According to the CDC, car accidents across the United States lead to over 40,000 fatalities and millions of injuries yearly. While motor vehicle crashes happen for many reasons, most of them are preventable and rooted in some sort of driver error. Getting into a car accident is a potentially life-altering event with major physical, financial, and emotional consequences for victims and their families.
In the aftermath of a collision with major injuries and property damage, the question of what caused the crash and who was at fault can get pretty contentious. This article covers the most common causes of severe car accidents and how a car accident attorney can help victims protect their legal rights.
All drivers must do their part and follow safe driving practices that reduce the risk of causing an accident. Along with being an ethical duty, driving safely is a legal obligation, with traffic codes that cover everything from speed limits and smartphone use to how closely motorists are allowed to follow the vehicle in front. Some of the common causes of car accidents include:
Distractions are the most common cause of car accidents in the United States and one of the most easily preventable. Distracted driving includes any activity that takes the driver’s attention away from being completely focused on operating the vehicle. Texting while driving is one of the most notorious causes of serious car crashes, but there are many other harmful diversions that cause problems every single day.
Driving distractions are categorized as:
- Cognitive: Taking the driver’s mind away from the task of navigating traffic
- Visual: Focusing the driver’s visual attention away from the road
- Manual: Causing the driver to take one hand off the steering wheel to do something else
Eating or drinking, fiddling with the GPS, and talking with passengers can all be just as dangerous as using a smartphone. Trying to multitask has a major effect on the driver’s reaction time and overall concentration, which makes it similar to getting behind the wheel while drunk. If there are sudden hazards on the road, the seconds spent checking your phone notifications or biting into a sandwich can decide between making a safe evasive maneuver or colliding with another vehicle.
Driving at unsafe speeds is the second most common cause of serious car accidents in the United States because speeding vastly increases the chances of losing control of the vehicle. Even worse, the impact from high-impact collisions is much more likely to result in fatalities or catastrophic injuries. The faster a vehicle travels, the higher the “stopping time” required to bring the car to a complete stop in response to unexpected obstacles.
Speeding can include exceeding the posted limits and going at speeds that are unreasonable for the current driving conditions. Driving too fast is particularly dangerous on wet or slippery roads, during fog, while driving through construction zones, or in overall busy traffic.
Impaired or Drowsy Driving
Getting behind the wheel under the influence of drugs or alcohol is an incredibly negligent decision with potentially tragic consequences for the driver, their passengers, fellow motorists, and pedestrians.
Drunk driving accidents happen more often during weekends or holidays because drivers fail to recognize that they’re incapable of driving safely. Drugs and alcohol affect the central nervous system similarly, leading to poor judgment, reduced reaction time, difficulty coordinating hands and feet, and major problems with concentration and alertness. Victims of impaired drivers should know that they can hold at-fault drivers liable in civil court regardless of whether or not they received criminal charges or a DUI conviction.
Drowsy driving is a lesser-known but equally dangerous form of being too impaired to operate a motor vehicle. When drivers are sleep-deprived or overly fatigued, their driving skills can be just as poor as someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Reckless or Aggressive Driving
Whether it’s done on purpose or as a result of poor judgment, reckless driving and disregard for traffic rules are the cause of countless car-related fatalities and injuries every year. Merging without signaling, running a red light, ignoring school zone signs, and tailgating are all major risk factors for causing a collision or hurting a pedestrian.
Aggressive driving habits can be just as destructive, with dangerous behaviors like switching lanes erratically, yelling or making rude gestures at fellow motorists, running stop signs, and not yielding to the other driver’s right of way.
Adverse weather conditions like snow, ice, heavy rain, and fog can affect the ability to navigate roads safely, but that doesn’t mean motorists aren’t responsible for trying to avoid an accident. Drivers have to make sensible decisions when there’s poor visibility, slick roads, or other weather-related risks that create the conditions for losing control of the car.
Safe driving during poor road conditions should include slowing down, staying alert, and allowing more distance from other cars. Drivers also have to keep their cars properly maintained to handle adverse weather, such as making sure tires are properly inflated, windshield wipers are functioning, and the car’s windows and mirrors are clean.
Investigating Fault After a Car Accident
After a car accident with major injuries or property damage, there will often be conflicting versions of what caused the crash and who should be held liable for damages. Insurance companies and car accident attorneys use several different resources to build a picture of how the accident unfolded, such as:
The police report
Serious car accidents will usually have ignoring school zone signs called to the scene, and the police report provides much of the information used throughout the process of pursuing compensation. Police officers will include a preliminary assessment of what happened, especially any traffic violations that contributed to the crash, such as speeding, driving under the influence, and using a smartphone.
