Generally, motor vehicle accident law combines traffic law with personal injury law. In order to determine fault in a traffic collision, the state where the accident took place is almost exclusively used. As a result of traffic collisions, individuals and society may suffer bodily injury, disfigurement, death, and property damage.
A police officer takes pictures of the accident scene, interviews witnesses, and analyzes accident scenes to help piece together what happened. After an accident, the parties involved file a claim with their auto insurance companies, who review the police report and determine who is at fault. The auto insurance company may reimburse a portion of the repair or replacement cost of a vehicle based on your state’s law regarding auto insurance and who is at fault.
As long as a person involved in an accident prepares an accident report and the Department of Public Safety has not performed its law enforcement duty, the owners of the vehicles involved in the accident shall have the same access to Department information as should have been available to a law enforcement officer reporting on the accident.
Depending on how severe the damage is, one person may decide to file a lawsuit against the other drivers. An individual who files a lawsuit is called a plaintiff, and an individual who responds is called a defendant.
The defendant’s insurance company typically covers any damages the plaintiff may win as well as the cost of defending the lawsuit. In many lawsuits, one or more drivers are alleged to have been negligent, which means they broke their duty to drive safely and this breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
Motor Auto Accident Law Term Glossary
The following terms are important to know when discussing motor vehicle accidents:
- Negligence – In any accident, finding out who is at fault is called negligence.
- Comparative Negligence – In the case of multiple parties being at fault for an accident, comparative negligence is used to apportion blame.
- Vicarious Liability – An accident can be attributed to vicariously responsible parties who weren’t directly involved with it. It is possible for an employer to be vicariously liable for an employee’s injuries while on the job.
You can read more information about the different types of tort liability in our legal resources.
- Collision Coverage – Provides reimbursements when a driver’s vehicle is damaged in a collision.
- Comprehensive Coverage – Auto insurance that pays for damage other than those caused by collisions.
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage – Auto insurance coverage that reimburses drivers for damages sustained in collisions with other motorists that either does not have insurance or do not possess sufficient coverage to cover all the damages.
Injuries caused by motor vehicles
If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident that has been caused by someone else’s misconduct or negligence, most states follow a traditional tort liability system in which you can recover compensation. It is generally a requirement for all motorists to have insurance in the event that they injure someone. There are several states, however, that require automobile drivers to opt into “no-fault insurance,” while others use an “add-on” plan.
A no-fault policy limits a driver’s ability to sue for compensation if the fault driver caused the accident. In exchange, the driver’s ability to sue the at-fault party may be restricted. The insurance company reimburses the policyholder’s economic damages without proof of fault. Unless the injuries are considered catastrophic or he or she has already incurred a certain amount in medical care, the injured person might not be able to recover non-economic damages from the negligent driver. Residents of a few states have the choice between tort and no-fault systems.
Accidents involving motor vehicles can involve any mode of transportation, including:
- Bicycle Accidents
- Automobile Accidents
- Trucking Accidents
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Off-road Vehicle Accidents
- Train Accidents
- Accidents with Taxi Cabs
- Other Accidents on Public Transportation
- Boating Accidents
- Pedestrian Accidents
Evidence of Negligence After a Car Accident
Traditional tort liability states allow plaintiffs to recover only when they can prove the other party’s fault. The majority of cases center on proving negligence, which requires a plaintiff to show that the defendant was negligent towards the plaintiff, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s damages.
A driver’s liability insurance carrier in this state may only provide the required benefits under the provisions of this section, and such a carrier may not require any additional motor vehicle coverage other than property damage liability coverage as required.
It is an unfair method of competition or unfair or deceptive act or practice for an insurer writing motor vehicle liability insurance in this state to fail to comply with such availability requirements as a general business practice.
Every driver on the road (and every boater on the water) owes a duty of care to pedestrians and other drivers. A reasonable driver would drive as he or she would in order to avoid foreseeable injury to others. In general, a person’s duty is violated when they drive under the influence of alcohol, talk or text on the phone while driving, driving while fatigued, apply makeup while driving, or do anything else that diverts their attention from the road. A breach of security actually caused the accident, and a breach proximately caused the accident.
