Fault and Liability: Who Caused Your Car Accident?

Liability for damages resulting from car accident usually falls on a negligent driver, but there are exceptions.

The majority of car accidents are caused by driver negligence, poor road conditions, or a problem or defect with one of the automobiles involved. Let’s look at each of these causes.

Driver Negligence

The issue of fault and legal liability in most injury-related insurance claims and most personal injury lawsuits comes down to establishing who was negligent.

In a car accident case, one obvious way that a driver can be negligent is to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs while driving, but taking certain prescription medication can also be negligent. We are probably all familiar with the commercials that instruct us not to take a certain medication while operating heavy machinery. Well, a car is heavy machinery. If, hypothetically, you get into a car accident while taking one of those medications, you may find yourself accused of negligence.

But a more common form of driver negligence is basic inattention to the road. Cars are big, heavy devices, and there are a lot of things happening on the roads. Taking one’s eyes off the road, even for a second, can be negligent. There are innumerable ways in which a driver can be inattentive. Some of them include:

  • looking at something or someone by the side of the road
  • looking at a map or a piece of paper
  • reading the newspaper or a book
  • changing the station on the radio
  • looking at a cell phone
  • texting
  • getting something out of the glove compartment
  • adjusting your seat
  • getting something out of your pocket
  • looking into the back seat or getting something out of the back seat
  • looking at your children to talk to them or reprimand them
  • eating or drinking (even non-alcoholic beverages) while driving
  • putting on makeup, and
  • shaving (yes, that’s been done while driving).

Lawyers have used every one of these examples (and many more) to prove negligence in a car accident case. If you are hit by a driver who was doing any of the above actions at the time of the collision, that is evidence that will improve your chances of a good settlement.

Conversely, if you cause a car accident because you were doing any of the above things, you can expect to be held liable. Your insurance company will be paying on the claim and raising your insurance premiums.

To learn more about negligence in personal injury law in general, see this overview on the subject.

Poor Road Conditions

Poor road conditions can certainly cause car accidents. Poor road conditions might include the following:

  • potholes or sinkholes in the road
  • cracks or breaks in the road
  • unlevel lanes in the road (often caused when one lane has just been repaved, but the other lane has not)
  • a road in the middle of construction
  • poor or confusing street signage
  • narrow roads
  • construction debris in the road
  • lack of sufficient shoulder on the road, and
  • bad instructions from a flagman.

If you get into a car accident due to poor road conditions, you might have a claim not just against the other driver, but also against the governmental agency or entity in charge of the road. For further information, see Liability for Car Accidents Caused by Poor Road Conditions.

Defective Cars or Cars in Bad Condition

Defective cars can be very dangerous. Defects in cars include not just problems with the way that the car came from the factory, but also problems that develop over the life of the car.

For example, if your brakes are wearing out, but you choose not to replace them, you are knowingly driving a defective car and you will be found liable if you cause an accident by being unable to stop in time.

Common problems with cars that are likely to cause an accident include problems with the steering, acceleration, braking, or lights. If your car is showing signs of any of these problems, you should get it checked out as soon as possible. If a mechanic tells you that your car needs to be repaired, you should get it fixed. If you can’t afford to repair it, you should not drive it. Knowingly driving a car in need of repair is asking for trouble.

And conversely, if you get hit by another driver who was knowingly driving a car in bad shape, you should not have any trouble getting the settlement that you are looking for.

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