There was an accident. Perhaps someone was injured. Certainly there is property damages. And, as if that wasn’t enough to worry about, now we have to figure out who’s at fault. Ugh!
Best Case Scenario – Call Dassau & Coleman Law Firm J. Honestly, there is nothing I can write in this article that will replace the knowledge and expertise of a good attorney. But, aside from that, here are some general rules and pointers we will consider when determining who is at fault in a vehicle accident.
Proper Lookout. In general, all drivers have a responsibility to operate, control, and use their vehicles reasonably. Similarly, all drivers have a duty to maintain a proper lookout for hazards that may pose an unreasonable risk of harm. So what does that mean? If you have read any of my previous articles, you know the answer – it depends!
Obstructions in the road. Courts have said a driver may expect the road ahead to be safe for travel and is not required to anticipate unexpected obstructions. However, the driver is expected to see what should have been seen. The driver should see and avoid hazards that could be discovered with reasonable care and prudence. If using a public highway after dark, a driver is not required to anticipate an obstruction or construction she had no reason to suspect was present or that was difficult to see. But of course, when driving at night, or with otherwise impaired visibility, a driver is expected to use a higher degree of care to observe and avoid adverse conditions. One thing is for sure, although a driver is not expected to anticipate the unexpected, all drivers must use the diligence and care necessary for the circumstances.
Other Drivers. Later, we will talk more about the interaction between two or more drivers. But, as a general matter, I will note here that all drivers are expected to drive defensively if she witnesses the negligent driving of another motorist. I believe that means if a driver witnesses such negligent behavior, the driver should slow down or take other steps to avoid the negligent motorist. So remember that time you sped up to keep that obnoxious guy from darting in front of you? Probably should have done that. J
Speeding. Regardless of the posted speed limit, a driver is expected not to drive faster than is reasonable or prudent under the circumstances. That means she must take into account the road conditions, visibility, traffic, and other things that may make driving the speed limit unreasonable. On the other hand, the mere fact that a driver was speeding does not always mean she was at fault for a subsequent accident.
Rear-End Collision. So is it true that a driver who rear-ends another driver is always at fault? Almost every client I have who was involved in a rear-end collision has that question. Unfortunately I have to say no. True – the law presumes that a driver who rear-ends someone is liable for the collision. However, the presumption can be overcome when the rear-end driver can show that the lead motorist negligently created the hazard that cause the accident. For example, a lead driver may be at fault is she negligently made a sudden and unexpected stop that the trailing driver could not maneuver around.
Changing Lanes. One of the main arguments against fault of a rear-ending driver is that the lead driver negligently changed lanes in front of him. I won’t go into to much detail on this one because I have open and contentious litigation going on related to this very concept. Suffice it to say here that a driver changing lanes has a duty to ensure she can do so safely. The presumption of liability against a rear-ending driver may not apply when the leading motorist negligently changes lane and causes an accident. In fact, when a driver changes lanes and strikes another vehicle, the presumption of liability may lie with the driver who changes lanes. On the other hand, when a leading driver safely changes lanes, a trailing driver is required to take precaution not to cause an accident. I interpret that to mean the trailing driver should slow down and allow the first driver to change lanes safely. Bottom Line – When you change lanes, always make sure the lane is clear and use your signal lamps.
Passing. Speaking of changing lanes, how do we handle passing a motorist on the highway? Well, as a general matter, the driver of a passing vehicle should be alert of the actions of the motorist she is passing. Before attempting to pass, the driver should assess the traffic circumstances and ensure she can pass safely.
Special precaution should be taken when a driver passes to the left of a preceding motorist. The law considers passing to the left a dangerous maneuver. There is some case law suggesting using a turn signal may not be enough to entitle a left-side passer to the right of way. She may have to use her horn. So, no matter how frustrated you are with the slow poke in front of you, don’t pass unless you are sure its safe!
This only scratches the surface. There is plenty plenty plenty more to discuss; but I will save those topics for later articles. But, hopefully this is enough for you to see a theme. There are no black and white answers to liability. However, there are certain presumptions in law and certain maneuvers considered especially dangerous that help the courts decide on fault.
Thanks for reading. Be safe out there!