Unfortunately, most people will experience at least one car accident in their life. When accidents happen, many people wonder how it will affect their insurance premiums.
After an accident with another motorist, both parties’ insurance companies determine who was at fault for the crash and to what degree. Notably, their determination is not legally binding—only a judge, jury, or arbitrator can make a final decision on fault. But most car accident cases don’t make it to court or arbitration. If an insurance company determines you are at fault for a crash, it may adjust your premiums in the future based on your percentage of liability.
However, if you were not found at fault for your accident, you need not fear. In California, it is illegal for an insurance company to raise your car insurance rates from an accident that wasn’t your fault.
To better understand premium increases after a car accident, we must discuss how insurance companies determine fault after car accidents in California, and how they use this information to calculate premiums.
What Factors Do Insurers Use to Calculate My Car Insurance Premium?
Under Cal. Ins. Code § 1861.02, insurance companies are only allowed to look at three factors when determining your insurance rates and premiums:
- Your driving safety record (i.e., if you’ve caused any accidents or received any speeding citations)
- The miles you drive each year
- How many years you’ve been driving
Your driving record, the most important factor on this list, includes the following:
- Any moving traffic citations you received within the past three years, including speeding tickets, illegal U-turns, running red lights, etc.
- Any accidents for which you are deemed “principally at fault”
If you’re in an accident and are not found “principally at fault,” the crash will not factor into your insurance premium calculation.
What Does “Principally At Fault” Mean?
According to Cal. Code Regs. Tit. 10, § 2632.13, a driver is principally at fault for an accident if one or both of the following points are true:
- The driver’s actions or omissions were at least 51% of the cause of the accident
- For accidents not resulting in death, if the damage to the property of any one person caused by the accident exceeded $750.
You likely won’t be considered at-fault for a crash in any of the following circumstances.
- Your car was legally parked at the time of the collision.
- Your car was rear-ended, and you didn’t receive a ticket in connection with the accident.
- The other driver received a ticket, and you did not.
- Your car was damaged in a hit and run, and you reported the accident to police within a reasonable time.
- The accident happened due to hitting an animal or falling object.
- You were a first responder performing a government function during a public emergency.
- The accident was a single-vehicle accident caused by a hazardous condition that a reasonable person could not have foreseen (e.g., “black ice”).
Insurance Rate Increases for Drivers at Fault
On the other hand, if you are deemed to be fully responsible for the accident or you hold partial responsibility of at least 51%, then you can expect your car insurance rates to increase dramatically.
Because California insurers only consider three factors when calculating premiums, a change in one factor (i.e. your driving safety record) significantly affects the price of insurance. One Forbes study reveals that Californians who cause accidents with property damage see a 73% premium hike in the year following the accident—one of the highest increases in the country. If the accident caused injury, a person’s insurance rate could nearly double.
Who Decides If I Am At Fault?
In some accidents (such as those in the bulleted list above), fault is clearly assigned to one entity. But for many other car crashes, fault may be distributed between one or more parties involved in the collision.
In these more complex cases, both parties’ insurance companies will conduct an investigation into the accident, viewing police reports, witness statements, and footage of the crash. They will then assign a percentage of fault to each party.
As mentioned earlier, the decision reached by insurance companies, while significant, is not binding. Only an arbitrator, judge, or jury can make a final determination of fault. (Read our article for more information about how fault is determined after a car accident.)
Why Does My Percentage of Fault Matter?
Your percentage of fault for an accident is significant for both calculating your legal recovery amount, and determining if you were “principally at fault” for an accident on your insurance record.
For one, under California’s pure comparative negligence system, your percentage of fault for an accident may limit your recovery.
For example: say you’re rear-ended by another car, but you were speeding at the time of the accident, and you are found 20% at fault. If you were to seek compensation from the at-fault driver, you would be able to recover 80% of your damages in accordance with your percentage of fault.
However, for purposes of insurance rate calculation, you are deemed “not at fault” for an accident if your percentage of fault is less than 51%. So in the previous example, you would not be considered at fault for the crash, and the accident would not affect your insurance premiums moving forward.
The bottom line: If you’re not 51% or more at fault for an accident, your car insurance company cannot raise your rates because of your claim.
The Takeaway: Always Report Your Accident
California law protects innocent victims of car accidents from unfair rate hikes.Thanks to California’s insurance regulations, you are free to pursue compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company (or your own insurance company) without fear of a rate increase.
Hiring an experienced car accident attorney is essential to pursuing this compensation. An attorney can fight to ensure the insurance company accurately determines fault, which will help you get the personal injury recovery you need and keep your future car insurance premiums down.
The car accident attorneys at PARRIS Law Firm have the experience, expertise, and proven success record to get the maximum recovery for you and your loved ones. Don’t talk to your insurance company without our help—let us fight for you. Contact our office for a free case review today.