Most car accidents happen due to a driver’s misconduct or negligence, vehicle defects, or poor road conditions. When it comes to determining fault and liability, things can quickly become very complicated, with each of these three situations being handled differently.
While auto accident fault and liability can be very complex topics, at their basis, what you have to know is pretty easy to understand. This is exactly what we will focus on in the following paragraphs.
Driver Misconduct or Negligence
In most personal injury lawsuits and injury-related claims, legal liability and fault tend to come down to determining the party who was negligent. With car accident cases, most situations are straightforward in the sense that it is very easy to figure out who the negligent driver was. For instance, someone who was driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs while causing an accident is almost always at fault.
Prescription medication sometimes impairs your ability to drive. If you take such medication before you get behind the wheel, it is considered negligence. You surely saw several drug commercials on TV or on the internet with instructions about not taking some medication as you operate heavy machinery. Cars are considered to be heavy machinery. When you end up causing or even just involved in a car accident and you took some over-the-counter or prescription medications, it is considered that you were negligent.
While several types of driver negligence or misconduct are possible, the most common one is simply not being attentive while driving. If you simply take your eyes off the road for a couple of seconds, the police will consider you to have been negligent.
Being inattentive is possible in various ways. This includes:
- Looking at a person or a thing on a side of the road.
- Distracted driving (like answering a phone call or texting while driving).
- Reading something while driving.
- Looking at maps while driving.
- Adjusting the seat while driving.
- Taking something out of the car’s glove compartment or reaching towards the back seat for something.
- Taking something out of the jacket pocket.
- Putting on makeup.
- Drinking (this includes non-alcoholic beverages) while driving.
- Eating while driving.
- Shaving while driving.
Every single one of the examples above and countless others were utilized by Fielding Law auto accident attorneys to establish car accident negligence. When you can show the fact that another driver caused the accident and was engaged in such an activity as the collision happened or right before it, it is much easier to receive a fair injury settlement.
It has to be mentioned that when the other driver, even when he was at fault, can prove that you were performing some of the actions mentioned, you have at least a share of the liability. Your insurance company will end up paying on the other driver’s claim. And you will end up with an increased car insurance premium rate. However, things can be much more complicated based on the laws that apply in the state where the accident happened.
Poor Road Conditions
Many poor road conditions like the following can cause a car accident or at least play a substantial role in the cause:
- Breaks, sinkholes, potholes, or cracks in the road.
- Unlevel road lanes, which often happens when one lane was recently repaved without work being done on the other one.
- Confusing or poor street signage.
- The road is undergoing repair or construction.
- Narrow roads.
- Not enough shoulder present.
- Construction debris left uncleaned on the road.
- A flag person offering bad instructions.
When you are in a car accident that could have been caused by something labeled as poor road conditions, a claim can be filed against some other driver. However, at the same time, it is possible you can take direct legal action against the entity that is in charge of road maintenance or a governmental agency. Such cases can be pretty difficult to prove though and you need to hire an attorney to help you.
Improper Vehicle Maintenance or Defective Vehicles
When you are injured in a car accident that was caused by any type of manufacturing defect, it is possible to file a product liability claim. This is filed against vehicle manufacturers. However, a vehicle defect is not the only problem that can appear. Besides what appears during production, the car can develop some problems as time passes and it is being used.
The most common example that can be mentioned is when brakes wear out. If the driver decides not to replace damaged brakes or even worn-out brakes, it is considered they know about the defect. As a result, the driver is considered to be liable when an accident happens with the faulty break playing a part.
Several parts of the car can end up with problems that could cause car accidents. This includes brakes, lights, tires, acceleration, and steering. When the car you drive shows any sign of mechanical problems, you have to get it checked out by a professional. If the mechanic tells you to repair the damage because it is a hazard, you need to do it. If you do not and it is proven that you were aware of the defect, you are liable in the eyes of the law.
In the same way, when you are hit by someone driving a car while knowing it is a risk while on the road, your injury claim is going to be higher. However, in order to prove knowledge, a thorough investigation is required, which is not easy to do without the help of an attorney.
Proportional Comparative Fault
Fault percentage and type will dictate how much you collect in damages. The insurance companies involved in the claim will assess car accident liability based on comparative fault. This can vary from one state to state so it is important to be aware of the laws that apply where the accident happened to be aware of how much you could receive.
To put it as simple as possible, the fault of everyone involved in the car accident is usually analyzed. It is possible that the law allows you to receive compensation for damages when:
- You are not at all at fault.
