and ready if you need to file a claim.
If you own or drive a car, you probably already know that you’re required to have car insurance coverage. You need certain minimum amounts in order to drive legally, but are those minimums enough? Would they really cover you in an accident, or do you need supplemental coverage, too?
Below is everything you need to know about California car insurance minimums and whether you might want to consider additional coverage.
Every California driver is required to maintain at least these car insurance coverage amounts:
|Minimum Car Insurance Coverage Requirements in California|
|Bodily injury liability||$15,000 per person, $30,000 per accident|
|Property damage liability||$5,000|
|Uninsured motorist bodily injury||$15,000 per person, $30,000 per accident|
|Uninsured motorist property damage||$3,500|
There are just a few exceptions to these coverage requirements. A California driver could opt to:
The vast majority of California drivers purchase an auto insurance policy.
California collision and comprehensive insurance are optional, or add-ons.
Collision insurance covers damages caused in an accident with another vehicle, person, or other property. Comprehensive insurance covers other damages caused by an event that’s not a collision. Most insurance companies sell these 2 types of policies together as a bundle.
Collision insurance can pay for repair or replacement of your vehicle if it’s been damaged by another car, pedestrian or bicyclist, or has sustained any other kind of damage from colliding with an object like a mailbox, garbage can, fence, or sidewalk.
Comprehensive insurance covers your vehicle if it’s damaged by something that’s not a collision, such as:
The main difference between the required and optional coverage is who and what is covered.
The required $5,000 in property damage liability covers the other person’s property in an accident. Collision and comprehensive insurance can cover any amount above that $5,000 and it can cover your own damage.
Generally, your collision and comprehensive insurance coverage pays for the cost to repair or replace the vehicle if the damages are what an insurance adjuster considers a “total loss.” The insurance company will pay up to the policy limit, which is usually the current market value of the vehicle.
Collision and comprehensive coverage are different from liability insurance because your liability will cover the other person’s property if you’re at fault in an accident. It doesn’t pay for your vehicle damages if you were at fault. It also doesn’t cover non-collision damage to your vehicle caused by hail, falling tree limbs, other acts of nature, or vandalism.
If the other driver was at fault, their liability insurance will cover your repairs and your collision insurance will cover any amount above their policy limits.
As with anything, the cost of collision and comprehensive insurance depends on what your needs are. Generally, it’s based on:
You can’t predict an accident. Even if you’re a careful, conscientious driver, serious accidents happen. If the amount of damages is more than your policy limits, you’re responsible for the remaining costs. A collision and comprehensive coverage policy could protect your personal assets.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and Medical Pay Benefits (MedPay) are additional optional insurance policies that cover medical services following a car accident. California doesn’t require this insurance coverage.
MedPay can cover any injuries sustained by you or your passengers in a California car accident, whether or not you were at fault.
Some states require uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, but California does not. You may opt to buy this insurance, which protects you if an accident happens and the other driver isn’t properly insured.
California law requires you to purchase certain insurance, but it also requires action on the part of the insurance company. An insurer is required to:
California is an at-fault state for auto insurance. That means the damages from a car accident are paid by the insurance company of the person who’s at fault for the collision.
California is also a pure comparative negligence state. This means if you had any amount of fault or liability in the accident, no matter how small, the amount you can recover in damages is reduced by the percentage of your liability.
Here’s an example of how this plays out in real life:
Fortunately, your required liability policy also insures a family member driving your car, or anyone else to whom you’ve given permission to use it. It should also cover you if you’re driving a rental vehicle, but you should review your policy or contact your insurance company to confirm what is and isn’t covered under your plan.
If you’ve been in an accident and the other driver is at fault, there are 3 possible ways to recover damages:
Bottom line... don’t be.
If you’re driving without the required California auto insurance, you can have your vehicle registration suspended, receive a citation, or your vehicle could be impounded — and that’s without getting into an accident.
Here’s why you need insurance:
Insurance is complicated. Chances are that you haven’t read every word of the fine print in your insurance policies — most people don’t.
But just like you have certain obligations and responsibilities as a driver, California has laws and regulations that insurance companies must follow, too.
The important thing to remember is this:
Even though you’re the “client, insurance companies profit by paying out the least possible amount for settlements. The adjuster’s job isn’t to be generous. The adjuster’s job is to satisfy your claim, but still spend as little of the company’s money as they can.
Your personal injury lawyer, on the other hand, usually gets paid when you reach the desired result. Their motivation is to be your advocate. The attorney’s job IS to be on your side, and to get the best possible result for you.
Your lawyer knows the intricacies of insurance law in California, has experience negotiating with insurers, and will minimize your liability in order to maximize your damage award. You can start with the Enjuris Personal Injury Directory to find a California lawyer near you who will protect your rights and interests after a car accident.