A Lack of Auto Insurance Does Not Make One Liable for an Accident.

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Insurance company settlement offer too low?

Insurance company settlement offer too low?

California Auto accident, but no auto insurance? That is a bad fact. There are consequences to getting into a car accident without liability insurance.

A driver in an accident without insurance can expect the Department of Motor Vehicles to suspend their driving privileges for many months. A citation and summons to court for violating California’s Financial Responsibility Law with fines of about $1200 can also be expected. It gets worse if you get sued for an accident without liability insurance coverage.

A defendant being sued for an auto accident without insurance coverage does not have an insurance company adjuster to pay their defense attorney fees. And without insurance coverage, a defendant who suffers a judgement for damages will have to pay out of his/her own pocket (or wages).

However, “Liability” is not a consequence of not having insurance coverage.”Liability” for the damages arising out of an auto accident is a completely different issue. The term “liability” refers to the person who is legally required to pay damages after a car accident.

Liability for damages does not attach to a person automatically simply because they are uninsured. Simply put, an accident without insurance does not make you liable for damages by itself.

In order for liability to apply to one driver or another, that person must have been “negligent”. Usually, it is the person who caused the collision in the first place that is “negligent” and therefore also liable for damages.

A more detailed answer is that evidence about insurance coverage is not admissible in court to establish liability for an accident. A lack of insurnace coverage cannot be used against a person to establish liability.

This is because the existence of insurance coverage is not relevant to the question of who was “negligent” and thereby caused the accident and resulting damages, such as repair bills.

Here is an explanation of why insurance coverage is usually not admissible in court, and tips on how to avoid getting screwed in court if you get sued without insurance.


The Basic Required Elements for a Negligence Cause of Action for Damages.

Generally, in simplified terms the cause of action for “Negligence” in court has 4 main elements that must be proven up to establish liability for car accident damages. The required elements are:

1) Defendant owed a legal duty to plaintiff;
2) Defendant breached that legal duty;
3) the breach of duty was a substantial legal cause of;
4) actual damages to plaintiff.

(See California Civil Jury Instruction #400 for more info and examples of negligence)

If a person sues in a California civil or small claims court for auto accident damages, they must present evidence to meet these 4 required elements of negligence by the defendant to establish the defendant’s liability. If the plaintiff cannot establish the elements of negligence, the defendant if not liable for damages, even if they never had insurance as the law requires.

A lack of auto insurance does not shed light on or tend to prove to any of the 4 elements of negligence. Because of this fact, the evidence of auto insurance coverage is not legally “Relevant” to the question of liability.

More specifically, only “Relevant” evidence is admissible in court. California Evidence Code section 210 defines “Relevant Evidence” as follows:

“Relevant evidence” means evidence, including evidence
relevant to the credibility of a witness or hearsay declarant, having
any tendency in reason to prove or disprove any disputed fact that
is of consequence to the determination of the action.”
(California Evidence Code section 210)

If the offered evidence does not meet this definition listed in Evidence Code section 210, it is not admissible in a typical car crash civil case.


What if a plaintiff in a small claims court case over a car accident tries to introduce evidence that the defendant did not have auto insurance?

Most auto accident claims that end up in court fall into “small claims court” because they involve $10,000 or less in damages. In small claims court, the parties usually have to represent themselves without an attorney. Most of the people in small claims court do not understand the details of the law of negligence or the rules of evidence.

Because of this characteristic of small claims court, it is pretty common for a plaintiff in a small claims case to TRY to use evidence of a lack of insurance to prove the defendant was negligent. It may even may a little bit of sense – after all if the defendant was not driving without insurance, there would have been no accident, right?

What if this happens to you as a defendant in a small claim court trial over an auto accident? What if the plaintiff tries to use a lack of insurance to prove you are liable?

Object!

When one party to a court case tries to use evidence that is not relevant, nor admissible, an objection can be made. In small claims court, and most civil cases, a party make make an objection to evidence in writing or orally.

For example, a party may say:


“Your Honor, I object to the use of evidence about insurance coverage. The existence of insurance coverage is not relevant to the issue of who caused the accident, or who was negligent, or who is liable for damages. I ask that all references to insurance coverage be stricken from this trial.”

Don’t be afraid to make an objection yourself in a small claims court trial if you feel it is proper. There is nothing wrong with asking a judge for a ruling on an objection.

There is no harm in making an objection that the judge over rules if you are wrong. But there is a danger in not objection when you should. If you fail to object to evidence that may be inadmissible, you may lose out on the opportunity to challenge that point by “waiving” the problem.

Questions, Discussion? Leave a comment below.

More Info:

Rules for Reporting Accidents to California Department of Motor Vehicles

California Civil Jury Instruction #400 for more info and examples of negligence

California Evidence Code online

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