How Is Fault Determined In A Car Accident?
When you get hurt in a car accident, and someone else is responsible, you deserve to be compensated for the injuries you suffer. Unfortunately, all-too-often the defendant in your case goes to great lengths to avoid accepting responsibility for the harm they’ve done you, even claiming that you’re faking injuries or that you were actually the one at fault. When this happens, you’ll need to fight to get the money to which you’re entitled.
It can be tricky to prove fault in a car accident. While sometimes it’s cut-and-dried, in most cases you’ll need to jump through a number of hoops to prove your case. Learn how fault is determined in an auto accident, what negligence means in this context and how a car accident lawyer can get you the compensation you deserve.
The Concept of Negligence
Just about every car accident case, and most injury cases in general, revolve entirely around the idea of negligence. Negligence, at its most basic level, means that someone was behaving in a way that was so irresponsible it runs counter to the way a reasonable person would behave in a similar situation. This can be through course of action or through failure to act.
Essentially, when you defend your case, you will have to demonstrate several factors to prove negligence on the other driver’s part:
1. The other driver acted in an irresponsible manner that runs counter to a reasonable person’s actions in the same or a similar situation;
2. This irresponsibility directly led or contributed to the accident (called “direct or proximate cause”);
3. Your injuries would not have occurred if the accident hadn’t happened—the accident is what caused you to get hurt.
While you try to prove the defendant was negligent in causing the accident, the defendant, in turn, will try to prove the same of you. This is because California operates on a standard of “pure comparative negligence.” This means that if you bear any responsibility for the accident, your eventual award will be reduced by the same percentage. That is, if your case is worth $100,000, but you are found to be 30 percent responsible, you’ll only receive $70,000.
In some cases, this can also open the door for the defendant to countersue based on your fault for the accident. That’s why it’s so important to support your negligence claim as solidly as possible.
Gathering Evidence at the Scene
The first step in proving fault in an accident is gathering evidence from the scene of the accident. This is why, if you’re physically and mentally able to do so, you should speak with witnesses and get their contact information at the site. You should take as many photographs as possible, from as many different angles as possible. Be sure to gather photos of things like skid marks on the roads as well as paint damage on the vehicles.
You should also file a police report. The police report will not be admissible in court, because it’s generally hearsay unless the officer directly witnessed the accident. It can, however, provide details that you missed, based on the officer’s observations. It can help you to keep the details of your story straight, too, when you have to re-tell it several times.
If you note any violations of traffic law, record them in as much detail as you can. If the police issue any citations at the scene, note these as well. They can be strong evidence to support your case. If there are any surveillance cameras in the area, these can be helpful to support your case.
Rear-End and Left-Hand Turns
Most of the time, when a car strikes another from behind, the rear driver is found to be at fault for the accident. Likewise, drivers making left-hand turns are generally held responsible. This is not universal, but it can be a powerful support for your case.
Still, remember the comparative negligence standard. If you slammed on your brakes suddenly and without warning, causing the driver behind you to strike you, you may be found to be partially at fault. Likewise, if you’re making a left turn at a green arrow and someone else runs a red light, you’re likely not at fault for that accident.
Calling a Car Accident Lawyer
If you’ve been in an accident, your best bet to prove fault and get the compensation you deserve for your pain and suffering, medical bills and other injuries is to work with a car accident lawyer. For years, the attorneys at Dunnion Law have helped people just like you to get the settlement they deserve. Give us a call or complete our contact form for a consultation today.
Author: Gordon Heuser, Esq., Colorado