Car Accident Scenarios: Who Is Liable?By Gabriel Levin on October 3rd, 2019
Police began investigating the cause of a recent six-vehicle crash that required them to shut down the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The accident, which occurred in the early afternoon, thankfully did not cause serious injuries to any of the drivers or passengers of the vehicles, but did result in significant delays.
Determining liability in a car accident like that is an important part of filing a claim for damages, as those damages—whether pursued through the insurance company’s claim process or through a personal injury lawsuit—will only be paid out if the injured plaintiff can prove negligence. There are times when the blame is clear, such as in most rear-end accidents. However, there are other times when there is more than one individual at fault.
If you were injured in an accident, your car accident attorney will help you identify who is at fault and all of the insurance resources that may be available for paying your claim. Here is a look at some common car accident scenarios and the process of evaluation that goes into determining fault.
Rear-end collisions are the most common type of traffic accident to have, accounting for 1.7 million crashes, around 1,700 deaths, and 500,000 injuries each year, according to a report from the Washington Post. This type of accident occurs when one car collides into the back of another car. The vast majority of these collisions occur due to the driver of the following car following too closely and/or failing to pay attention to the roadway ahead of him or her.
Conventional wisdom says that the person in the following car is always responsible for the rear-end collision, as traffic laws state that drivers must leave enough space between their cars and cars in front of them to come to a safe stop. While this is generally true, there are some circumstances where both drivers may share liability or even a third party. Consider the following scenarios:
- You’re driving down the road when you’re rear-ended by another vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle states that she had no idea you were turning, as you had not used your turn signal. During the investigation, it is revealed that your turn signal malfunctioned. While you may have some liability for operating your vehicle without a working turn signal, if it is discovered that the turn signal was defective, the manufacturer of it will likely share liability.
- While driving through traffic, you become distracted by a text. At the same time, a vehicle pulls out in front of you. You fail to react in time to avoid rear-ending that vehicle. You and the other driver may share liability in this circumstance. While you were negligent in driving while distracted, the other driver was also negligent in failing to yield the right-of-way.
Left-turn accidents occur when one vehicle is going straight through the intersection while another car is making a left turn and collides into the side of the straight-moving vehicle. Like rear-end accidents, liability is generally easy to determine. Left-turning vehicles have a lower priority in this scenario, meaning that—unless there is a green arrow—they must yield to those moving straight through the intersection. A study from the federal government discovered that the left-turning driver most often committed a critical error, such as “turning with an obstructed view,” “misjudgment of gap or speed,” “inadequate surveillance,” or “false assumption of the other driver’s intentions.” These are all errors that place liability for an accident at the hands of the left-turning driver. Are there ever cases where the other driver is at fault, though?
Yes. While rare, the driver of the straight-moving car may incur some liability for an accident. One such circumstance is in the case of an accident in which the driver of the straight moving car was traveling at a speed far in excess of the speed limit, making it impossible for the turning driver to either see him or her in time or to calculate how much time he or she has to complete the turn. Here is another example:
- You’re turning on a green arrow when a vehicle is going straight through the intersection and an accident occurs. The accident is the fault of the straight-traveling driver, as your green arrow gave you the right-of-way.
One of the most deadly types of accidents is a head-on collision. In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, head-on collisions accounted for 56 percent of the passenger vehicle deaths from traffic accidents in 2017. These accidents, often known as frontal-impact collisions, occur when two vehicles traveling in opposite directions collide.
Causes of head-on accidents include a driver who enters a wrong-way road, a driver who leaves his or her own lane of traffic for whatever reason and winds up in the oncoming traffic lane, or even those who have been involved in a crash that causes their vehicles to roll or be pushed into the oncoming traffic lane. Fault for a head-on collision generally resides with the individual whose vehicle has departed the lane or has entered wrong-way traffic. However, there may be additional liability in situations where the vehicle departed the lane due to another accident.
Some scenarios involving head-on collisions include:
- A distracted driver rear-ends your vehicle and the force of the collision causes your vehicle to cross the median into oncoming traffic where it then hits another car head-on. In this scenario, the liability then falls with the driver who caused the initial accident.
- You become confused when exiting off the freeway and accidentally wind up going the wrong way in the lane for those who are merging onto the freeway. In this case, the accident would be your fault, as you were driving the wrong direction.
