Car accidents make up a significant portion of lawsuits and insurance claims in the U.S. every year. However, many car accidents can be attributed to a handful of common causes. Some of the leading causes of car accidents include:
- Drunk Driving – This is way more common than you might think. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 1 in 3 people will be involved in a drunk driving crash during their lifetime. Being under the influence of drugs also impairs driving and can lead to accidents.
- Disobeying Traffic Laws – This is usually a violation like speeding, running a red light or stop sign, failing to yield to another driver, or failing to signal a turn or lane change
- Distracted Driving – Texting while driving is one of the most common forms of distracted driving, but things like adjusting the radio or tending to a child in the backseat are other forms of distracted driving that can result in accidents
- Bad Weather – Snow, ice, rain, fog, and even bright sunlight can all cause car accidents.
- “Drowsy Driving” – Estimates say that tired drivers are a factor in about 1 in 5 traffic fatalities and that a driver’s reaction time and vigilance after being awake for 24 hours is roughly equivalent to if they were driving with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit
Most legal claims associated with car accidents are resolved through a civil lawsuit. Generally, someone who was physically injured, whose car was damaged, or whose property was damaged as the result of a car accident will sue the driver who was at fault.
These cases will result in a monetary damages award to compensate the injured party for the costs they’ve incurred. If the injured party’s car insurance paid for their damages, then the insurance company will pursue the legal claim on the injured party’s behalf to recover the amount they paid out from the at-fault driver or the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Some car accidents, however, can also lead to criminal consequences, especially those involving drunk driving or disobeying traffic laws.
Can the Cause of a Car Accident Affect the Outcome of a Case?
The cause of a car accident can most definitely affect the outcome of the case. All legal cases involving car accidents hinge on which (if any) party is deemed to be at fault for the accident. Which party is deemed at fault will depend on the circumstances leading to the accident, as well as which theory of negligence is followed in the state where the accident occurs. In the event that a driver is issued a citation as a result of the accident, they will generally always be deemed at fault.
Expectedly, the party who is found to be at fault will be the one looking at having to pay for the damages they caused. Car accidents that involve extremely reckless or dangerous behavior will result in a much higher amount of monetary damages awarded by the court than would be in a case that involves simple negligence.
For instance, a person that recklessly disobeys traffic laws by speeding or running red lights will likely face a lawsuit if they cause an accident resulting in injuries or property damage. Depending on where the accident occurs, the lawsuit might result in a punitive damages award (some states do not allow for punitive damages or put a limit on the amount that can be awarded). Punitive damages are monetary damages awarded by a court for the purpose of punishing the wrongdoer for their actions and deterring others from engaging in the same behavior. Accordingly, the amount awarded for punitive damages can be very high depending on the at-fault party’s level of disregard and carelessness.
In comparison, a car accident that is caused by bad weather will likely result in significantly less damages because the driver will not be seen as being as much at fault. In fact, if the driving conditions made a car accident essentially unavoidable and no fault of either driver, then they might not be required to pay damages at all.
Cases that involve drunk or impaired driving can also result in very severe legal consequences. Causing an accident while driving drunk is generally considered to be a very serious offense, especially where other people are injured. In addition to having to pay for the damages they caused, a drunk driver will almost always be charged criminally and may be subject to penalties such as fines, jail time, or probation, as well as a temporary or permanent loss of their driving privileges.
What if the Injured Party also Contributed to Causing Their Own Accident?
It is not uncommon that a driver injured in a car accident is also partly at fault because they somehow contributed to causing the accident. For instance, if someone who is texting and driving collides with a car in an intersection, but the driver of the car who was hit had failed to yield, then both parties bear some fault.
The same would be the case if an accident occurs, but both cars were found to be speeding at the time of impact. It is difficult or impossible to tell whether the collision would still have occurred if one or both of the drivers weren’t speeding.
As mentioned above, when fault is shared or is difficult to determine in a car accident, the theory of negligence followed in the state where the crash occurred will come into play. Depending on the state, some courts would reduce a damages award proportionate to each party’s level of fault, while in other states, a damages award may be completely disallowed if the injured party is deemed to bear even a very minimal amount of fault in causing the accident.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Car Accident Claims?
Understanding the leading causes of car accidents can be of great assistance in avoiding accidents and the legal claims that can result. However, you still may find yourself involved in a car accident whether it was caused by another driver or was just unavoidable given the circumstances at the time.
If you were involved in a car accident that was not your fault, you deserve to be compensated for the costs associated with any physical injuries or property damage that resulted. Alternatively, if you were involved in a car accident and were at fault, you will want to take steps to minimize your liability and the monetary damages that you are required to pay out.
If you’re dealing with a car accident claim, it is always wise to at least consult with a qualified car accident lawyer in your area. Many lawyers will offer a free consultation to give you an idea whether you have a viable legal claim or are subject to liability for having caused a collision.
Your attorney can advise you on the laws specific to your area and can guide you throughout the entire litigation process, from start to finish.