Fault and Liability: Who Caused Your Car Accident?

Liability for injuries and other damages resulting from a car accident usually falls on the negligent driver.

Updated By , J.D.
Was a police report filed?
  • The majority of car accidents are caused by driver negligence or misconduct, poor road conditions, or a problem or defect with a vehicle. Let's take a closer look at each of these causes.

    Driver Negligence or Misconduct

    The issue of fault and legal liability in most injury-related insurance claims and 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. (More: Is a drunk driver automatically at fault for a car accident?)

    Taking certain prescription medication before driving can also amount to negligence. We're probably all familiar with drug commercials instructing us not to take certain medications while operating heavy machinery. Well, a car is heavy machinery. If, hypothetically, you get into a car accident while taking certain prescription or over-the-counter medications, you may find yourself accused of negligence.

    But a more common form of driver negligence is basic inattention to the road. 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, including:

    • distracted driving (texting/phone use)
    • looking at something or someone by the side of the road
    • looking at a map or reading something
    • getting something out of the glove compartment
    • adjusting your seat
    • getting something out of your pocket
    • reaching into the back seat
    • eating or drinking (even non-alcoholic beverages) while driving
    • putting on makeup, and
    • shaving (yes, that's been known to happen while driving).

    Lawyers have used every one of these examples (and many more) to prove negligence in a car accident case. If you're able to show that the driver who hit you was engaged in any of the above-listed activities at the time, that's evidence that will improve your chances of a good car accident settlement.

    Conversely, if the other driver can show that you were doing any of the things in the bulleted list above, you can expect to be held liable for the crash. That means your car insurance company will be paying on the claim, and you'll likely be paying more for car insurance.

    Poor Road Conditions

    Poor road conditions like these can certainly cause (or play a role in causing) car accidents:

    • 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 hasn't)
    • a road/highway undergoing construction/repair
    • poor or confusing street signage
    • narrow roads
    • construction debris in the road
    • lack of sufficient shoulder on the road, and
    • bad instructions from a flagperson.

    If you get into a car accident that might have been caused by poor road conditions, you could still have a claim against another driver, but you might also be entitled to take legal action against the governmental agency or entity in charge of maintaining the road. Learn more about liability for car accidents caused by poor road conditions.

    Defective or Poorly-Maintained Vehicles

    If your vehicle was manufactured with a defect, and you're injured in an accident that was caused by that defect, you might have a valid product liability claim against the vehicle manufacturer. But defects in vehicles include not just problems with the way the car came off the production line, but also problems that develop over the life of the vehicle.

    For example, if your brakes are wearing out, but you choose not to replace them, you are knowingly driving a defective (or at least negligently-maintained) vehicle, and you will probably be found liable if you cause an accident in which that mechanical problem played a part.

    Common problems with cars that are likely to cause an accident include issues with the steering, acceleration, braking, tires, or lights. If your car is showing signs of any of these problems, get it checked out as soon as possible. If a mechanic tells you that your car needs to be repaired, get it fixed. If you can't afford to repair the vehicle, don't drive it. And conversely, if you get hit by another driver who was knowingly driving a car whose condition posed a safety risk on the road, you could be well set up to receive a fair settlement.

    If you're thinking about taking legal action over injuries sustained in a car accident, your best first step might be to discuss your situation (and your options) with a car accident lawyer.

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