Also known as T-bone accidents, a side-impact collision occurs when the front of one vehicle crashes into the side of the other at a roughly 90-degree angle. Injuries to occupants on the side of the vehicle that got hit are often quite severe, as there are no structural barriers, such as the steel frame, to protect the individual from the brunt of the crash. This type of collision almost always occurs in an intersection and is generally caused by negligence on the part of one of the drivers, including failure to yield the right-of-way, running a red light, drunk driving, or distracted driving. Some examples of liability in a side-impact collision include:
- A drunk driver runs a red light and T-bones your vehicle in the intersection. The liability will fall on the other driver, whose drunk driving and red light-running caused the accident. If the drunk driver had been drinking at a business establishment, such as a bar, there may that establishment may face additional liability if its employees continued to serve alcohol to a visibly drunk person. In circumstances where someone injured another due to drunk driving the victims should really discuss the situation with an attorney that specializes in drunk driving.
- You are waiting for an important call that arrives just as you’re approaching an intersection that is marked as a 4-way stop. While distracted with answering your phone, you fail to stop at the stop sign and strike the side of a vehicle in the intersection that had the right-of-way.
A sideswipe accident is one where two vehicles that are traveling in the same direction make contact with one another while moving. This type of accident is particularly dangerous on the freeway, where speeds are faster and there is a chance that neither driver anticipated the collision. Liability for damages caused in a sideswipe accident depends on who had the right-of-way in the lane of travel and what each driver’s behavior was leading up to the crash. Some scenarios involving sideswipe accidents and liability include:
- While traveling on the freeway, you realize your exit is fast approaching and you must change lanes quickly to make it over in time. You fail to check your blind spot when changing lanes and are involved in an accident with the vehicle that is already traveling in the lane you were attempting to enter. In this case, you are liable, as you failed to check your blind spot before changing lanes.
- You’re driving in a rainstorm and notice in your mirror that a vehicle is approaching in the lane next to yours at a high rate of speed. Just as the vehicle pulls up alongside you, it hydroplanes on a puddle, causing the driver to lose control and his vehicle to sideswipe yours. In this situation, the other driver is liable for the accident, as he was driving too fast for the conditions.
- While driving on the freeway, you signal to change lanes from the right-hand lane to the center and wait for a car in the center lane to pass. As soon as it passes, you begin changing lanes, only to collide with a vehicle that was in the left-hand lane and changing to the center lane at the same time. In this scenario, liability is unclear, as neither driver anticipated that the other driver would be changing lanes at the same time. Technically, both drivers would be at fault, as basic traffic rules dictate that you can only change lanes when you are sure it is safe to do so.
Single-vehicle accidents are those in which only one vehicle sustains damage, even if other vehicles are involved. In 2017, 40 percent of passenger vehicle deaths in traffic accidents occurred in single-vehicle crashes, as did 53 percent of occupant deaths in SUVs and 58 percent of occupant deaths in pickup trucks.
While it is often assumed that the driver of the single vehicle involved in the crash is defacto at fault, this isn’t always the case. There are many ways in which a single vehicle accident can be caused by the actions or negligence of others. Here are some single vehicle accident scenarios along with potential sources of liability:
- You’re driving down the road when someone suddenly pulls out in front of you. To avoid a collision, you veer to the side and crash into a utility pole instead. The other driver is liable for your accident, as he or she pulled out in front of you.
- While driving on the freeway, the brakes suddenly go out in your car. To avoid having an accident with someone else, you swerve off the road and go into a ravine. If your brakes were defective, liability for your accident may rest with the manufacturer of the brakes. If you recently had work done on your vehicle, the liability could fall on the shop where you had the work done.
As you can see, there are many ways that an individual or entity can be held liable during an accident. An experienced car accident attorney will help you to identify all potentially liable parties, which will provide you with the best chance to recover damages in accidents caused by the negligence of others. Proving negligence is key to a successful outcome to your personal injury claim. To establish negligence, you must prove the following:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. This duty is often as simple as operating his or her motor vehicle in a safe and lawful manner.
- The at-fault party breached this duty, and the breach resulted in an accident.
- The accident caused damages to you, including medical expenses and damage to your car.
By contacting an experienced car accident lawyer they can help you understand your legal options, including whether you are eligible to file a lawsuit. Call the Levin Firm today for a free consultation.