California Personal Injury Law:  Concise Summary

The phrase “personal injury” is a legal term that refers to physical injuries and financial losses resulting from another’s reckless, careless or intentional wrongdoing.

To get compensation from a person, government agency or corporation (and their insurance company) who injured you, you must be able to prove three things:

  • The extent of your damages
  • How the harm was caused
  • That the other party was liable (at fault)

Legal responsibility, called “liability,”does not require you to prove the person, government agency or corporation at fault intended to harm you. Proving negligence – conduct that was unsafe and unreasonable under the circumstances, such speeding and causing a car accident – is sufficient evidence to demonstrate liability.

Best Injury Lawyers in San Francisco, Dolan Law FirmUnder California law, a person who suffers a personal injury can recovery monetary damages for:

  • Past and future physical pain and suffering, mental anguish and physical impairment;
  • Past and future medical, incidental and hospital expenses;
  • Past and future lost wages and lost earning capacity; and
  • Punitive damages in cases of egregious wrongdoing.

If a person has died as the result of another’s negligence (a “wrongful death“), family members can seek compensation for their loss.

What Types of Vehicle Collisions Will a Personal Injury Attorney in San Francisco Help with?

There is no exhaustive list of the types of vehicle collisions that warrant getting information from a personal injury attorney. In short, it is best to consult a lawyer if there is an impact with a vehicle which causes injury, and it may be the other person’s fault. This can come in many forms, from a vehicle colliding with another vehicle;  a car colliding with a bicycle; or a car impacting a pedestrian directly are the major categories.  

Every day, cars, trucks and buses crash on the streets and highways of California. All too often, motor vehicle accidents are the result of recklessness or negligence on the part of one driver. At the Dolan Law Firm, we are experienced in all types of motor vehicle collisions.

Auto or Motorcycle accidents

      • Illegal U- Turns
      • Left Turns in front of another vehicle
      • Rear end collisions
      • Failure to yield
      • Road rage 

Bicycle accidents 

      • Bicycle Dooring
      • Left Turns in front of a bicycle
      • Rear end collisions
      • Failure to yield
      • Road rage


Pedestrian accidents

      • Crosswalk 
      • Left Turns in to pedestrian crossing
      • Rear end collisions
      • Road rage


Collisions are usually the result of at least one party not paying enough attention to the roadway around them. People get so used to driving, sometimes driver’s lose track of what a big dangerous metal machine a car is. Even at low speeds, something that would be considered a “fender bender” between two cars can cause injury. When a car collides with a two wheel vehicle or a pedestrian, the slightest impact can be catastrophic.

    Some of the more common causes are:

      • Speeding, racing; 
      • Running red lights;
      • Distracted driving including texting or using an smartphone app while driving;
      • Making sudden lane changes without looking (a common cause of motorcycle accidents);
      • Did not see motorcycle or bicycle;
      • Illegal U turns;
      • Left turns at intersections in front of oncoming traffic when it is unsafe to do so;
      • Looking left while turning right (a common cause of cars hitting persons walking in a crosswalk and other pedestrian accidents);
      • Sudden stops and failure to yield right-of-way (a frequent cause of cars hitting bicyclists and other types of bike accidents);
      • Unsecured loads on pickup trucks and semi trucks;
      • Driving under the influence of recreational drugs or alcohol;
      • Driving under the influence of prescription drugs;
      • Fatigued driving from long work hours or persons suffering from sleep apnea.

If you, or someone you know has been in an automobile collision that was, or may have been, even partly, the other driver’s fault, you may have recourse. Any car accident victims who are injured by negligent drivers may file a personal injury lawsuit. If you have been injured in a car crash contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to review your case. You may have medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses that are not your responsibility. 


It is important to know that even if the traffic collision report finds one person at fault,that does not end the inquiry. The police sometimes get information wrong, believe the wrong witness, or just miss what truly occurred. While a negative police report, finding an innocent driver at fault, may affect the insurance company’s first understanding of things, but is not the end of the story, and the police report conclusions are rarely, if ever, allowed to be presented as evidence at a trial. If you were injured in a collision and believe the other driver was in the wrong, even though the police found you at fault, it would be useful to seek a consultation with a personal injury lawyer to review your case. The conclusions of what happened, or who is the believable party, must be reviewed independently. 

