Getting into an auto accident, especially a critical one, can sometimes result in a civil lawsuit against the person who is at fault for the accident. However, there may be several defenses that the party being sued can raise, which can help either prove that they were not at fault for the accident, or at the very least, can aid them in getting their damages reduced.
The most common car accident lawsuit defense involves fault and comparative negligence. These concepts will both be discussed in further detail below. Some other common defenses that may apply to an auto accident claim include:
- Contributory negligence;
- Lack of proof or fault;
- Assumption of risk;
- Statute of limitations;
- Emergency situation;
- No injury sustained;
- Involuntary intoxication; and
- Failure to mitigate damages.
These defenses may also be asserted in absence of a court case, such as during settlement negotiations.
What Is Comparative Negligence?
Comparative negligence is an affirmative defense that is frequently used by a defendant in a negligence lawsuit (e.g., like an auto accident claim). The basic concept behind this theory is that the plaintiff to the lawsuit has somehow contributed to their own injuries.
For instance, if a defendant driver was speeding, but the plaintiff pedestrian crossed the street without looking both ways. Though the driver is more at fault in this scenario, the negligent actions of the pedestrian also contributed to the accident because their injuries could have been prevented if they had looked both ways.
When a defendant asserts comparative negligence as a defense, the court will evaluate the negligent actions of the party bringing the lawsuit and compare it against the negligent actions of the opposing party. If the defendant can prove that the plaintiff’s own negligence helped cause the accident and their injuries, then the defense will serve to reduce their damages award.
In addition, while comparative negligence is available as a defense in most states, each state may follow a variation of comparative negligence theory (i.e., pure versus modified comparative negligence). The difference between the two is that in a pure comparative state, the plaintiff can recover damages regardless of their percentage of fault (e.g., a plaintiff in a pure state can still recover even if they are found to be 90% at fault for the accident).
On the other hand, a plaintiff to an action in a modified comparative state, will not be permitted to recover if they are found to be more than 50% at fault for the accident (e.g., a plaintiff who is 51% at fault for the accident cannot recover).
What Is Contributory Negligence, and What Are Some Examples?
Contributory negligence is another type of defense that may be raised against an auto accident case. However, it is only available as a defense in a select number of states. That being said, contributory negligence is very similar to comparative negligence, but when argued successfully, it will completely bar a plaintiff from even bringing a lawsuit.
For instance, in a comparative negligence state, a jaywalker who is 25% at fault for causing an auto accident will still be able to recover damages. They will just be reduced accordingly (i.e., by 25%). In contrast, a jaywalker who is 25% at fault in a state that follows a contributory negligence theory, will be completely barred from bringing a lawsuit and thus will recover nothing.
In jurisdictions that recognize a pure contributory negligence defense (e.g., Washington D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and Alabama), the defendant will only be required to show that the plaintiff contributed to the accident. In other words, under a contributory negligence theory, if a victim contributed to their injuries in any way, they will not be allowed to recover damages.
Some common examples of negligent behavior that may bar a party to an auto accident from bringing a lawsuit in a contributory negligence state include:
- Distracted driving (e.g., texting or fiddling with an electronic music device while driving);
- Failing to yield or use a turn signal;
- Weaving or unsafe lane changing;
- Driving while intoxicated or exhausted;
- Tailgating, running through red traffic lights, or ignoring stop signs;
- Knowingly riding with an impaired driver or driving a defective vehicle; and
- Speeding or driving at a speed that is considered too fast for current road and weather conditions.
What Is Failure to Mitigate?
When a person suffers injuries as a result of an auto accident, they have a legal duty to minimize the damages. In most jurisdictions, this duty is known as the “duty to mitigate.” The purpose of this legal obligation is to reduce any damages that could have reasonably been avoided.
As such, a person who intentionally makes their injuries worse or fails to seek medical treatment for their injuries, can be barred from recovering any damages. Depending on the circumstances of the case, their actions may sometimes only lead to having their damages reduced, as opposed to being completely barred.
An example of a situation in which this can happen is when an injured person initially seeks medical treatment, but then fails to follow the required treatment plan. In this instance, the defendant may be able to raise the defense of “failure to mitigate”. Hence, its name.
Retaining an auto collision attorney can come in handy for either party to an accident. Specifically, in regard to this defense, an auto collision attorney can help an injured party navigate the steps they must take to mitigate their losses.
On the other hand, an auto collision attorney can also help a defendant to determine whether this defense is available, and if so, whether their damages should be reduced or eliminated accordingly.
What If No Injury Was Actually Sustained as a Result of the Auto Accident?
In order to bring a negligence lawsuit, a party must have sustained an injury from the accident. If no injury was actually sustained as a result of an auto accident, then the defendant may be able to raise this fact as part of their defense. For instance, if the plaintiff and defendant collide in a minor fender-bender accident and there is either no or minimal damage, then the defendant may be able to claim that no injury was sustained.
However, the person may still be able to file a claim for property damages (i.e., damage done to a car). This will depend on the facts of a case and the laws of a particular state. This type of lawsuit differs from a personal injury claim and will involve other factors, such as:
- Whether the parties reported the accident to the police;
- The amount of time in which an insurance company allows a party to file a claim;
- Whether the parties reported the accident to their respective insurance companies;
- The statute of limitations for filing an action for property damage in a specific state; and
- Whether the action is being brought in a fault or no-fault state.
Do I Need an Attorney for an Auto Accident?
There are many benefits to hiring a lawyer for auto accidents and any related claims. Specifically, a local personal injury lawyer can explain how the laws in your state apply to the facts of your case, can discuss the potential remedies or defenses that may be available to you, and will also be able to provide representation on your behalf in court or during a settlement negotiation.
Therefore, if you want to sue or are being sued for an auto accident, then you should strongly consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer for further assistance.
Aside from the benefits listed above, your lawyer can also make sure that you are taking the right steps to mitigate your losses, can help you get the best possible outcome based on the facts of your case, and will be available to answer any important questions you may have regarding auto accidents in general.