The legal term “negligence” refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care, with that failure resulting in the damage or injury of another person. Negligence is based on a person’s failure to take reasonable precautions, as opposed to a person’s direct actions. An example of this would be a driver of a speeding car causing an accident. In such a case, the driver would likely be found negligent because they failed to exercise the same care as that of a driver obeying the speed limit.
A lawsuit involving negligence in a car accident is based on the legal theory that the injured party can recover their losses. In fact, most car accident lawsuits are based on negligence. As previously mentioned, negligence does not involve intentional acts, as it is not common that someone intends to get into a car accident. In order to succeed in a lawsuit based on negligence, it must be legally proven that the other party involved in the car accident was at fault. Thus, negligence claims can often involve complex analysis in order to determine whether the defendant failed to follow their duty of safety.
What Is Negligence in a Car Accident Lawsuit?
Some of the most common examples of negligent driving include:
- Failing to Obey Traffic Laws: Some specific examples of failure to obey traffic laws can include running stop lights or red lights, failing to yield when required to do so, speeding, driving too slowly, and stopping over the line at an intersection;
- Failing to Be Vigilant Behind the Wheel: This sort of negligence refers to failing to maintain a reasonable level of vigilance, or alertness, while driving in order to be prepared for any unexpected occurrences on the road. The most common and particularly dangerous example of this would be using a cell phone while driving;
- Failing to Maintain Control of the Vehicle: This refers to things such as sudden stops, stopping over the line at an intersection, and swerving; and
- Failing to Properly Use the Vehicle’s Equipment: The best example of this would be failing to use the vehicle’s turn signal when turning. Other examples include failure to dim high beams, or failing to engage hazard lights when necessary. Failing to maintain parts in working order, such as having broken brake lights, is included in failure to properly use the vehicle’s equipment.
Because of the highly dangerous nature of drunk driving, it is not considered to be negligent, but rather has its own category of laws. Drunk driving is generally a criminal offense, whereas negligence is a civil violation. It is important to note that both criminal and civil charges can be brought against the same defendant for the same incident.
Thus, a drunk driver can be criminally charged for driving while intoxicated, and then also have a civil lawsuit brought against them for the damages they caused while intoxicated.
How is Negligence Proven in Car Accident Lawsuits?
There are four legal elements to a negligence claim. In most jurisdictions, all four elements must be proven in order for a plaintiff to bring a negligence based lawsuit before a court. These four elements include:
- Duty of Care: A duty of care is owed to another person in any situation involving the possibility that another person could, foreseeably, be harmed by your actions. All drivers owe other drivers a duty to drive safely, and to obey all traffic laws at all times. The standard of care that is owed must be determined, although typically, this is determined by what a reasonably prudent person would do. When determining duty, the term “reasonable” is key;
- Breach of Duty: It must be proven that the defendant breached their duty to drive safely. An example of this would be if the defendant failed to obey traffic signs. This could be considered to be a breach of duty of care. Breaches occur when a person does not act as reasonably or as prudent as any other person would under the same circumstances. This is a common point of contention in car accident lawsuits;
- Causation: The plaintiff is responsible for proving that the defendant’s breach is what actually caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Should they be unable to prove this, or if the defendant’s actions did not actually cause the plaintiff’s injuries, it is unlikely that the defendant would be held liable. Most car accident lawsuits revolve around causation, with the defendant typically arguing that they did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries. Another causation issue occurs when the plaintiff is shown to be responsible for some or all of their own injuries; and
- Damages: The plaintiff is also responsible for being able to calculate the losses and costs associated with the injury, and put this into monetary amounts. If they cannot easily determine this amount in actual numbers, the damages awarded to them may be reduced, or even denied. Damages may be physical, economical, and/or financial.
The remedies for negligence in a car accident generally include the negligent party paying the other party monetary damages for their injury. This could include any resulting economic losses. Damages usually include costs such as hospital bills, mechanic repair fees, and lost wages. Additionally, the responsible party may have their driver’s license privileges temporarily suspended. In more serious cases, or repeated offenses, their driver’s license may be completely revoked.
Do I Need an Attorney for a Car Accident Lawsuit?
If you are facing a lawsuit involving negligence in a car accident, whether you are the defendant or the plaintiff, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury attorney can file a lawsuit for you, as well as inform you of your state’s specific negligence laws. Additionally, an attorney may also represent you in court as needed, and ensure any awarded damages are fair.