What Damages Are Recoverable In A Collision Due To The Fault Of Another Person?

Under California law, persons who have been injured in an accident or crash due to the fault of another person, public agency, or corporation can recover for damages. There are a few main categories of damage that are recoverable in a personal injury lawsuit.


Special Damages are the economic damages, the out of pocket expenses. They can often be calculated fairly simply. They include things like:

      • Past Medical Bills – this would include co-pays as well as the full cost of any health insurance paid.
      • Future Medical Bills – this would include any known future surgery or other medical need caused by the collision.  
      • Past Lost Wages-  If the accident required time off work, the amount of lost wages should be part of any claim. 
      • Future Lost Income- sometimes a severe accident will affect the ability to earn income in the future. 
      • Property Damage- this would include necessary car or bike repairs, helmets, gloves, phones, glasses- any property that was damaged by the collision.



      • Pain and Suffering- This includes the pain of the incident and any required medical procedures as well as the ongoing pain in healing.
      • Emotional Distress- This term can be used interchangeably with Pain and Suffering, but also can be used to designate the more emotional aspects of damage. When we are forced to rely on others to help with basic tasks, or cannot, for a period of time, continue to work, there is an emotional toll for which the law allows recovery.
      • Pain and suffering and Emotional distress damages are available for past (from the collision to the date of resolution) as well as future (distress with a probability to occur in the future.) 



      • Where a person is killed as the result of another, certain close family members are entitled to recover for their loss. There is no recovery for sadness or grief, but there is recovery available for any financial loss which had been provided by the decedent. Also, for the loss of society, companionship, training and those types of things that are now missing from a person’s life when a close family member dies. 
      • It is now also possible to seek damages for the pre-death pain and suffering of the decedent. If death was not instantaneous, the successor to the decedent’s cause of action can seek to recover for the general damages suffered as a result of the incident. 



      • Punitive damages are not generally recoverable in a car accident. These are damages that look, not to the person who was injured, in an attempt to make them whole, but instead, look to the bad actor to punish and deter them as an individual, and also to deter people in general from performing these acts. In an auto collision or similar situation, these can only be recovered if the behavior was wanton or willful. That would not likely include someone who missed a light, didn’t look left, or was looking briefly at their phone. It may, however, include a person who was driving while intoxicated, or who was racing with other vehicles.  Importantly, any claim for punitive damages can cause problems with recovery from insurance.  Insurance is not allowed to cover for intentional acts, and the threshold to get to punitive damages requires something akin to an intentional act. 

Can I make a pain and suffering claim without a lawyer and do I need a personal injury attorney to claim emotional distress?

While there is no requirement to hire a personal injury attorney to make a claim for emotional distress, or pain and suffering, insurance companies tend to minimize any recovery for that unless a person has a case and is represented by an injury attorney. A lawyer can help explain the medical services care you will need to have, not just a monetary cost, but an emotional one as well. Depending on the physical injuries suffered, there will be associated pain. Oftentimes, one may be taken off work for a period of time, or require help with activities of daily living. There is an emotional toll taken when our identity is changed like that. Our self-esteem takes a hit when we are not who we were before an accident. Hiring a personal injury lawyer can ensure that the insurance company gets your full story, that all potential claims are made, and that they know you have representation to stand up against them seeking the compensation you deserve. A consultation with Dolan Law Firm is free. 

Can I Go to my Doctor or will a personal injury lawyer send me to a Doctor?

This is a question that comes up quite a lot. Different lawyers will have different opinions about it. We generally recommend that you get whatever treatment you need through your own doctors and health insurance. Your job after a motor vehicle collision is to heal and you are the best person to determine that, along with your health care providers. If there is a treatment or surgery that you may need, but your medical insurance will not cover, we can assist in finding doctors that may be able to provide that procedure. 


