A recent six-vehicle crash required police officials in Philadelphia to shut down the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Although this crash situation did not cause severe injuries to any vehicle drivers or passengers, it resulted in serious property damage.
Unfortunately, most common car accident scenarios cause personal injuries in addition to property damages. In order to bring a claim for their related losses, injury victims must prove who is liable for the collision. Often, a full investigation is needed to 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 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 who is liable for your accident.
Common Car Accident Scenarios: Who's Fault and Who Should Pay?
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 insurance resources available for paying your claim. Here is a look at some common car accident scenarios and the investigation process 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 Washington Post report. 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 was 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 your turn signal is defective, the signal manufacturer may share liability for the accident.
- 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 another 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 usually must yield the right of way in this scenario, meaning that—unless there is a green arrow—they must yield to those moving straight through the intersection. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study 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. Here are some examples of liability in a left-turn accident:
- The driver of a straight-moving vehicle is speeding or trying to beat the red light. Speeding makes it impossible for the turning driver to see them in time or calculate how much time they have to complete the turn.
- 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 toward each other collide, usually head-to-head.
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 its 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.
- A driver became confused when exiting off the freeway and accidentally wound up going the wrong way in the lane for those merging onto the highway. In this case, the accident would be the confused driver's fault because they were driving in the wrong direction.
You may wonder who is at fault if you get hit from the side. Also known as a T-bone accident, 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 was hit are often quite severe because there are fewer structural barriers, such as airbags, to protect the individual from the brunt of a side 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 who handles drunk driving cases.
- 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. You would be responsible for this accident scenario.
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, a driver realizes their exit is fast approaching, and they must change lanes quickly to make it over in time. If the driver fails to check their blind spot when changing lanes and causes an accident with the vehicle already traveling in the lane they were attempting to enter, that driver is liable because they failed to ensure the lane was open before changing lanes.
- You're driving in a rainstorm and notice in your mirror that a vehicle is approaching the lane next to yours at a high speed. Just as the vehicle pulls up alongside you, it hydroplanes on a puddle, causing the driver to lose control, and his vehicle sideswipes yours. In this situation, the other driver is liable for the accident because 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 lane 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 one recent year, 40 percent of passenger vehicle deaths from 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 because they 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 could rest with the brake manufacturer. Also, if you recently had work done on your vehicle, the liability could fall on the shop where you had the work done.
How to Determine Liability in a Car Accident
A lawyer can help you determine liability in the event of property damage, loss of wages, and other losses. As with personal injury, proving negligence is the crux of any liability case involving car accidents. Proving negligence is key to the successful outcome of your personal injury claim.
To establish negligence, your attorney 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 or damage to your car.
Even in clear-cut cases, insurance companies may try to dispute the liability determination to minimize their payout. This is where a lawyer's experience can truly make a difference. By gathering and presenting evidence, such as photographs of the accident scene, witness statements, vehicle damage reports, and medical records, an attorney can build a strong case that substantiates your claim.
Additionally, a lawyer can help identify all potential defendants in your case, such as the other driver, the employer of the other driver (if they were working at the time of the accident), the manufacturer of a defective car part, or even the entity responsible for maintaining the road where the accident occurred. By holding all liable parties accountable, you can maximize your potential for compensation.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help With Many Car Accident Scenarios and Determine Who is Liable For Your Injuries
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 identify all potentially liable parties, which will provide you with the best chance to recover damages in accidents caused by the negligence of others.
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.