Like most states, California requires motorists to carry certain coverage levels of auto insurance.  If you drive without insurance, you risk costly fines, impoundment of your vehicle, and other serious consequences.  Furthermore, you may be forced to pay huge expenses out-of-pocket, or lose your ability to recover certain types of compensation, if you are ever involved in a California auto accident while uninsured.  Our Ventura car accident lawyers explain insurance requirements in California, and how they affect accident claims.

How Much Auto Insurance Do I Need in California?

The California Vehicle Code requires that all vehicles driven or parked on any roadway in the state be insured.  Additionally, the California Insurance Code requires that each insurance policy for an automobile meet certain minimum requirements.  These laws have been held to be constitutionally valid, and are set forth with an intent to make certain that law-abiding citizens are not put at complete risk of loss by irresponsible drivers who don’t or won’t carry insurance.

The California Insurance Code establishes the following minimum coverage levels for motorists:

  • $15,000 for the personal injury or wrongful death of one person
  • $30,000 for the personal injury or wrongful death of multiple people
  • $5,000 for property damage

These coverages are collectively described as “liability insurance.”  The purpose of liability insurance is to help compensate persons other than yourself if you are ever at fault for an accident which results in injury, death, or property damage.  You may see these requirements written in your policy as “15/30/5.”

Many people worry about being able to afford coverage, but you don’t have to give up on the idea of purchasing liability insurance purely because of the cost.  If meeting the minimum requirements is too great of a financial burden, you might be able to qualify for California’s Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program, which can help you get coverage for a reduced cost.

Otherwise, California allows motorists to substitute the following for liability insurance:

  • Making a $35,000 cash deposit at the DMV.
  • Obtaining a $35,000 surety bond from a business which is properly licensed to operate in the state of California.  If you’re interested in this option, you can get more information by calling the California Department of Insurance at (800) 927-4357.
  • Obtaining a self-insured certificate from the DMV.  If you’re interested in this option or in making a $35,000 deposit, call (916) 657-6520 to contact the DMV Financial Responsibility Unit.

There is no requirement that you carry comprehensive or collision coverage, as these categories relate to your own vehicle and not to someone else’s.

Acceptable Forms of Proof of Auto Insurance in California

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In addition to purchasing liability coverage, you must also be able to prove that you are covered.  This is called “proof of insurance” (POI) or “proof of financial responsibility,” where the term “financial responsibility” is a synonym for insurance.

You must carry POI in your vehicle while you drive.  The law also mandates that you show that proof of insurance:

  • When asked to do so by the police.
  • When you go to register your car.
  • If you are involved in an accident.

This “carry and produce” requirement does not make much sense in our computer-assisted day and age.  There is another California status that says that your insurance company must electronically transmit your POI to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).  The officer who stops you probably already knows whether you have insurance by the time he or she reaches your window and utters those famous and blood-chilling words, “May I have your license and registration, please?”

Some examples of acceptable forms of proof include Form REG 256 (Statement of Facts) and Form SR-22 (California Proof of Insurance Certificate), which are available from the DMV.

What Happens if You Are Injured in an Accident and Do Not Have Insurance?

So, the inquiring mind asks as a follow up to the above: what is the downside to not having the required insurance?  The consequences of driving without insurance in California can be very dramatic, and simply do not warrant the risk.

First of all, failure to have insurance is a violation of law, and thus carries fines and penalties – which are not cheap.  Secondly, it is possible that the vehicle that you are driving will be impounded, meaning towed away and stored, at your expense.

The third downside is a particularly tough one to swallow.  If you are in an automobile accident while driving without insurance, you are severely limited as to the amounts that you can recover.  As a penalty for failure to have insurance, the law eliminates your ability to recover “general damages” (such as pain and suffering), and allows only for the recovery of “special” or “economic damages,” which pertain to out-of-pocket damages such as:

  • Ambulance bills
  • Doctor bills
  • Damages for auto repairs
  • Lost earnings

To reiterate, you do not get to recover damages for the pain, suffering or inconvenience that you have suffered as a result of the other party’s negligence.

So, as you can see from the above, it is not worth driving in California without valid and proper auto insurance.  The consequences can be horrific and devastating, and can come at a point in time where people cannot typically bear the responsibility of having been in an accident.  In all too many situations, a person gets hurt to the extent that they cannot work, and then finds out that they don’t get to be compensated for the injuries they suffered – even if they were not at fault in any way, shape, manner or form.

Don’t risk it.  Carry insurance, and make sure it meets at least the minimum amounts.

What is the Purpose of UM/UIM Coverage?

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As long as we’re talking about insurance, here is a bit of parting advice that can be very helpful: you should also make sure that you are taking into account all those other drivers who aren’t obeying the law, or aren’t carrying sufficient insurance to cover the harm they may cause.

When you talk about your auto insurance, always keep in mind that your policy has a “UM/UIM” provision (“Uninsured Motorist/Underinsured Motorist”), which provides coverage to you in case you are hit by a driver who is uninsured or underinsured.  California law allows tort (civil wrong) victims to be “made whole” by a negligent defendant, and if that defendant driver lacks insurance, or has only a minimal policy, those funds may not be sufficient to make you whole.

UM/UIM coverage is there to help make up the difference.  For example, in a scenario where you have incurred damages of $35,000, but the other driver has coverage limits of $15,000, if you had the foresight to carry $50,000 of UM/UIM coverage, your policy will pay you the remaining $20,000 in order to make you whole.

Ultimately, there is no “best” or “correct” amount of coverage, as long as you are in compliance with California’s insurance laws and feel comfortable with your policy.  That being said, you should keep in mind the fact that injury accidents and, to a much greater extent, fatal accidents often result in astronomical costs which far exceed California’s minimum coverage requirements.

Contact Our Ventura Car Accident Lawyers About Your Personal Injury Claim

If you or one of your family members was seriously injured in a car accident, truck accident, motorcycle accident, or any other type of crash or collision in Ventura County or Santa Barbara County, compensation may be available for your injuries, your lost income, your pain and suffering, and other losses you have suffered.  The aggressive Ventura personal injury lawyers of Bamieh & De Smeth can help you understand your rights and options as the victim of an injury crash.

We handle auto accident claims throughout Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, including but not limited to Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, Lompoc, Goleta, Santa Maria, Moorpark, Camarillo, Orcutt, Isla Vista, Guadalupe, and beyond.  Call our law offices immediately at (805) 643-5555 to set up a free and confidential legal consultation.