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Car Accident Basics

Automobile accidents give rise to the majority of personal injury claims in the U.S. This isn’t surprising, given that there were 5,615,000 police reported car crashes in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Motor Vehicle Accidents and the Law

Legal claims arising from motor vehicle accidents are typically governed by the law of negligence. Generally, people who operate automobiles must exercise "reasonable care under the circumstances." A failure to use reasonable care is considered negligence. A person who negligently operates a vehicle may be required to pay for any damages, either to a person or property, caused by his or her negligence. The injured party, known as the plaintiff, is required to prove that the defendant was negligent, that the negligence was a proximate caused of the accident, and that the accident caused the plaintiff's injuries.

Negligence and Motor Vehicle Accidents

As with other types of accidents, figuring out who is at fault in a traffic accident is a matter of deciding who was negligent. In many cases, your instincts will tell you that a driver, cyclist or pedestrian acted carelessly, but not what rule or rules that person violated. An attorney will look to a number of sources to help you determine who was at fault for your accident, such as police reports, state traffic laws, and witnesses.

Courts look to a number of factors in determining whether a driver was negligent. Some of these factors include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Disobeying traffic signs or signals
  • Failing to signal while turning
  • Driving above or below the posted speed limit
  • Disregarding weather or traffic conditions
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Other Common Causes of Automobile Accidents

Reckless Driving

A driver may be liable for an accident due to his or her intentional or reckless conduct. A driver who is reckless is one who drives unsafely, with clear disregard for the probability that such driving may cause an accident. The NHTSA defines aggressive driving as a progression of unlawful driving actions such as:

  • Speeding above the posted limit or driving too fast for the current conditions
  • Improper or excessive lane changing, including failure to signal intent and failure to check that the lane change can be made safely
  • Improper passing, including failure to signal intent and use of the shoulder, median, or an emergency lane to pass

Drunk Driving

On average, every 51 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies in an alcohol-related crash. Last year alone, over one million people were injured in alcohol-related traffic crashes. In a lawsuit arising from a drunk driving accident, in addition to the intoxicated driver's liability for the injuries he or she caused, a bar or social host may be liable for damages if they served an obviously intoxicated guest, who then drove and caused an accident. The fact that the person who served the intoxicated driver alcohol may be held liable doesn’t relieve the intoxicated driver of liability, however. See the Dram Shop Laws article for more information about third party liability for drunk driving accidents.

Because attorneys are aware of the many laws governing legal responsibility, an attorney can help you identify who might be held responsible for your injuries, including people or businesses you might not have considered.

Accidents Not Caused by the Drivers Involved

In certain cases, accidents are caused by factors unrelated to the conduct of any particular driver. For example, an automobile accident may occur due to a defect in someone's automobile. In such a case, an automobile manufacturer or supplier may be responsible for injuries caused by a defect in the automobile under the law of product liability. A product liability suit is a lawsuit brought against the seller of a product for selling a defective product that caused physical injury to a consumer or user. If a manufacturer of a product creates a defective product - either in designing, manufacturing, or labeling the product - the manufacturer is liable for any injuries the product causes, regardless of whether the manufacturer was negligent.

Other factors, such as poorly maintained roads and malfunctioning traffic control signals can contribute to cause an accident as well. Improper design, maintenance, construction, signage, lighting, or other highway defects, including poorly placed trees and utility poles, can also cause serious accidents. In cases such as this, government entities may be potential defendants. Special rules apply to claims and lawsuits brought against governmental bodies, however, and proper legal advice is critical to preserving and winning such claims.

Get Legal Help After Your Motor Vehicle Accident Injury

If you or a loved one have suffered a motor vehicle accident injury, you may be dealing with healing from your injuries, medical bills, time off work, damage to your car, and other stressful issues. Talking to an attorney who can review your situation and tell you if you have a valid claim can help you get through this tough time. Reviewing your claim with an attorney can help you identify who, if anyone, was negligent and if that negligence caused your injury. If it did, you may be compensated for the harm you suffered including damage to your car, medical bills, lost wages from work missed and your pain and suffering. If someone is making a claim against you, speaking with an attorney can help you protect your rights. In light of legal deadlines for filing injury claims, meeting with an attorney to evaluate your case as soon as possible is recommended.

To stay prepared, print out FindLaw's helpful pamphlet on first steps after an auto accident (PDF) and store it in your glove compartment.

Get Legal Help After Your Motor Vehicle Accident Injury

If you or a loved one have suffered a motor vehicle accident injury, you may be dealing with healing from your injuries, medical bills, time off work, damage to your car, and other stressful issues. Talking to an attorney who can review and evaluate your claim can help you get through this tough time. Reviewing your claim with an attorney can help you identify who, if anyone, was negligent and if that negligence caused your injury. If it did, you may be compensated for the harm you suffered including damage to your car, medical bills, lost wages from work missed and your pain and suffering. If someone is making a claim against you, speaking with an attorney can help you protect your rights. 

In light of legal deadlines for filing injury claims, meeting with an attorney to evaluate your case as soon as possible is recommended.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified auto accident attorney to make sure
your rights are protected.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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