They also document any important physical evidence like photos of skid marks left behind on the road and a diagram of how the vehicles were situated at the crash scene.
Videos of the accident
Footage from traffic cameras, dash cams, or the exterior surveillance systems of nearby businesses can potentially capture either the point of impact or crucial moments leading up to a collision. Any available video can be used to establish illegal traffic maneuvers and reckless or aggressive driving.
Car accident reconstructionists have various tools to gather and interpret evidence about the events before, during, and immediately after an accident. For example, expert testimony can be used to determine how fast the cars traveled by measuring skid marks or examining damage on the cars. Forensic experts can also develop 3D models that reconstruct how the collision unfolded and each driver’s role.
Data from onboard recording devices
All cars that were built after 2014 have some form of monitoring technology device that kicks in during a collision to preserve key information about the vehicle’s behavior right before the accident. This data can include wheel speeds, the angle of the steering wheel, the engine’s rpm, and any use of the brakes.
The testimony of bystanders and other motorists who saw the accident can play a very important role in determining which vehicle had the right of way, whether any of the drivers were speeding, and any other factors that contributed to the accident.
Improve the Odds of Getting Compensation After an Accident
While a car accident only lasts seconds, the physical and financial consequences will last for months or years. Unsafe driving can lead to debilitating injuries like broken bones, spinal cord damage, head trauma, and punctured organs. Victims may require a long hospitalization, physical therapy, and an extensive amount of time without being able to earn a living. The costs of being involved in an accident will add up fast, which makes getting compensation a top priority.
Depending on the circumstances that caused the collision and the state where you live, covering these expenses might center on filing a claim under your insurer, pursuing damages under the at-fault driver’s liability policy, filing a lawsuit in civil court, or some combination of these strategies. The claims process can be incredibly complicated, but there are steps you can take to strengthen your case and protect your legal rights, such as:
Get appropriate medical care for your injuries
Following all medical advice after an accident is not only essential for helping you recover from your injuries, but it’s also important for having a successful car accident claim. Your medical records will be closely scrutinized throughout the legal process, especially by insurance companies looking for a reason to deny compensation or downplay the extent of your damages.
For example, if you don’t attend all your physical therapy appointments, it can be used as a reason to argue you weren’t seriously hurt.
Document your recovery process
Along with pursuing compensation for the financial costs of getting injured in an accident, like medical bills and lost wages, a car accident claim can also include quality of life costs that don’t have a specific dollar figure.
You can bolster the case for recovering these intangible, non-economic damages by keeping a journal that records how the collision affects your daily life. Your entries can describe challenges like physical pain and suffering, inability to participate in your normal activities, and the emotional impact your injuries have on close family members.
Speak to an attorney as early in the process as possible
After suffering serious injuries in a car accident, the financial pressure of all your expenses can make it tempting to accept the insurance company’s first offer, even when it’s not nearly enough to cover your damages. If you don’t have an experienced car accident attorney helping you navigate the legal process, you can end up getting cheated out of fair compensation or even potentially blamed for an accident that wasn’t your fault.
How a Car Accident Lawyer Can Help You
Being able to recover fair compensation for your injuries from a serious car crash is a difficult process with a mountain of paperwork, but you don’t have to navigate it all by yourself.
An experienced lawyer specializing in motor vehicle accidents will have extensive knowledge of insurance companies’ tactics to undervalue claims and can help you level the playing field.
Here are some of the ways a car accident attorney can make a difference to strengthen your case:
- Investigate the accident: As soon as you hire a lawyer to manage your claim, their team reviews all the available evidence about the circumstances of the crash by interviewing witnesses, analyzing the police report, and hiring forensic experts to demonstrate the at-fault party’s liability.
- Substantiate your damages: Getting enough compensation to get your life back on track after an accident will depend on solid proof of your economic and non-economic damages. Your attorney can document all the financial costs that resulted from the accident, including ongoing medical expenses that may continue for months or years after the accident. In cases where the victim suffered a catastrophic injury that affects their ability to work, your lawyer can also pursue compensation for having a reduced earning capacity.
- Negotiate a fair settlement with insurers: One of the harsh realities of getting your damages covered after experiencing a car accident is that insurance companies always want to pay as little as possible. An experienced lawyer to negotiate on your behalf can make a decisive difference in getting a reasonable settlement offer. If necessary, your attorney can also escalate the case to a personal injury lawsuit and represent your best interests in a court of law.
If an accident injured you, especially if the causes of the crash are likely to be disputed, you should reach out to a skilled attorney sooner rather than later. Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis, which means they only collect a fee if they can win compensation for your damages, which makes legal representation incredibly accessible.