After a car accident, the focus of law enforcement, insurance companies, and even attorneys is often on determining who was liable for the accident. Liability still exists in states that follow a no-fault insurance scheme. Drivers must purchase a personal injury protection policy to cover a portion of the medical expenses and wage loss they experience resulting from injuries. Regardless of who was at fault, liability still exists. If you’ve lost a loved one in a car accident, or if you have been injured in a collision, contact the experienced car accident lawyers at Jacoby & Meyers today.
Here is a look at what liability is, how to determine who hit who in an accident, and why it matters.
What Is Liability?
Around 6 million car accidents occur in the United States each year, resulting in approximately 3 million injuries, 2 million permanent injuries, and cause the deaths of 90 people each day. The vast majority of car accidents result from human error, with negligent driving practices such as alcohol impairment, speeding, and distracted driving being among the most common causes of traffic-related accidents.
Liability is the legal responsibility of a roadway user to compensate others for injuries and property damage caused by their careless or reckless actions. Because of this, the question of “who hit who” is extremely important in determining who has the legal responsibility to compensate for injuries caused to others.
Why Does Liability Matter in a Car Accident Case?
Even if personal injury protection is required for drivers in your state, these policies only cover a percentage of the medical expenses and wage loss experienced after a serious accident. The policy amount will likely not be adequate for serious injury claims. No-fault states generally have a serious injury threshold.
Victims can seek compensation for expenses and impacts resulting from the accident, such as loss of earning capacity, property damage, and pain and suffering resulting from the injury. Without proving liability, the injured person must cover these expenses and impacts out-of-pocket.
The Types of Evidence that Can Prove “Who Hit Who”
After an accident, a series of investigations will occur to prove liability. The police will investigate the scene to determine if the accident was caused by an individual driving impaired or distracted, operating a poorly maintained vehicle, or operating the vehicle carelessly by speeding, tailgating, or failing to yield the right-of-way to other roadway users.
The at-fault party’s insurance provider will also investigate how the accident occurred, examining the evidence for whether the accident was likely caused by their insured. Finally, the claimant’s attorney will also explore the accident to determine all sources of liability and associated insurance resources that can provide compensation for the victim.
The evidence to prove liability includes:
The Damage to All Vehicles Involved
After an accident occurs, even insurance companies recommend that those involved take pictures of all four sides of the vehicle. This preserves important evidence from the scene and avoids claims of damages that are not as serious as a claimant said they were, and provides important clues about how the accident took place.
For example, suppose two vehicles were involved in the accident, and one has damage to the front end. Rear-end accidents are usually the fault of the driver in the following car. The driver of the following car may need to pay for the accident unless it occurred while the lead car traveled in reverse, cut off another driver, or something else out of the ordinary occurred just before the accident.
Traffic or Surveillance Cameras
The abundance of traffic and surveillance cameras on modern roadways makes proving liability in many circumstances easier. These cameras often capture the accident, leaving little question as to whether someone was speeding, swerving, tailgating, or improperly passing.
Often, obtaining this evidence is a matter of seeking camera footage from resident doorbell cameras or businesses with surveillance cameras or submitting a formal request with the state or city’s transportation department for the footage. While traffic cameras are not constantly recording, if the camera captured the accident you may use it as evidence.
The Statement of Witnesses
Two types of witnesses can provide evidence to prove liability after a car accident.
- Eyewitnesses who saw the accident or the behavior of one or both drivers.
- Expert witnesses, such as accident reconstruction specialists, can determine how an accident occurred by examining evidence such as skid marks, how the roadway was engineered, or the data recorders from the vehicles involved.
Chemical Tests and the Criminal Process
After law enforcement personnel have investigated an accident scene and interviewed those involved and any witnesses who remained on the scene to assist, they will produce a report of the accident that will provide a narrative of how the accident appeared to have occurred.
Additionally, if their investigation suggests that someone was driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol, police will give a field sobriety test. If that test suggests impairment, the police may arrest the driver on suspicion of DUI and order them to perform a chemical blood, breath, or urine test for intoxication by alcohol or drugs.
The positive results of a chemical test or the arrest or citation of a party that the police have determined to be responsible for causing the accident are powerful evidence when determining liability, as is a conviction of a traffic infraction that resulted in the accident.
Note that the criminal process involved in a traffic infraction is distinctly different from the personal injury claims process. The criminal process does not seek to compensate the accident victim for their injury but rather prove that the defendant’s criminal behavior caused the accident.
