Who Is at Fault in a T-Bone Car Accident?

Following any car accident, you should identify the liable party—the party that committed an act of negligence resulting in a serious injury. Identifying the liable party helps the injured party pursue compensation for damages sustained in the accident. In a T-bone car accident, you need to know which driver committed the error that led to the incident.

If you suffered injuries in a T-bone collision, get a car accident lawyer on your side as soon as possible.

T-Bone Collisions: Defined

T-bone collisions occur when one vehicle strikes another directly in the side, creating a “T” shape between the two vehicles. Often, T-bone collisions occur at intersections.

Who Bears Fault for a T-Bone Collision?

Usually, the driver without the right of way bears liability for a T-bone accident.

When a Car is Already in the Intersection

Once a car enters the intersection, the driver bears the right of way. Suppose, for example, that a traffic light changes unexpectedly, leaving a vehicle stranded in the middle of the intersection while waiting for traffic to move.

While the driver erred by entering the intersection prematurely, they have little choice but to remain in the intersection until the preceding vehicles move out of the way. As a result, the driver already in the intersection has the right of way regardless of traffic signals.

Traffic Signals and Right of Way

Traffic signals offer clear instructions regarding which driver has the right of way, signaling when each driver can safely move forward. For example, a driver with a red light does not have the right of way to proceed through an intersection.

In contrast, a driver with a green light should, reasonably, have the right of way unless another vehicle is already in the intersection. A driver that moves through an intersection on a red light likely breaks the law and bears liability for any resulting T-bone collision.

Stop Signs and Right of Way

Generally, the vehicle that arrives at a multi-way stop first has the right of way. The vehicle that proceeds through an occupied intersection, or a vehicle that does not stop despite a stop sign, usually bears liability for any resulting T-bone collision caused by the act of negligence.

Common Causes of T-Bone Collisions

T-bone collisions result from a variety of challenges.

Driving Under the Influence

Operating a vehicle while intoxicated impedes the driver’s ability to navigate the road safely. Drunk drivers often have a hard time safely navigating intersections. They may forget to stop altogether, or they may not pay attention to who has the right of way. Drunk drivers are more likely to speed, increasing their risk of a T-bone collision and the severity of injuries sustained in an accident.

Intoxicated drivers often bear liability for any accident or injuries caused by their dangerous behaviors. Driving while intoxicated substantially increases risks out on the road, including the risk of a severe accident.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving can be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Distracted drivers engage in various behaviors that require them to take their hands, eyes, or attention off the road.

Even momentary distraction can spell disaster as a vehicle approaches an intersection. A driver looking down to check a cell phone, for example, might not notice the presence of a stop sign or might not see that a stoplight changed. The distracted driver may go straight through the intersection without pausing, causing a T-bone collision.

Distracted drivers often bear liability for accidents caused by their distraction. Cell phone use can be especially deadly because it involves manual, visual, and cognitive distractions, making it incredibly dangerous.

Brake Problems

Sometimes, brake problems lead to severe accidents, including T-bone collisions. When brakes fail, a vehicle may not come to a stop even when the driver hits the brakes with more than enough time before entering the intersection. Even if a driver does everything right, their vehicle may plunge into the intersection, causing a T-bone collision.

A driver who suffers brake failure with no prior warning may have no direct fault in the accident. Instead, other entities may share liability for the incident.

The Manufacturer

Sometimes, brake defects occur from a manufacturer error. The manufacturer may fail to adequately test the brakes before putting them on the vehicle or may ignore obvious design defects. The manufacturer’s negligent actions might severely injure the driver. In that case, the manufacturer may share liability for a T-bone collision caused by the brake failure.

In the case of brake failure, either the vehicle or brake manufacturer can be liable.

A Mechanic

Many vehicle owners exercise a great deal of care to ensure that their vehicles stay in working order and do not pose an undue danger to anyone else. They take their vehicles in for regular checks, and when a vehicle has a problem, they have the mechanic fix it.

Once the vehicle enters the mechanic’s care, that mechanic bears a duty of care to determine the vehicle’s problem and fix it. Unfortunately, some mechanics commit errors that damage the vehicle’s brakes.