- You have partial fault but it is less than 50%.
- You are at fault over 50%.
Based on the most common laws that apply in most US states, the facts you should know are related to:
This is usually the cutoff percentage at which you could receive financial compensation for the injuries you suffered during an accident caused by someone else. Basically, this means that when both parties are considered to have the same fault, both are allowed to collect damages. When you are considered to be more at fault, which means you have a fault over 51%, you are labeled as being responsible. In this case, you are not allowed to collect damages, and the insurance carrier you have a contract with is going to compensate those injured, together with offering compensation for property damages.
Under 50% Fault
When you have a fault that is considered to be under 50%, you receive compensation for damages and injuries suffered. How much you receive though is going to depend on your personal fault percentage. As an example, when your responsibility is considered to be zero, you will receive the full amount assessed. When you have a fault of 10%, you will just receive 90% of how much the damages and injuries sum up to.
Fault percentage is going to be determined by an insurance adjuster who works for the insurance company responsible for paying the claim.
The big problem is there is no exact formula used to assess fault percentages. This is because liability can easily be open to dispute and interpretation. A very good car accident attorney is going to be able to assist clients to make sure that insurance companies do not take advantage of their lack of knowledge. During insurance claims, it is very easy to be pressured into agreeing to an unfair settlement. Also, if the insurance companies decide you have a fault that you do not agree with, the car accident attorneys will help you take further civil actions and argue your case.
Fortunately, in most cases, the fault is very easy to be determined. The two best examples of this are left-turn side collisions and rear-end collisions. Some exceptions do exist in such cases, like with multi-vehicle accidents. Competent attorneys work with clients to evaluate accident circumstances.
PIP (Personal Injury Protection)
In the US states with PIP (personal injury protection) laws, the car accident victim needs to first file an injury claim with the insurance company covering them. It does not matter who is sharing fault for the accident. With PIP states, every single driver needs to carry a minimum insurance coverage amount. After the insurance company covers the damages and injuries up to the maximum level, it is possible to go after the other party, together with their insurer to get back the remaining losses. An example of a state that requires the driver of any vehicle to carry personal injury protection is Florida.
Helping Determine Fault After the Car Accident
You do not have to rely on the police and the other people involved when it comes to establishing fault in car accidents. It is possible to do some things to prove your case even without the help of an attorney. Obviously, getting help from an experienced one will help. However, what you should always think about doing is:
Take Photographs at the Scene Of the Car Accidents
A picture speaks a thousand words and can do wonders in injury claim cases. You want to photograph all the damage that appeared and even your injuries, if possible, of course. Try to take photographs to prove how the law was violated. This means you should take photos of streetlights, traffic lights, and the entire area where the car accident happened.
You need to write down contact information for absolutely all accident eyewitnesses. This is because they can turn out to be vital in proving fault as they could offer a third-party opinion that is completely unbiased. Eyewitness reports would be particularly useful when drivers are disagreeing about accident circumstances.
Learn Local Driving Laws
Even if you know the driving laws that apply where you live, if the accident happened somewhere else, you have to learn about the differences. Also, there might be some things you are not aware of so there is no reason why you should not learn more. As a very simple example, in most states it is determined that the fault of a collision when one driver turns left happens if:
- Both drivers have the green light to respect while on opposing sides.
- A vehicle is turning left and hits a vehicle that passes straight.
These apply because drivers that turn left have to yield to the oncoming traffic.
Basically, you need to be aware of all the local driving laws because there might be some laws that apply and that will help you to establish fault.
Get Police Reports
Police reports are rarely analyzed in court but they are really important evidence when establishing fault as you discuss the case with insurance companies. The version of the police officer is usually considered to be much more credible and reliable than those of people involved in the accident. If the accident’s police report is good for you, it needs to be presented during negotiations. If you do not have a copy of the police report, you can get it from the police. Or the attorney can help you get one.
Stay At The Scene
The last thing to highlight is that you should always stay at the scene and wait for police officers to arrive. You have to do this even if the other driver is admitting fault. Exchanging insurance information at the scene and a promise does not mean you will receive compensation. And the other driver can always report the accident before you and try to say you are at fault.
When injured, the responding officer needs to be told that you need medical care. Obviously, if the medical staff coming at the scene of the car accident determine you have to go to the hospital, you need to go. If not, you still have to get checked out by your doctor.
Fault in car accident cases is very difficult to determine. Several parties will be involved and dealing with insurance companies tends to be very stressful. Make sure to look for a car accident attorney who is experienced and has a proven record of helping people in your condition.