Q: I was driving the speed limit when a man walked into the street. My car grazed him; he hit the pavement and has injuries. He was “out of it” and it turns out he is homeless. A lawyer has now contacted me and demanded my insurance information. Should I provide it?
M.K., Los Angeles
A: In order to be able to evaluate what happened, more facts are needed. Did the individual walk into the street against a red light? Was he in a cross walk? Are there witnesses that can shed light?
The law is not going to deprive a person of rightful claims based on whether he or she is homeless. If you were negligent in some manner, then a claim against you may well be viable. The person could, in turn, have some limitations on claims he can successfully pursue (for example, perhaps there will be no lost wages), but you have automobile insurance to deal with claims when they arise. Submitting the matter to your carrier is prudent. If your carrier determines you have no fault, or questions the claim, the lawyer can be so advised.
Q: When someone else is to blame for a car crash, how is it that I would be tagged with any comparative fault?
M.I., Huntington Beach
A: Comparative fault is the rule in California on various negligence claims (such as vehicular crashes). It means each party will be held responsible for the degree of damages their actions caused. Thus, if one party is speeding while another is texting and not paying attention — and could have avoided the incident — a determination will be made as to the liability attributable to each. If one person is found to be 30% to blame, then his or her recovery will be 70% of the total he or she otherwise is entitled to recover.
In our litigious society, a party who ought to shoulder the entire blame may nonetheless contend otherwise. An example is someone backing out from a parking space. He should yield to the car going by, but contends the driver could have stopped and was speeding. Nothing precludes the driver from making such argument. This is why we have courts. Insurance companies also can make determinations. Although an insured may argue he or she should not be held fully responsible, an insurance adjuster may decide otherwise and seek to take steps to resolve the claim.
Ron Sokol has been a practicing attorney for over 35 years, and has also served many times as a judge pro tem, mediator, and arbitrator. It is important to keep in mind that this column presents a summary of the law, and is not to be treated or considered legal advice, let alone a substitute for actual consultation with a qualified professional.
Source: Orange County Register