A car accident claim does not result in incarceration or other criminal penalties for those accused of an accident that resulted in injury but rather forces the insurance provider to pay claims filed against the at-fault party’s liability policy.
The Claimant’s Injuries and the Treatment They Receive
The injuries that a car accident claimant suffered from the accident also help tell the story of liability. A claimant alleging debilitating injuries from the accident but posting photos on social media that show them doing activities that someone with that level of injury would have extreme difficulty doing may meet a suspicious at-fault party’s insurance provider.
Likewise, pre-existing injuries can create confusion during claims, as insurers seek to determine whether the pain currently experienced by the individual was caused by a new injury or aggravation of an old one. The answer to that question is critical, as the at-fault party is only responsible for compensating pre-existing injuries to the degree that the accident worsened the symptoms of an old injury.
Note that seeking treatment from your primary care physician for injuries sustained in an accident isn’t always the best plan for both your treatment and the ability to prove liability. Integrity Spine & Orthopedics explained that while primary care physicians train to treat internal injuries, they often lack experience diagnosing and treating injuries commonly experienced in car accidents, such as whiplash, concussions, soft tissue injuries, and bone fractures.
Common Accidents Have Common Sources of Liability
There are hundreds of ways in which a car accident can occur. However, most accidents fall into specific scenarios and commonly feature the same sources of liability. As already discussed, rear-end accidents are most often the cause of the driver of the following car and negligent practices such as tailgating or distracted driving.
Here is a look at some of the other common sources of liability in different car accidents.
- Head-on collisions: This type of accident occurs when the front of one vehicle contacts the front of another. Usually, head-on collisions result from a driver failing to maintain a single lane of travel by swerving or veering into the opposing lane due to impairment, distraction, the force of a previous collision, or confusion on a one-way road or exit. The driver in the travel lane of opposing traffic will most often be liable.
- Broadside (T-bone) accidents: This type of accident involves the front of one vehicle making contact with the side of another and most often occurs due to a driver’s failure to yield the right-of-way when required to do so at a stop sign, traffic light, or when pulling onto a roadway from a private driveway, parking lot, or side street. Liability in T-bone accidents almost always lies with the individual who failed to yield.
- Sideswipes: Sideswipe accidents occur when the side of one vehicle makes contact with the side of another car. This type of accident is often the result of improper passing when a driver attempts to pass another vehicle and fails to ensure that they are safely past the vehicle before re-entering the travel lane. It can also result from a driver trying to change lanes or merge into traffic without first ensuring that the travel lane is clear. Blindspot accidents occur due to failure to check the vehicle’s blind spots by glancing over the shoulder before changing lanes. Because all states have traffic laws about passing and changing lanes, the driver who passed improperly or failed to ensure the lane was clear will generally be liable for the accident.
Other Sources of Liability in a Car Accident
While other drivers are the most common cause of car accidents, there can be a liability on the part of other entities in some circumstances.
Those parties include:
The government agency tasked with maintaining and repairing the road if a roadway defect caused the accident. Common evidence used to show liability includes statistical reports showing many accidents in that area and expert testimony suggesting that the road was improperly engineered or presented obstacles such as overgrown vegetation that impaired drivers’ views on that section of road.
- The manufacturer of defective parts used on any vehicles involved in the accident. Manufacturers have the legal responsibility to ensure that the products they make available to consumers are reasonably safe when used according to labeled instructions. The evidence used to show vehicle defects includes recall notices for the vehicle or vehicle part, and the vehicle’s “black box” (data recorder) that records events and issues as they occur and can reveal clues that point toward a defect being the cause of the accident.
- A liquor licensee or social host that overserved a drunk driver before the accident. Evidence of host or business liability can include witness statements from those who saw how much the driver drank, statements from the driver indicating that they were permitted to consume a large amount of alcohol, and receipts from the driver that show how many drinks they consumed.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Today
If you’ve lost a loved one in a car accident, or if you have been injured in a collision with another car or tuck, you may qualify to seek compensation for the losses and damages that you and your family have suffered. Contact a car accident lawyer to discuss the circumstances of your case and your legal options. Retaining an attorney to handle your case can provide numerous benefits, most of all freeing up your own time to focus on your physical and mental recovery. Let an experienced attorney handle negotiations with at-fault parties and their insurance companies; reach out today.