The other party’s contact and insurance information should be obtained if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident. Give your lawyer or insurance company any information you have about any witnesses to the accident. You may have caused the accident, but you should never admit that to the other driver, witnesses, or to an insurance agent.
Defending Motor Vehicle Accident Cases
You may be able to defend against a personal injury lawsuit in a motor vehicle collision. There are three types of comparative negligence doctrines: pure comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence. According to the doctrine applicable to each state, a defendant can reduce the plaintiff’s recovery by the percentage of fault he or she bears or bar the plaintiff’s claim altogether.
Even a plaintiff who was 99% at fault is entitled to a reduced recovery in states that follow pure comparative negligence. A tired driver attempting to weave between cars is cut off by a truck driver, which causes the tired driver to crash and suffer multiple broken bones, lacerations, and a herniated disc. Fatigued drivers can sue truck drivers who may defend themselves by claiming comparative negligence. There will be an apportionment of blame between the fatigued driver and the truck driver. In the case of $100,000 in damages, the fatigued driver will be able to recover $65,000 from the truck driver if the latter is 65% at fault and the former is 35% at fault.
Up to a point, a plaintiff’s compensation is reduced in states that follow modified comparative negligence. One-quarter of the states use the 51% bar rule, including Massachusetts and Wisconsin. A plaintiff who is 51% at fault or more cannot recover. The recovery award is reduced by the percentage of fault he or she has. The 50% bar rule is followed by 12 states, including Georgia. By law, if a person is 50% or more at fault, they cannot recover. No more than 49% of the plaintiff’s fault will reduce the damages, even if they still prevail.
Even if a plaintiff is 1% at fault, a plaintiff cannot recover under contributory negligence states. A motor vehicle accident in those states can pose particular challenges to recovering damages.
The Insurance Defense of Motor Vehicle Accidents
Attorneys who specialize in car accidents actually work exclusively in “insurance defense,” meaning they are employed by insurance companies to defend their insureds against lawsuits arising from car accidents.
A car accident victim who wishes to sue the other party will need to hire a lawyer, which is typically referred to as an auto accident attorney, a car accident attorney, or simply a “personal injury attorney.” These lawyers can guide you through the accident documents and help you gather evidence.
Bodily injury to the owner resulting from physical contact with a motor vehicle while occupying a self-propelled vehicle or, if not an occupant, when not an occupant. Bodily injury to the owner caused while occupying the owner’s motor vehicle in another state, or in the United States, its territories, or possessions, or Canada.
Traffic Accident Reporting and Responsibilities
In case of an accident, you should:
- Stop immediately – If possible, stop at the scene of the accident or close by without blocking other traffic. It is a serious offense to hit and run. The penalty for a conviction is the revocation or suspension of driving privileges.
- Provide assistance – Help the injured person. Never move an injured person carelessly. Unless trained in first aid or by emergency personnel, they should not be moved for a long period of time. As soon as a police officer arrives at the scene of a fatality or unconscious person, the driver must remain on the scene. Leaving the scene is considered “hit and run.”
- Share information – You should give the other driver, passengers in the vehicle, or any pedestrian injured your:
Driver license number;
License plate number;
Your insurance information.
- Report the Accident to DMV.
Related Practice Areas to Motor Vehicle Accident Law
The field of motor vehicle law involves aspects of the law of traffic and the law of personal injury, as well as the following practice areas:
- Insurance Law – Accident victims are frequently compensated by insurance companies.
- Product Liability – Motor vehicle crashes can sometimes be caused by defects in the vehicle itself, such as a defective brake system.
Have you been involved in a motor vehicle accident? Contact an attorney
Without a legal representative, it may be difficult to determine who is at fault after an accident. In the event that you have suffered injuries, you should consider consulting with a motor vehicle lawyer who is familiar with this often complex practice area.
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