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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- 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
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
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Car Accident Law - Articles
- My Car Was Totaled and They Are Accepting Liability for the Car Accident. Do I Still Need an Attorney?Even though a car accident is clearly the other party’s fault and you were hit very hard, we highly recommend that you at least speak to an attorney to review your case. Most personal injury attorneys provide free case consultations for people who have been injured in car accidents and are happy to provide you with free legal information and advice about your case.
- After a Car Accident, Do I Have to Use the Repair Shop that the Insurance Company Sends Me To?If you’ve been involved in a car accident and are dealing with the insurance companies yourself, it is important for you to know that you do not have to use the repair shops or body shops that the insurance companies recommend.
- Settlement or Court? The Choice Is YoursPeople who suffer an injury in an accident may be able to get compensation that covers their medical costs, lost wages, and other non-economic losses, such as psychological trauma. To pursue compensation, they would need to hire a personal injury attorney to represent them, but that doesn’t mean the case necessarily has to go to court.
- What Is A Letter Of Protection? Learn More About The Pros And Cons Of Using A Letter Of Protection Or LOPIf there is no insurance coverage available to help pay for your health care and/or wage loss after an accident, a letter of protection may be needed. A letter of protection is a promise from the injured person and his or her lawyer to pay the doctor at the conclusion of the personal injury case.
- When Liability Extends Beyond a Drunk DriverDid you know that every day in the United States 29 people die from alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes? This astounding figure might make you want to point the finger solely at the drivers; however, the legal reality is that the liability for drunk driving accidents sometimes extends beyond the driver.
- Is an Insurance Company Offering Less than You Deserve?Insurance is one of the most unwelcome regular expenses. You may feel like you’re just throwing money away, year after year, until one day, you find you actually need it.
- Why Should You Always Call the Police after a Crash? It’s always good to know beforehand what to do if you’re ever in a vehicle accident, to protect your health and legal position. Many circumstances require you to call the police immediately. The primary exception is if the accident is minor with virtually no property damage and there are no injuries.
- Rear-End Collisions by Commercial Trucks Are Avoidable and Can Be DeadlyCommercial trucks come in all shapes and sizes, the largest being semi-trucks that can weigh 80,000 pounds. If such a truck rear-ends another vehicle, especially at highway speeds, the results are often dead or seriously injured vehicle occupants. These types of accidents aren’t acts of God -- they’re often the result of distracted, fatigued or sleeping truck drivers in trucks lacking the latest safety equipment.
- Am I Allowed to Switch Lawyers? Should I?Generally, you are allowed to switch lawyers in the middle of your case. Whatever your reason for getting another attorney may be, you are allowed to drop your current attorney and hire another one.
- Should I Accept What the Insurance Company Is Offering Me after a Car Accident?Before you accept any offer from an insurance company, make sure to have your offer reviewed by a personal injury attorney. In the vast majority of situations, the insurance company is not offering you as much as they could and/or should for your injuries.
- All Motor Vehicles Law Related Articles
Car Accident Law - Handbooks
- 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 Accident Laws in Illinois
Illinois is an at-fault state, meaning that the insurance company that insures the person who caused the accident is responsible for paying for the damages its insured caused, up to certain policy limits.
Car Accident Law - 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 Accident Law - Europe
Car Accident Law - International
Car Accident Law - Organizations
- 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