Head-On Collision Laws

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 What Is a Head-On Collision?

A head-on crash, also known as a frontal crash, is a type of auto collision that can cause extremely serious injury and auto damage, even more so than other car accidents. Head-on collisions often occur when one driver goes the wrong way down a one-way road or highway or when one party to the accident was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In a head-on collision, both drivers face each other and are very close to the impact site, which increases the risk of injury. Moreover, the power generated in the crash is double what it would be if, say, a car hit a solid object. This is due to the collision’s nature, where both cars’ energy is directed at the point of impact.

A person who sustains injuries in this type of accident can sue the other driver for damages if they believe the other driver’s negligence caused the crash. If one of the drivers is killed in a head-on collision, their survivors may file a wrongful death suit over the other driver’s negligence.

How Is Negligence Determined in a Head-On Accident?

Any vehicle driver owes a duty of care to everyone else on the road, including other car drivers and passengers. The duty of care is a legal standard which means the driver owes it to others on the road to exercise the care the average person would use in the same situation.

To succeed in a negligent car accident lawsuit, the party bringing the suit (the plaintiff) must prove that the other driver (the defendant) was negligent (did not meet the standard of care) in operating their automobile, and the result was an accident causing injury to the plaintiff.

First, let’s consider the elements of proving negligence. These are the elements which the plaintiff must prove to establish negligence:

  • Duty: The party accused of negligence must have had a duty to the other party. In this case, this is the duty described above, in which the driver of a vehicle owes it to other people on the road to drive as safely as the average person would in their situation.
  • Breach of Duty: If a driver fails to meet this duty, they are considered to have “breached” it.
  • Causation: It must be shown that the defendant’s breach of duty directly caused the plaintiff’s injury. This is normally demonstrated by establishing that the damages or injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s actions. Of course, in a head-on collision, both drivers may be injured. They may both also be at fault to some degree. Who was at fault can be difficult to prove.
  • Damages: Once it has been shown that a defendant did have a duty to the plaintiff, that they breached this duty, and that this caused the injuries, the plaintiff must show that they sustained physical injuries or property loss. In a car accident, these damages will include medical expenses, time lost from a job, emotional distress, auto repair or replacement costs, and more.

Note that in a negligence lawsuit, it is unnecessary to prove that the defendant intended to cause the accident. The defendant’s state of mind is irrelevant.

What Are Some Causes of a Head-On Collision?

Some of the most common examples of negligent driving in a head-on collision situation include, but are not limited to:

  • Failing to obey traffic laws: This can include running stop lights or red lights, failing to yield when required to do so, speeding, or driving too slowly.
  • Failing to be vigilant behind the wheel: This specific type of negligence refers to failing to maintain a reasonable level of vigilance or alertness while driving to be prepared for any unexpected occurrences on the road around you. The most common and especially dangerous example of failing to be vigilant behind the wheel would be using a cell phone while driving
  • Failing to maintain control of the vehicle: Failing to maintain control of the vehicle refers to instances such as sudden stops and swerving

Because of the highly dangerous nature of drunk driving, it is not generally considered to be negligent. Rather, it has its own category of laws. Drunk driving is often considered a criminal offense, while negligence is a civil violation.

If a person is injured in a drunk driving accident, the lawsuit will usually be for intentional misbehavior, not accidental or negligent. It is important to note that criminal and civil charges can be brought against the same defendant for the same incident.

Proving Fault in a Head-on Collision

Often, in a head-on collision, the force of the impact sends the cars involved in different directions, away from the accident site. Police reports describing the scene, or witness accounts of the scene, are integral to determining fault because the positioning of the car can show who caused the accident. When this isn’t possible, the location and extent of damage to the cars may be used to show fault.

Even so, it can still be difficult to prove who was at fault when the cars hit each other head-on, as opposed to one driver careening into another from the side or the back. In addition, in a head-on collision case, it may be that both drivers were partially at fault, and they may sue each other (one party will file the lawsuit, and the other will file a counterclaim).

When both parties were partially at fault, the law of the state where the accident occurred will determine the legal effect of each person’s behavior. Some states use a system called comparative negligence, in which fault is apportioned between the two drivers according to the degree of fault they are responsible for, and the damages are split accordingly.

For example, if you suffer $10,000 worth of damages in a car accident, and the jury finds that the other driver was 60% at fault and you were 40%, then your damage award will be $4,000. Other states have contributory negligence, in which a plaintiff cannot recover damages if they were even slightly negligent.

Does the Defendant Have Defenses Available?

Yes. The defendant may be able to use certain defenses to reduce or eliminate a plaintiff’s award:

  • They may claim that the plaintiff did not suffer injury as a result of the frontal collision
  • If it’s established that the accident did cause the plaintiff’s injuries, the defendant may also claim that the Plaintiff’s negligence contributed to their injuries. As described above, whether the state where the accident occurred has comparative or contributory negligence will influence the case outcome.
    • As mentioned, if the plaintiff is established as being negligent in a comparative negligence state, their damages will be reduced proportionally to their amount of fault. However, if they are in a contributory negligence state, they will be barred from recovering any damages.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me with My Head-On Collision Lawsuit?

The laws which govern a head-on collision vary from state to state. If you have been involved in a head-on collision, you should consider contacting an experienced local car accident lawyer to assist you with the legal process of pursuing compensation for your accident-related injuries.

A lawyer will help you obtain assistance in proving who was at fault in the crash, will represent you in negotiations between yourself and the other party or the other party’s lawyer, and will represent you at trial if it comes to that.

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