Getting into a car accident can be a scary and stressful life event. Aside from the initial shock, a car accident can have an impact on your health, property, finances, and even insurance premiums.
Then there is the question of how to resolve the above issues. Each one requires a different approach. This process might lead you to feel overwhelmed and lost, adding more pressure to an already upsetting situation.
One way to better manage this process is to hire a personal injury lawyer. A lawyer can serve as a useful guide to help you navigate some of these questions efficiently. They can also assist you in determining whether you have a claim to recover any potential damages resulting from an accident.
What are Some Common Causes of Auto Accidents?
One of the leading causes of car accidents is negligence. In some cases, only one of the drivers involved in the accident is at fault. In other instances, multiple drivers may be responsible for the actions that caused the accident.
A claim for negligence can be found in various situations, such as when a driver does not stop and look both ways at a stop sign before proceeding, or is texting while driving as opposed to paying attention to the road.
Other examples for common causes of car accidents include:
- Weather conditions;
- Defects in a car or mechanical issues;
- Poor visibility (relating to factors other than weather, e.g., trees blocking the view of the road for drivers);
- Driving under the influence (DUI);
- Issues with road signs or stop lights;
- Roadwork; and
- Various other unpredictable factors.
Are There Any Defenses to Car Accident Lawsuits?
In cases where there are multiple drivers who may be at fault for the injuries or damages resulting from the accident, some of the drivers may be excused from liability if a legal defense applies to their situation.
The following are some examples that a driver involved in a car accident may be able to assert as a defense, such as:
- Lack of Proof: For instance, if one of the elements of negligence is missing, or if there is not enough evidence to prove liability, then this can be used as an affirmative defense to protect a driver from being held responsible.
- Lack of Fault: This defense may limit the amount of damages that a defendant is liable for by showing that the plaintiff was the one who actually caused the accident to happen.
- Emergencies: If emergency conditions were present during the occurrence of the accident, then stating this as a defense could potentially lead to dropping the case entirely, or at the very least, resulting in a lowered sentence for the defendant.
- Assumption of Risk: Assumption of risk may apply as a defense in cases where it can be demonstrated that the other driver knew of a certain risk and still acted regardless of the fact.
- Contributory or Comparative Negligence: Some jurisdictions do not allow a plaintiff to recover damages if they contributed to their own injury. In other states, the damages may be reduced according to the percentage of fault attributed to each party.
- Statute of Limitations Expired: Statute of limitations relates to a certain time frame that a plaintiff has to file an action. It can be used as a defense if the plaintiff has failed to file within the necessary time period. Although it depends on the state, most auto accidents generally have a time limit of anywhere from two to six years to file a claim.
- Involuntary Intoxication: This may be a defense if it can be shown that the defendant was intoxicated against his will and had no knowledge of it, which in turn, is what caused him to get into the auto accident.
- Failure to Mitigate Damages: Although this defense is sometimes harder to prove, it may be used where a plaintiff did not attempt to lessen any damages (e.g., refused to seek medical attention), which led to more serious injuries.
What is Comparative Negligence?
Comparative negligence is an affirmative defense to a negligence lawsuit. Under a comparative negligence theory, the plaintiff has contributed in some way to their own injuries. It is available as a defense in most states, however, it might be a modified version depending on the laws of each state.
If a state statute does offer comparative negligence as a defense, a plaintiff can still sue the defendant for negligence. The defendant will then raise comparative negligence as an affirmative defense. If proven, the plaintiff’s own negligence will lead to a reduction of their damages.
For example, if the jury in an auto accident case believes that a pedestrian who jaywalked is 50% at fault for causing the accident, then that plaintiff’s damages will be reduced accordingly (i.e., by 50%).
What is Contributory Negligence?
In contrast to the number of states that follow a comparative negligence theory, contributory negligence is only available as a defense in a select number of states. Contributory negligence is similar to comparative negligence, but it will completely bar a plaintiff from bringing a lawsuit.
Continuing with the above example, the plaintiff pedestrian will still be held accountable for jaywalking and will therefore be partially liable. This time, in applying a contributory negligence defense to the facts instead, the plaintiff will not be allowed to bring the lawsuit.
In order to exercise this defense, the defendant will have to be able to show that the plaintiff contributed to the accident.
What are the Damages for Auto Accident Claims?
Auto accident cases can sometimes lead to a civil lawsuit for damages. In such instances, the liable party may be responsible for reimbursing the victim for losses, including:
- The costs associated with any resulting injuries (e.g., hospital or physical therapy costs, etc.);
- Any damage that was done to the car or other property;
- Lost wages or lost earning capacity;
- Pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress; and
- Criminal penalties can also arise, especially for cases involving drunk driving.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Issues Involving Auto Accidents?
Car accident claims often involve complex legal theories and being able to apply them to various sets of facts. By hiring an attorney with experience in these types of cases, you will gain an invaluable resource; one that can protect your rights and assist you in recovering any potential damages.
Whether you are a driver, passenger, or pedestrian that was involved in a car crash, a well-trained personal injury lawyer can provide guidance to help you to determine the best course of action. They can represent your best interests moving forward.
Additionally, a local personal injury lawyer will also be able to evaluate your defenses according to the laws of your particular state and can try to negotiate a settlement before going to court.