Consider a recent six-vehicle crash that required police officials in Philadelphia to shut down the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. While the accident did not cause severe injuries to any vehicle drivers or passengers, it resulted in serious damage. This crash is just one of many common car accident scenarios in which a vehicle collides and incurs damages, requiring that the investigators determine fault.
Determining liability in a car accident is essential to filing a claim for damages. Those damages—pursued through the insurance company's claim process or a personal injury lawsuit—will only get 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 more than one individual is at fault. Scheduling a consultation with a car accident lawyer can help you determine the liability in your accident.
Common Car Accident Scenarios
If another driver hurt you in an accident, a car accident lawyer can help. Your car accident lawyer can identify who is at fault and all the insurance resources 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, 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 auto accident happens when one car collides with the back of another vehicle. Most of these collisions occur due to the rear car driver following too closely or ignoring the roadway ahead.
Conventional wisdom says that the rear driver is always responsible for the rear-end collision. Traffic laws state that drivers must leave enough space between their car and the vehicles ahead to come to a safe stop. While this is generally true, there are circumstances where both drivers may share liability or even a third party. Consider the following scenarios:
- You're driving down the road, and another driver rear-ends your car. The driver of the trailing 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 the 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 front driver may share liability in this car accident scenario. While you were negligent in driving while distracted, the other driver was also negligent in failing to yield the right-of-way.
Left-turn car accidents occur when one vehicle goes straight through the intersection while one car makes a left turn and collides with the side of the straight-moving vehicle. Like rear-end accidents, it is generally easy to determine fault in this car accident.
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 errors 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 when the driver of a straight-moving vehicle is speeding. Speeding makes it impossible for the turning driver to see them in time or calculate how much time they have to complete the turn. Here is another example:
- You're turning on a green arrow when a vehicle goes 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.
A head-on collision is one of the most deadly types of motor vehicle accidents. In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, head-on collisions accounted for 56 percent of 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 their lane of traffic, or crashes that cause a car to roll or get pushed into an 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 an additional liability in situations where the car left the lane due to another accident.
Some scenarios involving head-on collisions include:
- A distracted driver rear-ends your vehicle, and the collision's force causes your vehicle to cross the median into oncoming traffic, where it hits another car head-on. In this scenario, the liability 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 merging onto the highway. In this case, the accident would be your fault, as you were driving in 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 car 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 motor vehicle accident almost always occurs in an intersection. It is generally caused by one driver's negligence, 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 drank at a business establishment, such as a bar, the establishment might face additional liability. Dram shop liability occurs if a bar's employees continue to serve alcohol to a visibly drunk person. In circumstances where someone injured another due to drunk driving, the victims should discuss the situation with an attorney specializing 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 by 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 traveling in the same direction make contact with one another while moving. This type of accident is hazardous 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 collision depends on who had the right-of-way in the travel lane 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 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 simultaneously. 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 de facto 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 cases 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 vehicle 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.
How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
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.