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What law applies to your California personal injury case?

By Daniel Amos

Knowledge is power, and knowing the law gives you a lot of power!

In this article, I’m going to show you an easy way to find out what law applies to your California injury case, without your needing to go to law school! Once you see how this works, you’ll be able to look up the laws for all sorts of interesting and important legal topics.

How many times have you heard someone say, “That’s against the law!”, when in fact they have no idea what the law says.

Or have you ever heard someone describe something as “gross” negligence in an attempt to put emphasis on how “bad” the negligence was, when in fact they have no idea there is an actual legal definition for the term “gross negligence”.

Well, I’m going to show you an easy way to find what California law says on pretty much any subject.

Here’s how you can find the law that applies to your California personal injury case

The easiest way for you to find the actual law that applies to your California personal injury case is to go to the CACI CIVIL JURY INSTRUCTIONS. These Civil Jury Instructions are the official book of legal jury instructions used in California civil courts.

Click where it says “2022 Edition” and you’ll see this contains the basic laws in every area of civil law. This comes from the actual “book” that judges read before a jury decides on a civil case. Back when I was still arguing cases to juries it was an actual book that every judge and trial lawyer owned! (now it's all online) Keep reading to see an example below of how to use it.

All of my blog posts and YouTube videos are about civil law because that is the area of law I have always practiced, but if you are interested in criminal law, you can also find those laws as well by going to CALCRIM (California Criminal Jury Instructions).

Let’s look at an actual example of how this works in a real-life situation. Let’s use a car accident example where one driver is pulling out of the driveway at their home and the other driver is driving down the street, and just as the car pulling out of the driveway enters the street the two cars collide. Who is at fault? The person driving down the street will say they had the “right of way” and claim the driver coming out of their driveway is at fault.

But what does the law say?

When you clicked on the "2022 Edition" it took you to a PDF of the actual laws in California.

Take a look at page 32 of the PDF which is shown at the top of the document. You'll see at the top where it says 0 / 3462, these are the page numbers I am referring to, not page 32 of the actual document. On page 32/3462 is a table of contents for car accident cases (Series 700).

Next, take a look at page 617 where you will find the actual laws for motor vehicles. I think you’ll find this really interesting!

You will notice on page 620 that Jury Instruction No. 701 is titled "Definition of Right-of-Way". Below that is the law that actually applies to our example and helps tell us who had the right-of-way; Was it the car driving down the street or the car coming out of the driveway. Here’s what it says:

  • “When the law requires a driver to “yield the right-of-way” to another vehicle, this means that the driver must let the other vehicle go first. Even if someone has the right-of-way, that person must use reasonable care to avoid an accident.”

In our example, you could read this and interpret it to mean that the vehicle driving down the street had the right-of-way and the vehicle coming out of the driveway had to let it “go first” as the jury instruction reads. But you could also interpret this instruction to say that even if the vehicle driving down the street had the right-of-way it “must use reasonable care to avoid an accident” and if the vehicle driving in the street saw the vehicle coming out of the driveway and had time to stop, but decided not to, then it didn’t use “reasonable care to avoid an accident”.

You’ll notice that on page 620 there is a section entitled “Sources and Authority”. This section contains additional codes, cases, and sources that further define the jury instruction. For example, you can see a definition of “right-of-way” is in the California Vehicle Code section 525.

You’ll also see on this page the definition of “Entry Onto Highway” which is in Vehicle Code section 21804. This will also help us make a determination of who was at fault in our example.

The point of this example is to show you how important it is to know the law and then apply it to your observation of what happened in the accident.

If you go through the CACI Jury Instructions you will find all sorts of interesting legal definitions and authorities, including Jury Instruction 702 which explains how a driver can waive their right-of-way!

Here’s what else you need to know besides the law that applies to your California personal injury case

As we showed in our car accident example, cases are made up of two equally important elements; (1) the law, and (2) the facts. It’s important for you to understand this so you can help your personal injury lawyer see the facts which are most important in your case.

While your personal injury lawyer will know all of the laws that apply to your California personal injury case, you are the person who knows the FACTS of your case, so you are the one who needs to help your lawyer focus on those facts that are most likely to help win your case.

If your case does not settle but instead goes to a jury trial, the judge in your case will read the jury instructions to the jurors and then your lawyer will apply those laws to the facts and argue that you should win the case.

Start planning your personal injury case using jury instructions right from the start

I once had a client ask me on their first visit to my office, “Why do you care about the jury instructions if my case has just started?”

It was a great question. The answer is this: jury instructions are the road map to the presentation of the whole case.

When you first meet with your personal injury lawyer, you and your personal injury lawyer should start planning your case from start to finish by reviewing the law and how the facts of your case apply to the law.

When I would meet my clients for the first time I would often take my jury instructions book off my bookshelf and read to them the law that applied to their case and then have a discussion with them about what happened because this would help them focus on what was most important in their case.

This might seem strange because it may take several years for a case to get from the first meeting with your lawyer to a presentation before a jury, but it’s never too early to start planning.

For example, one of the first things your personal injury lawyer will do is gather as much information about your case as possible and then make a demand to settle your case. In that settlement demand, your lawyer will cite the law that applies to your case and argue that it supports your winning position.

If your case does not settle, your lawyer will draft a lawsuit which will get filed in court (the complaint) and the allegations in your lawsuit will be tailored to meet the jury instructions that your lawyer is planning to use if your case goes to trial.

Finally, if your case is not settled during the litigation process, it will most likely go to a jury trial and the jury instructions that your lawyer had planned on from the start will fit perfectly into the presentation of evidence in your case.

Here’s how to do some deep-dive research about the law

We’ve covered just the basics. If you want to do a deeper dive into the law that will apply to your California personal injury case, here are some additional resources.

In the state of California, the court provides links that will help you do further research in any area of law you are interested in. Take a look at this link: Finding and Using the Law that Applies to Your Case

This will help you find statutes, codes, and regulations that might apply to your personal injury case. It will also help you find past cases that are similar to your case so you can see how courts have applied and interpreted the relevant statutes, codes, and regulations in past cases.

The best way you can help your lawyer do a great job on your case is to be knowledgeable and to inform yourself about the law. I am not suggesting you tell your lawyer how to do his or her job. Your lawyer will know what the law is and what jury instructions to use, but if you also have this information, you will be a better consumer of legal services and you will ask better questions when you meet with your lawyer. You will also answer questions better at your deposition because you will have an understanding of what the law requires you to prove in your case.

I hope these tips have been helpful. If you have a specific question that I might be able to help you contact me at Higher Legal. If you need a certified referral to a great personal injury lawyer, contact me and I will personally assist you.

If you found this helpful, I hope you will 'LIKE' this post and 'SUBSCRIBE' to this blog and to the Higher Legal YouTube channel. If you do it will help me spread the word and help other people who are looking for reliable legal information.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel Amos Attorney since 1985 Founder of Higher Legal