Car Accident Law
What is Car Accident Law?
Car accident law refers to the legal rules that determine who is responsible for the personal and property damage resulting from a traffic collision. This area of the law consists of the principles of negligence, as applied to this particular category of personal injury cases. Like other cases in which negligence law applies, car accident litigation is governed almost entirely by state law.
While nuances exist, car accident victims in every state must prove the same basic four elements in order to recover compensation. These elements are: duty, breach, causation, and harm. With respect to duty, drivers have a legal obligation to obey the rules of the road and to operate their vehicles in a reasonable manner. This means driving a safe speed, maintaining control, exercising awareness, observing traffic signals, using blinkers and headlights, etc.
The existence of a duty is typically accepted without much argument. By contrast, the plaintiff will usually be required to offer evidence that the defendant breached that duty. Breach can be shown by direct evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, traffic surveillance video, or an admission of fault. Or, the plaintiff may need to resort to circumstantial evidence, such as skid marks, paint smudges, or blood alcohol readings.
Just because the defendant had a duty to operate his or her vehicle in a certain manner, and it is shown that the defendant breached that duty, the court will not assume those circumstances caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Rather, the plaintiff must prove the element of causation. In car accident cases, this can be done through medical testimony demonstrating the injuries are consistent with the nature of the crash, and that they did not exist beforehand.
Finally, the plaintiff must prove harm. No matter how egregious the other driver’s conduct was behind the wheel, the plaintiff cannot bring a negligence lawsuit unless the conduct produced damage to the plaintiff’s person or vehicle. “Near miss” cases will not qualify. Once harm is shown, the plaintiff may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, pain and grief, lost wages, and more.
Steps to Take Following an Accident
The first thing to do after a car accident is to remain silent about who is to blame for the incident. As simple as this may seem, admitting fault is by far the most common mistake potential litigants make in the moments following a crash. Ordinarily, the rules of evidence do not allow out-of-court statements (aka “hearsay”). But there is an exception for admissions. Even a simple apology can potentially be used against you.
Conversely, it is important to make notes of any statements made by the other driver. A smart phone, tablet, or other electronic device can be great for recording voice memos in the chaos of an accident scene. By whatever means are available, gather as much detail about the accident as possible. To begin with, take down the other driver’s name and address, license number, and insurance information.
Other evidence to preserve includes witness contact information, descriptions of the road, traffic, and weather conditions, and photographs of the vehicles. If your cell phone or camera has the ability to record video, use it. Make a video of the accident scene up close and from a distance, including the location of traffic signs, crosswalks, and so forth. Also be sure to write down the names of police officers so it will be easier to get copies of their reports.
Never overlook the importance of seeking immediate medical attention. The whiplash motion caused by car accidents can produce injuries the victim may not notice at first, but that become more pronounced as time passes. As a potential plaintiff in a negligence case, you do not want the other driver’s attorney to belittle the severity of your injuries, based on the fact that you did not feel it necessary to seek treatment right away.
Of everything that can be done after a car accident to preserve a victim’s right to compensation, contacting a personal injury lawyer will have the greatest impact. Without the assistance of counsel, you will be alone and vulnerable to the tactics of the opposing side’s insurance company. The adjuster may pressure you to accept an unfair settlement, or to waive other rights. Before signing anything, be sure to consult an attorney.
Know Your Rights!
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A driver was sending a text message when he accidentally swerved across the middle line and killed the driver of a vehicle heading in the opposite direction. The incident was clearly an accident, but was the teen's action of composing text messages while driving so wanton and reckless that it could amount to criminal homicide?
- Hit and Run Accidents and the Consequences
For those who caused the accident then fled the scene, usually in a panic, the consequences can be severe.
- How do You Know Who is at Fault in a Car Accident
Determining the responsible party for a car accident can sometimes be tricky. There is often a difference between who actually caused an accident and who legally is at fault.
