Duties of All Drivers

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When individuals are involved in an automotive accident, the legal theory is usually negligence. In order to establish that the other driver was negligent and responsible for the damages that arose, the plaintiff must prove all elements of negligence.

Elements of Negligence

The first element of a negligence claim is duty. Duty can arise because of the special relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant, such as employer and employee, parent and child or doctor and patient. However, individuals also owe each other the duty to protect each other from foreseeable harm, which is present in cases involving motor vehicle accidents.

The other elements of a negligence claim are breach of duty, causation and damages. Once the duty is established, the fact finder assesses whether the defendant breached the duty. If the fact finder finds in the affirmative, he or she will then determine whether this breach was the cause of the plaintiffís injuries. Damages are the economic and non-economic injuries that the plaintiff suffers as a result of the accident. They can include such aspects as property damage, medical expenses, lost time from work and pain and suffering.

General Duty

All drivers have a duty to drive in a reasonable fashion in order to protect pedestrians, other motorists and passengers on the roadway. If a driver breaches one of the following duties, he or she may be found to be negligent, provided that the plaintiff can prove the remaining elements of negligence.

Duty to Drive at a Reasonable Speed

All drivers have the legal duty to drive at a speed that is reasonable and safe. Despite popular opinion, posted speed limits set the maximum speed. However, a driver may breach this duty even if he or she is traveling at the speed limit if this speed is not safe. Such factors that can be considered in determining a safe speed include weather conditions, road conditions, traffic conditions and visibility.

Duty to Maintain Equipment

Because the vehicle will be on the roadway with other vehicles, every driver has the duty to maintain his or her vehicle in a safe operating condition. This requires periodic checks that all brakes and lights are functioning properly.

Duty to Be on the Lookout

Every driver must be alert and aware of their environment. They know that potential hazards may confront them, including other vehicles and pedestrians. In negligence cases, the fact finder compares the defendantís actions or lack of actions with the actions of a reasonably prudent person. If the accident occurred in a school zone or a construction zone, the fact finder can consider that a reasonably prudent person would slow down in such areas and compare this assessment to the defendantís actions.

Duty to Maintain Control of the Vehicle

All drivers have the duty to maintain control of their vehicle by being alert, paying attention and being able to stop quickly.

Duties under State Law

Every state has a different set of driving laws with which all drivers must comply. If a driver breaches his or her duty to obey relevant traffic laws, he or she can be found negligent. Common state-imposed duties include driving without being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, following right-of-way laws and driving on the right side and portion of the road.

If a driver breached any of the duties discussed above and this breach caused someone to suffer damages, the victim may wish to consult with a personal injury lawyer about the possibility of pursuing a personal injury lawsuit.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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