Negligence in a car accident lawsuit refers to the legal theory under which the injured party can recover their losses. Basically, negligence means that the responsible party acted in a way that disregarded their duty to drive safely on the road, resulting in injury to the plaintiff.
Most car accident lawsuits are based on negligence, because negligence does not involve intentional acts by the defendant. Since no one really intends to get into a car accident, there must be some way of legally proving which party is at fault. Thus, negligence claims typical involve a complex analysis to determine whether the defendant failed to follow their duty of safety.
In most jurisdictions, four legal elements must be satisfied in order to prove negligence in a car accident claim:
- Duty of Care: The defendant must owe the plaintiff a duty of care. In the case of driving laws, all drivers owe other drivers the duty to drive safely and to obey all traffic laws at all time.
- Breach of Duty: It must be shown that the defendant breached their duty to drive safely. For example, if the defendant failed to obey traffic signs, this considered a breach of the duty of care.
- Causation: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach actually caused their injuries. If the defendant did not actually cause the injuries, they will likely not be held liable.
- Damages: The plaintiff must be able to calculate the losses and costs associated with the injury and put it into monetary amounts. If they cannot easily determine the amount in numbers, their damages award may be reduced or even denied.
In most car accident lawsuits, the dispute revolves around causation. That is, the defendant will typically argue that they did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries, or that the plaintiff was somehow responsible for their own injuries. Another point of contention is whether the defendant actually breached their duty of care.
Some examples of negligent driving may include:
- Failing to obey traffic laws: For example, running stoplights or red lights; failing to yield when required to do so; speeding; driving too slowly; or stopping over the line at an intersection. All of these can be considered breaches of the duty of care
- Failing to be “vigilant” when behind the wheel”: Besides following traffic laws, drivers are required to maintain a good level of vigilance (alertness) while driving, in order to be prepared for unexpected occurrences on the road. For example, driving while distracted due to using a cell phone while driving is particularly dangerous.
- Failing to maintain control of the automobile: Sudden stops, stopping over the line at an intersection, swerving- all of these might lead to an accident
- Failing to use the vehicle’s equipment properly: For instance, failure to dim high beams; failing to signal when turning, or failing to engage hazard lights. This category also includes failing to maintain parts in working order (broken brake lights or headlights, etc.)
Drunk driving is considered highly dangerous, so much so that it usually isn’t classified under negligence laws. Instead, drunk driving has its own category of laws (DUI or DWI laws). Drunk driving is usually a criminal offense, unlike negligence, which is a civil violation.
In most car accident claims, the negligent party will have to pay the other party monetary damages for their injury and/or resulting economic losses. These usually cover such costs as hospital bills, mechanic repair fees, and lost wages.
In addition, the responsible party may have their driving privileges temporarily suspended. In more serious cases or with repeat offenses, their driver’s license may be completely revoked.
Being involved in a car accident can present several different legal challenges. You may wish to hire a qualified personal injury lawyer if you need to file a car accident lawsuit. Your attorney will be able to inform you of how the negligence laws work in your state. Also, a lawyer can help represent you in trial during the court proceedings.