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What Happens If You’re in California on Vacation, and You Suffer a Car Accident?

What happens if you’re visiting California from another state, and you’re in a road accident? The best way forward would be to hire a personal injury lawyer licensed to practice in California. This article looks at how such legal action would go, and how a lawyer could be of help.

California attracts about 40 million tourists on vacation every year. When they arrive, many of these tourists rent cars to make their way around the state’s streets and highways; unfortunately, some of them end up dealing with accidents, and the injuries that result. Far away from home, these victims often find it hard to determine how to go about finding support, compensation, and justice. California’s laws can be different from the laws in other states, after all.

If you need to bring legal action against the other party, doing it in California, where the courts have jurisdiction over the matter, and where it may be convenient for both parties to attend hearings, would be appropriate. Local courts in California are also able to apply expert knowledge of local laws to the case.

Technically, you could go back home and find a lawyer there, but they would need to appear in the case under the supervision of a lawyer licensed to practice in California, anyway. You would also need to pay for the lawyer’s expenses to go back and forth to California. It is for this reason that retaining a personal injury lawyer in California would make more sense than going back home to find a lawyer.

Understanding facts about California injury law

As you prepare to deal with California law in an injury lawsuit, it can help to familiarize yourself with a few basic legal concepts.

  • This is a fault state: California is a fault state. All drivers in California need to buy personal injury protection coverage. To receive compensation when you’re hurt in an accident, you would need to file a claim with the insurance company that covers the driver who is at fault.
  • This is a comparative negligence state: The law in California can assign degrees of responsibility to different parties in an accident. If more than one party is found at fault, they hold shared responsibility for paying damages. The legal process may even find that you bore some responsibility for the accident, as well, even if you were injured in the accident. This could result in reduced compensation.
  • Your out-of-state insurance will need to comply with California requirements: If you bought your insurance at home in a no-fault state, say, like Michigan, your insurance company would still have to play by California’s fault system.
  • California law imposes a two-year statute of limitations: If the compensation offered by the insurance company doesn’t appear adequate, you could sue them for more. However, you need to be aware of the two-year limit that California law gives you to take legal action (this limitation doesn’t apply if the defendant is the government). The law also gives you three years to sue, if you only seek compensation for damage to your vehicle.

The different kinds of compensation you can ask for

In California, a person who experiences a car accident can ask for compensation of the following kinds, where appropriate:

  • Economic damages: Whether you incur medical bills or suffer loss of earning capacity, your lawyer should be able to help you recover financial compensation for it all.
  • Non-economic damages: A car accident may result in pain and suffering, loss of ability to enjoy life the way you used to, and emotional distress. While all such suffering is non-financial in nature, it can be answered with financial compensation.
  • Punitive damages: Punitive damages that the defendant pays you is a financial penalty imposed, where appropriate, as punishment in the event that gross negligence on their part is found.


Whether you and the defendant arrive at a settlement instead of going through with a lawsuit, or actually go through with a lawsuit, the representation of a personal injury lawyer licensed to practice in California can be invaluable. Not only can a lawyer deal with the legal subtleties of your case, they can also make sure that the defendant’s insurance company doesn’t attempt to lowball you, and shield you from the stresses involved in dealing with the immense volume of correspondence that is usually part of such an action.