The mechanic might bear liability for an accident caused by damage or failed brakes if:

  • The mechanic ignores the owner’s comments about faulty brakes or braking problems and insists that the car has no problems, despite not checking the vehicle.
  • The mechanic commits an error causing damage to the brakes while repairing either the brakes or another nearby part of the vehicle, and that mistake leads to serious damage.
  • The mechanic certifies the vehicle as road-worthy but missed a serious problem with the brakes while conducting a regular inspection.
  • The mechanic installs new brakes or brake parts incorrectly, resulting in damage that prevents the car from stopping fully.

An expert witness may prove necessary to establish mechanic liability for a serious accident caused by brake failure.

The Vehicle Owner

Vehicle owners may, in some cases, put off needed maintenance despite clear proof of potential damage and danger. For example, a vehicle owner might note that the vehicle failed to stop correctly several times or that the brakes on the vehicle seem worn down. The vehicle owner should take the vehicle in for needed maintenance but fails to take care of it.

Vehicle owners can include rental companies and corporate entities that provide vehicles for their drivers. In the case of an accident caused by poor overall vehicle maintenance, including ignoring problems with the vehicle, the vehicle owner may bear liability for the incident.


Speeding contributes to more than a quarter of traffic fatalities each year. In many cases, a speeding driver may have a hard time stopping approaching an intersection, or might not even notice the presence of a stop sign or traffic signal. At high rates of speed, drivers must, in general, respond much faster to potential hazards, including the need to stop while driving. Unfortunately, many drivers lack the control needed to bring a vehicle to a safe stop despite that high rate of speed.

A speeding driver may bear liability for an accident caused by negligent behaviors, including speeding, through an intersection and causing a T-bone collision.

Aggressive Driving

Aggressive drivers often dislike having to stop at intersections. They want to move forward as quickly as possible, and they may become frustrated by the need to wait for a light to change or for another driver to proceed through an intersection. Aggressive drivers may engage in various behaviors that can increase the risk of T-bone collisions and other accidents.

They may:

  • Ignore stop signs and red lights in favor of hurrying through the intersection
  • Ignore rights of way, including jumping through an intersection instead of allowing another vehicle to proceed
  • Try to fit through an intersection even with another vehicle already stopped

An aggressive driver, especially one who ignores the rules, will often bear liability for any accident caused by their reckless behavior.

How to Determine Liability in a T-bone Collision

The driver who bears liability for a T-bone collision often drives the vehicle that hits the other vehicle. Frequently, the driver with the right of way already proceeded through the intersection, and the liable driver hit that vehicle by failing to take adequate precautions. However, other factors can contribute to T-bone collisions, and correctly assigning liability is essential to the victim’s ability to pursue compensation.

If you suffer injuries in a T-bone collision, take these steps to protect yourself as much as possible.

  1. Call the police and report the accident. The police will arrive at the scene and conduct an initial investigation into the accident. Often, the police will identify the liable driver based on evidence provided at the scene. In some cases, the police may cite the liable driver for dangerous driving behaviors, including speeding or distracted driving, based on the damage from the accident.
  2. Take photos of the vehicles before you move them. Sometimes, when you call 911, the dispatcher may advise you to move the vehicles out of the road to allow for the smooth flow of traffic. Before you move the vehicles, however, photograph the position of the two vehicles. Get a closeup of the vehicle damage at the point of impact and a larger image showing the vehicles’ positions in the intersection at the time of the accident. These photos serve as vital evidence in later injury claims. When taking photos of the accident scene, do not place yourself in danger.
  3. Andrew Finkelstein Jacoby & Meyers LLP

    Car Accident Lawyer, Andrew Finkelstein

    Have a mechanic look over a damaged vehicle. In some cases, you may need an expert to look over the damaged vehicle, especially if you think brake failure contributed to your T-bone collision. A mechanic may find signs of damage to the brakes even in a vehicle that sustained significant damage in the collision. Talk to a lawyer about how to best preserve evidence if you suspect brake failure.

  4. Talk to a lawyer about your legal rights. If you suffer serious injuries in a T-bone collision, you may need a lawyer to represent you and fight for your rights. A lawyer can calculate the compensation you deserve and who bears liability for your accident, then direct your claim correctly.

Did You Suffer Injuries in a T-Bone Collision?

If you suffered injuries in a T-bone collision, having a lawyer on your side makes it easier to establish liability and pursue the compensation you deserve. Contact an attorney as soon after your accident as possible to discuss your rights or to identify the liable party in a T-bone collision.