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Understanding the laws of negligence in California

Car accidents are a fact of life on California's busy streets and highways, and even the most defensive driver may find themselves on the wrong end of a nasty car crash from time to time. In addition to the risk of personal injury, people who suffer car accidents have to go through the enormous hassle of dealing with insurance companies, the police or highway patrol and finding a competent person to repair or replace their vehicle. All of this costs time and money and can leave a busy person in a difficult position.

Fortunately, California's law of negligence allows victims of car accidents to collect damages and other compensation when another person's mistake caused the accident. In order to find a person negligent, several elements must be proven. First, it must be shown that the defendant had a duty to act (or not act) in a certain manner. Second, it must be shown that the defendant breached that duty. Third, the breach of this duty must be what caused the defendant's injuries. Fourth, it must be shown that the defendant should have foreseen the consequences of their actions. Finally, it must be shown that the victim suffered actual damages.

In the case of a car accident, the defendant has a duty to drive carefully and not injure other drivers or pedestrians on the road. This doesn't mean that the defendant had to have committed a traffic infraction -- a person can be negligent without breaking the law. For example, a person who is driving the speed limit during a severe rain storm and smashes into a slower-moving car might not have been breaking the law necessarily, but they should have known that driving that fast during slippery and dangerous conditions was potentially likely to cause an accident. By smashing into the car, the negligent driver breached their duty not to injure other drivers.

People who suffer a serious injury caused by another person's negligence may be able to seek damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages and other compensatory awards. A personal injury attorney may be able to provide professional advice and legal guidance on these issues.

Source: FindLaw, "California negligence laws," accessed July 28, 2014

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