When someone is involved in a car accident, there’s a concept of liability that has to be established. Varying factors determine who’s liable for damages in an auto accident. If a driver is seriously injured because someone cuts in front of them, for example, then the driver who did that is probably going to be liable for the injuries. On the other hand, the other driver could be liable if they were speeding.
While every state has its own statutes for determining liability and fault in car accidents, the following are some of the general things to know.
1. Understanding Fault in a Car Accident
The idea of fault seems simple at first. Whoever caused the accident is at fault, right?
In reality, it’s rarely that clear-cut.
In many situations, it’s difficult to untangle the specifics of a situation and figure out who truly was at fault. The insurance companies involved will work on determining who or potentially what caused an accident to then figure out who pays but even so, that’s not a simple process.
Each insurer handles claims and coverage in different ways, and every state in the U.S. has laws about what car insurance is required to cover and how fault is both defined and subsequently determined.
In most states, if you’re at fault for an accident, you or your insurance company will have to compensate the losses of the other driver, their passengers, and anyone else harmed. Losses can include the costs of car repairs, lost income, pain and suffering, and medical bills.
2. There Are No-Fault States
Some states are what’s described as no-fault. This means that a driver will usually need to have personal injury protection coverage. If you have personal injury protection, your insurer will cover losses related to your injuries, such as medical bills and your lost income, up to the limits of your coverage. This is true no matter who causes an accident.
If you’re in a no-fault state, you can’t sue the driver who’s at fault unless you have medical bills that are beyond a certain limit or state law defines your injuries as serious.
If you live in an at-fault state, you can buy personal injury protection or Medical Payments Coverage on top of what you’re required to have, such as your liability insurance.
3. Proving Fault
To prove fault or, in some cases, dispute fault for an accident, an insurance adjuster will look at traffic laws and a variety of evidence.
This evidence can include witness statements and police reports, photos, the location of damage to the vehicles, and whether or not any traffic tickets were issued after an accident.
Adjusters and lawyers have to prove negligence to prove fault.
4. Understanding Negligence
When proving fault for an accident, the drivers that were involved in it, their insurance companies, and their lawyers will probably rely on negligence, which is a legal concept.
Negligence is careless behavior that causes harm to someone else. In the situation of a car accident, you could be negligent by not following traffic laws, such as by running a red light. Negligence can also mean you failed to do something you should have, like not turning on your headlights at night.
When you’re driving, you’re required to use reasonable care to avoid hurting other people, including drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. If you don’t exercise reasonable caution and you harm someone because of that, then you can be financially liable for damages.
In car accident cases, to prove fault and negligence, there are some things that need to be established.
First, you have to establish that the law required the defendant to be reasonably careful, as mentioned. Then, it has to be proven that a defendant breached or violated their duty of care. There has to be a link established between the conduct of the defendant and the injuries of the plaintiff.
Then, it has to be shown that a plaintiff suffered losses that can be measured. For example, car accident victims might receive compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages, and vehicle damage, along with being compensated for their medical expenses.
5. The Legal Duties of a Driver
Finally, as indicated, the law requires that drivers use reasonable care to avoid hurting anyone on the road.
So, what exactly does that mean?
Some of the legal duties you have as a driver include driving at a reasonable speed, being vigilant, maintaining control of your car, and maintaining your vehicle and its equipment.