More than 40,000 individuals die in car crashes every year in America. According to the National highway Traffic Safety Administration, an individual is involved in an automobile accident every 10 seconds. It is estimated one individual will die in a car crash every 12 minutes. Automobile accidents are the leading case of death of Americans 35 years of age and younger.

What is the Leading Cause of Car Accidents?

Most car accidents are caused by irresponsible driving behaviors. Statistics indicate that 98% of car accidents involve a single distracted driver. In some accidents, only one of the drivers involved is at fault. In other cases, multiple drivers may be at fault for the accident. Some common causes of car accidents include:

  • Rubbernecking, or slowing down a car to watch what is going on outside the vehicle, such as a wreck;
  • Drivers using cellular phones while driving to make calls and/or text;
  • Driver fatigue;
  • Passenger distractions;
  • Looking at scenery; and/or
  • Adjusting the radio or other vehicle controls.

Rubbernecking is the leading cause of car accidents. It also causes traffic delays. 

In recent years, some states have enacted laws eliminating and/or limiting the use of cell phones while driving. Some states make it illegal for a driver to hold a phone in their hand while driving for any reason.

Another common cause of car accidents is negligence. When determining a driver’s negligence, a court may look at factors including:

  • Driving above and/or below the speed limit;
  • Failing to signal;
  • Ignoring weather conditions;
  • Ignoring traffic conditions;
  • Disobeying traffic signs; and/or 
  • Driving under the influence.

What are Other Common Causes of Car Accidents?

There are any other common causes of car accidents, including:

  • Drunk driving or driving while intoxicated;
  • Reckless driving;
  • Automobile defects;
  • A Tire blow out due to defective tires or poor roads;
  • Poorly maintained roads;
  • Malfunctioning traffic signals; and/or
  • Other highway defects, including defective guardrails.

Alcohol plays a major role in car accidents. It is estimated that one individual dies every 30 minutes in an alcohol-related car crash.

Drivers who drive recklessly and/or unsafely can cause car accidents due to their aggressive driving. Examples of this type of driving may include improper and/or excessive lane changing, speeding, and/or improper passing on the roadway.

Automobile accidents may also be caused by a defect in the vehicle. In these cases, the car manufacturer and/or supplier may be held liable.

Car crash studies have shown that neck injuries can be sustained from accidents that occur as slow as 5 miles per hour. While people may be injured at this speed, car crash studies have also shown that the majority of vehicles are damaged in accidents of 10 miles per hour or faster.

In some cases, an accident victim may have a claim for negligence. This claim may be available when another driver engages in actions such as:

  • Failing to stop and look both ways at a stop sign prior to proceeding;
  • Texting while driving instead of watching the road; and/or
  • Eating a meal while driving; and/or
  • Using their hands for anything other than driving.

Other examples of common causes of car accident causes can include:

  • Poor weather conditions;
  • Vehicle defects;
  • Vehicle mechanical issues;
  • Poor visibility, as related to factors other than weather, such as trees and/or bushes blocking the view of the road;
  • Driving under the influence and/or driving while intoxicated;
  • Issues with a road sign and/or traffic light;
  • Road work; and/or
  • Other unpredictable factors that a driver may encounter.

Are There Defenses to Car Accident Lawsuits?

Yes, defenses are available to car accident lawsuits. In car accidents where more than one driver may be at fault for injuries and/or damages resulting from the accident, a driver may be excused from liability if a legal defense is applicable. Examples of circumstances when a driver may be able to assert a defense include:

  • A lack of proof;
  • A lack of fault;
  • Emergency circumstances;
  • Assumption of the risk;
  • Contributory or comparative negligence;
  • The statute of limitations has expired;
  • Involuntary intoxication; and/or
  • Failure to mitigate damages.

A lack of proof occurs when one of the elements of negligence is missing. It can also occur if there is not enough evidence to prove liability. This defense may be used as an affirmative defense to protect a driver from being held liable for an automobile accident.

A lack of fault defense may limit the amount of damages for which a defendant is liable. This defense applies in cases where the defendant can show that the plaintiff was the one who actually caused the accident.

Emergency conditions may have been present at the time of an accident, such as an individual trying to rush to a hospital. If these conditions were present, it may be possible to have the case dropped entirely, or, at the very least, result in a lesser sentence for the defendant.

Assumption of the risk may be an available defense when the defendant can demonstrate that the plaintiff, or other driver, knew of a certain risk and still acted regardless of the fact. Assumption of the risk can be express or implied.

Some jurisdictions prohibit a plaintiff from recovering damages if they contributed to their own injury. In other jurisdictions, damages may be reduced based on the percentage of fault attributed to each party.

Most states have a statute of limitations, or time limit on filing a claim, that varies from 2 to 6 years. If a plaintiff files outside the provided time frame, it may be used as a defense.

Involuntary intoxication may be a defense if the defendant can show they were intoxicated against their will and had no knowledge of the intoxication, which, in turn, caused the accident. This may occur in cases where a drug is placed in someone’s beverage without their knowledge.

In some cases, failure to mitigate damages may be used as a defense. This defense may be more difficult to prove, but is used in cases where a plaintiff did not attempt to lessen the damages. An example may be failing to seek medical care which led to more serious injuries.

What is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence is an affirmative defense that may be presented in a negligence lawsuit. Under this theory, the plaintiff has contributed to their own injuries. It is available in most states, but may vary depending on each states’ laws.

If comparative negligence is available as a defense, a plaintiff can sue a defendant for negligence. If the defendant raises this defense successfully, the plaintiff’s negligence will lead to a reduction of their damages. For example, if a jury finds a pedestrian who jaywalked is 50% at fault for causing an accident, then the pedestrian’s damages would be reduced accordingly, by 50%.

What is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence is a defense that is only available in a select number of states. It is similar to comparative negligence but completely bars a plaintiff from bringing a lawsuit. In order to use this defense, the defendant must be able to show that the plaintiff contributed to the accident.

What are the Damages for Auto Accident Claims?

Car accidents may lead to civil lawsuits for damages. In these cases, the liable driver may be required to reimburse the victim for losses, including:

  • Costs associated with any resulting injuries, such as hospital costs;
  • Damage to the car and/or other property;
  • Lost wages and/or lost earning capacity; 
  • Pain and suffering;
  • Emotional distress; and/or 
  • Possible criminal penalties such as in cases involving drunk driving.  

Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced with Car Accidents?

Yes, if you have been in a car accident, it is important to seek the help of a car accident lawyer . A lawyer will be able to review the facts of the accident and a police report, if available. A lawyer can determine whether any defenses are available to you if you are at fault.

A lawyer may also determine if liability may fall on the car manufacturer, supplier, or in some cases, the government. A lawyer will be able to help you file a claim, fight for damages, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. It is important to seek the help of a lawyer as soon as possible, as a statute of limitations may apply to your car accident claim.