- How to Know if a Car Accident Case is Worth Anything
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- In a Rear End Collision, Is the Guy in the Back Always at Fault?
Being in any accident can be a nightmare, but when you are the driver of a vehicle that collided with another from the rear, it can be particularly troubling. Conventional wisdom will usually tell you that the driver in the back is always at fault, and in most instances this will be true, but not all.
- Single-Vehicle Accidents
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- What to do After a Bike Accident
First, the rider must try to keep his or her cool. What you do in the immediate aftermath of any accident, including a bike accident, may have a big impact on how much you recover for your injuries and damage to your bike. It may also affect the outcome of any lawsuits resulting from the accident.
- What to Do After a Hit-and-Run Accident
For many, it can be a nightmare scenario: driving safely and minding their own business when another vehicle hits them, causes damage and possibly injuries, then flees the scene. What do you do? Who will pay for the damage?
- What to do When a Defective Part Caused Your Car Accident
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Articles About Car Accident Law
- Why You Should Not Use an Insurance Direct Repair or Preferred ShopIf your car has been involved in an accident recently it's best to think twice before sending your car off to your insurances preferred shop for repairs.
- What Do Pain and Suffering Damages Include?One of the types of damages that personal injury victims may be able to receive compensation for is pain and suffering. It is important for plaintiffs to understand what is considered “pain and suffering” in the court that has jurisdiction of the case.
- Drugged DrivingMany motor vehicle accidents are caused by impaired drivers. While many of these are attributed to drivers under the influence of alcohol, many others are due to drug impairment.
- Legal Mistakes to Avoid After a Car AccidentThe moments after a car accident can be extremely confusing. They may lead individuals involved in car accidents to make some mistakes that can affect their legal claim, including:
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- Legal Value of Videos in a Car Which Capture an Accident/EventIndividuals who are injured in an automotive accident or another event may benefit from having a video of such accident or event. Such footage may provide significant value in legal claims.
- Proving a Defect in a Car Accident CaseIn some car accident cases, the liable party is not either driver. In some cases, the liability lies with the manufacturer that put a dangerous vehicle on the roadway. In these cases, the plaintiff must be able to show why the manufacturer should be held responsible for the accident.
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- Federal Regulations for Self-Driving CarsSelf-driving cars are one of the latest technological advances in the automobile industry. According to certain automobile companies, self-driving cars that require occasional driver intervention are only a few years away, and completely self-driving cars are not far behind.
- April is National Distracted Driving Awareness MonthWith the growing technology available in new cars, drivers are now able to call, text and even check social media through their dashboard “infotainment” systems.
- All Motor Vehicles Law Related Articles
Car Accident Law Handbook
- Car Accident Law Handbook
Knowing what to do immediately after an accident can make a significant impact in a case and help individuals protect their legal rights. Use this car accident law handbook to understand your legal rights and strengthen your claim.
Car and Automobile Accidents in the US
- Automobile Accidents, Tort Law, Externalities, and Insurance: An Economist’s Critique
Nearly half a century ago, William Vickrey of Columbia University published this essay on car accident compensation. It remains useful today for those interested in an economist’s perspective on the subject.
- Car Accident Advice
Practical advice explaining what to do after a car accident. The page also discusses how economic losses from an accident are treated under the tax code.
- Car Accidents - Wikipedia
This online encyclopedia entry describes how car accidents occur, the damage they cause to life and property, and what is being done to prevent them.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (FARS)
Official government site providing car accident fatality data. This spreadsheet tracks the total number of deaths and related statistics in the United States since 1994.
- What to Do After a Car Accident
Edmunds.com provides a detailed plan of action for dealing with a collision, and a discussion of the items to keep inside an accident preparedness kit.
Car and Automobile Accidents in Europe
Car and Automobile Accidents - International
Organizations For Car Accident Law
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
- Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
- Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
- Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)
- Federal Highway Administration
- Highway Safety Research Center
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
- National Crash Analysis Center (NCAC)
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- U.S Deparment of Transportation