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!
- Can Texting While Driving Lead to a Murder Charge
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
Virtually any civil lawsuit has one thing in common: damages. That is the injury, financial harm, or damage to property for which one is entitled to recover money from the other party.
- 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
A single vehicle collision or single-vehicle accident is, as the name implies, a car collision in which only one vehicle is involved. This can include accidents like running off the road, colliding with fallen rocks, running over debris on the road, losing control of the vehicle and rolling it, hitting animals, and so forth.
- 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
We expect our cars to keep us and our families safe, but with a system of hundreds of moving parts, it is not uncommon for something to fail, often with dangerous results. Indeed, each year, millions of cars are recalled because of manufacturing defects or defective parts that can cause fatal car crashes.
Articles About Car Accident Law
- Accidents and Student Drivers: Who’s Responsible?Everyone on the road has been a new driver at one point or another. Anyone who's ever been behind the wheel had to learn how to drive before they could have the experience necessary to navigate the distractions and obstacles that exist on roadways every day. Unfortunately, accidents do happen, and sometimes, they occur when new drivers are still students -- accompanied by their instructors.
- Social Media and Your Personal Injury CaseSocial media is accessed by millions of people around the world. It is also used by defense lawyers, private investigators, and the defendants. For you, this means that what you post could be used against you in court.
- Three Cases When Hiring a Car Accident Attorney is CriticalWhile it's usually a good idea to have an attorney representing you in any case resulting from an automobile accident, there are three scenarios when it's absolutely critical to hire an attorney. Reasons range from the difficulty in proving fault to the complexities of governmental immunities to the need to protect against long-term effects of an accident that may not currently be present.
- Safety of Self-Driving Cars - Proposed LegislationRepublicans have proposed legislation for self-driving cars, which they believe will significantly reduce the number of car fatalities.
- Tips to Avoid Distracted DrivingWhile you may be juggling multiple tasks, such as dropping the kids off at school, stopping for coffee on the way to work, and picking up the dry cleaning, driving while distracted is extremely dangerous. Doing so can result in a serious accident injuring yourself and others.
- How Much Is Your Motorcycle Accident Claim Worth?What kind of settlement can you get for your motorcycle accident? It depends on several factors.
- In a Car Crash? You Need to File a Police ReportFiling a police report after a car accident is one of the most important things you can do. If your accident was bad enough to block traffic or require an ambulance, police will likely be dispatched to the scene and file a report without you having to ask.
- How to Work with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Victim Even If They Don’t Realize They’re InjuredImagine that you have been involved in a car wreck. Your vehicle was totaled and you suffered what you believed at the time were moderate injuries - whiplash, a thin wrist fracture and sprained shoulder. Your recollection of the crash is foggy, but after a few weeks of recovery you feel that you are mostly back to your old self…
- "...and She Faked the Injury!"Insurance adjusters will look for any sign of weakness in the value of a personal injury case.
- Gathering Evidence to Support a Personal Injury ClaimA personal injury claim cannot be successful without evidence to support it. This is because personal injury claims hinge on the issue of negligence. If the claimant cannot prove that their injury and resulting damages are the direct result of another party’s negligence, the alleged negligent party cannot be held liable and thus be required to compensate the victim for their damages.
- 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