The Dolan Law Firm has the Experience and Resources to Bring Justice for those Injured In Pedestrian, Car, Motorcycle & Bicycle Crashes

Recognized as the one of the premier personal injury law firms in California, the Dolan Law Firm has successfully represented thousands of injured persons and the families of loved ones who died in car, bike, motorcycle, truck, and other vehicle accidents, as well as pedestrians hit by a car, since the firm was founded in 1995.

We personally know how devastating physically, emotionally, and financially a serious car accident can be. We are committed to treating you with compassion and respect. We will be with you every step of the legal process. We understand that litigation is scary and new for most people, and that your energies are best spent healing. We will walk each client through the law, so they understand the good and the bad, and we will let you know what to expect at each step of the process. 

Repeated, outstanding success settlement negotiations and in court — that’s the Number One reason why clients select our law firm and after the lawsuit concludes refer their family and friends if they have been in a car crash.We are known for taking challenging and complicated cases to trial and prevailing. As a result, we often obtain recoveries far above industry averages. We specifically provide our clients:

      • Individual, attentive legal representation by highly experienced crash and accident attorneys with an outstanding record of success;
      • Substantial investigative, financial and technological resources that no individual attorney or small law firm can provide;
      • Access to accident reconstruction experts to identify the cause of the accident and who — or what — was at fault, including driver negligence, defective auto parts and dangerous roadway conditions; and
      • Access to biomechanics and economic experts to determine the full extent of your injuries and calculate the cost of your future medical needs, along with any lost wages or diminished earning capacity due to the crash.


Top Rated California, Bay Area & San Francisco Personal Injury Attorney


For over 25 years, the personal injury attorneys at the Dolan Law Firm have prosecuted strong, effective cases and achieved hundreds of millions of dollars in recoveries for our clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the state of California.

The SF Weekly has rated Chris Dolan San Francisco’s Best Injury Lawyer. US News and Best Lawyers have rated our firm a Best Law Firm. We have received an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau for our work on behalf of our clients in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.

We provide our personal injury and accident clients the following advantages:

      • We are relentless and principled advocates for our clients. We offer each client individual superior legal representation backed by substantial financial and technological resources that no individual attorney or small law firm can provide;
      • We thoroughly investigate each case and have access to the leading accident reconstruction and biomechanics experts for cases involving brain, spine, neck and back injuries;
      • We are known for taking challenging and complicated cases to trial and prevailing. As a result, we often obtain recoveries far above industry averages, including some of the largest verdicts and settlements ever in individual injury lawsuits in the state California;
      • Chris Dolan our founder and lead trial attorney, personally supervises all serious injury cases our firm prosecutes. Chris has been repeatedly selected by multiple publications as one of the top trial lawyers in the state of California.

Personal Injury: Motor Vehicle Accidents

For those that have been seriously injured in an auto accident, it is essential to speak with a San Francisco personal injury lawyer that not only knows the law, but has a proven success record in representing motor vehicle injury victims. Our accident attorneys have a proven track record in auto accident cases such as:

Personal Injury: Serious Injuries & Wrongful Death

No case is too complex for us to handle. San Francisco personal injury lawyer Chris Dolan and his team of attorneys have obtained record verdicts and settlements for their clients including in cases involving:

Contact An Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

Best Injury Lawyer Chris Dolan, Best Personal Injury Attorney Chris DolanThe award-winning attorneys at the Dolan Law Firm are dedicated to relentlessly representing their clients in the pursuit of justice. Founder and lead trial counsel Chris Dolan has been repeatedly recognized as one of the best personal injury attorneys in the San Francisco Bay Area and California. Chris and the other skilled trial lawyers at the Dolan Law Firm have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for their clients.

We are here to serve You. We will evaluate your case for free, confidentially, and with no obligation on your part. We provide each client attentive, individual service of the highest quality. We treat our clients as family. We will work closely with you throughout the legal process. We never charge an hourly fee, and only get paid if we win your case.

Call us toll free at 1-888-452-4752 or complete our contact form for a free case evaluation.

We have the experience and the resources to fully investigate your case. We will visit you at your house or the hospital if you are unable to come to our offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles.

We encourage you to visit our Testimonials page and see our clients explain how we successfully resolved their claims.