Out-of-state automobile accidents involve at least one motorist who does not live in the state where the crash occurs. Such accidents commonly occur in California and other states given the presence of interstate highways, tourism, those visiting relatives and friends, and people conducting business in this and other states.
If you become the victim of an out-of-state accident, you face important decisions about where you can or should pursue your personal injury claim. The choices affect your rights to compensation and the time you have to sue.
If you were injured in a crash please visit our California Car Accident Lawyer webpage today to see how we can assist you.
Can You Sue in California?
The answer turns on “personal jurisdiction.” The concept refers to a court’s power to enter judgments and orders against a party such as an at-fault driver. Usually, the residency of the parties or where the wreck occurs determines personal jurisdiction.
With these rules in mind, out-of-state victims of car wrecks that occur in California may sue here. The fact that the wreck happened in California allows courts in the state to assume personal jurisdiction. This is the case even if neither you nor the other parties live in California.
If you are a California resident injured in another state, you may have a more difficult time suing in California courts. To do so, the prospective defendant must reside in California. Courts in this state may exercise personal jurisdiction over an entity that incorporated or organized as a limited liability company in California or that maintains its principal place of business in California. A corporation or LLC’s principal place of business exists normally at its “nerve center” – usually the headquarters or where the officers of the company have their offices.
Will California Law Apply?
Out-of-state crashes also raise the question of what state’s law applies. This depends upon whether the particular law is “substantive” or “procedural.”
Substantive law defines and establishes the rights and duties of parties. By default, courts apply the substantive personal injury laws of the state where the crash occurred. If you were injured in a wreck in Anaheim, California substantive law would apply. For a wreck that happens in Raleigh, North Carolina but involves a California resident, a court in California would use North Carolina’s personal injury laws.
In a motor vehicle wreck case, statutes and other substantive laws define as unlawful driving or otherwise :
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Texting while driving
- Unsafe movements
- Following too closely
- Failure to keep a proper lookout
Your rights as a car crash victim generally include compensation for medical expenses, lost earnings, diminished capacity to earn, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.
Within the substantive law of negligence, you will find defenses involving the victim’s alleged negligence. Here, the choice of substantive law proves very important to whether your negligence, if any, could reduce or bar your claim. Four states – Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia – follow pure contributory negligence. This rule bars your negligence claim if you were at fault in any way and that negligence contributed to the crash. In the District of Columbia, contributory negligence applies unless the victim was a bicyclist or pedestrian.
California observes the pure comparative negligence rule. If California substantive law applies, what you otherwise would recover in damages is reduced by the amount you are at fault. For example, if you were 25 percent at fault and you suffered damages of $100,000, you would recover $75,000 ($100,000-($100,000 x 0.25)). Other states use a modified comparative negligence approach, requiring that the plaintiff’s negligence not exceed a certain percentage (usually either 50 percent or 49 percent), in order to recover anything.
Thirteen states, including New York, Florida, and Michigan, currently have no-fault personal injury systems. In these states, motorists must carry personal injury protection insurance. This coverage pays a portion of medical expenses, lost wages, and other economic losses from an auto accident regardless of the fault of any of the drivers.
States and the federal government establish laws, rules, and regulations that govern how courts administer and resolve cases. Generally, courts apply the procedural law of the state where the lawsuit is brought. Procedural laws involve rules for:
- Filing pleadings, such as complaints, answers, and petitions
- Serving summonses, pleadings, and other court papers on pleadings
- Conduct of hearings and trials
- Statutes of limitations
A statute of limitations sets a deadline for you to file a lawsuit. In an automobile accident, a statute of limitations usually starts running from the date of the crash. Most states treat statutes of limitations as a procedural rule. Thus, where you file or can file the lawsuit proves critical to when you may or must file.
In California, you have two years from the date of the accident to start the lawsuit. Other states have longer limitations periods for accident cases. For example, North Carolina has a three-year statute of limitations. In North Dakota, victims of negligent motorists have six years from the accident to sue.
Will You Be in Federal Court?
If you’re in an out-of-state crash, you face the possibility that you have a federal case. Federal courts may exercise “diversity jurisdiction” over automobile wreck cases if the plaintiffs and defendants are all residents of different states and the amount of damages sought, claimed, or in question exceeds $75,000.
Federal courts apply the law of the state in which the federal district court is located to rule upon the liability of parties, the amount of damages, and the statute of limitations.
States that use the at-fault method for personal injury claims require drivers to carry liability insurance to compensate those harmed by their negligence. In California, the minimum liability coverages stand at $15,000 per person for injury or death and $30,000 per occurrence or accident for injury or death. If you’re injured by an out-of-state vehicle on a California road or highway, the vehicle’s liability insurance must contain these minimums.
Non-California drivers lacking these coverages may become uninsured or underinsured motorists. Such a scenario might trigger coverage under your uninsured or underinsured motorist policies unless the policy is deemed to conform to California law. Even the required minimums may not adequately compensate you and call for underinsured motorist coverage.
In these cases, your own automobile insurance pays damages to the extent the at-fault driver lacked insurance for them. Uninsured or underinsured motorist is optional for you to carry.
Martin Gasparian is the founder of Maison Law, a California Personal Injury Law Firm. Martin is a graduate of Georgetown University Law School and has been practicing law in California 2004. His practice focuses on helping injury victims know their rights and recover just compensation.
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