A car accident can occur in only a few seconds, but the medical and financial ramifications can potentially last a lifetime. Determining responsibility for an accident is a detailed legal issue, requiring the establishment of specific facts and burdens of proof.
If a driver is legally determined to have caused a car accident, or if they were negligent in preventing one, they’re considered “at fault.” In some states, the parties can share (equal or unequal) fault for an accident, a situation known as contributory negligence.
Determining fault is a major issue, as the at-fault party is potentially responsible for the other party’s medical bills, vehicle repairs, lost income, and more. When proving negligence in an auto accident case, the following factors all play a key role:
The Accident Report
If you’re involved in an automotive accident, even a minor one, you want law enforcement on-site to document everything in an official capacity. Contact the police (or other relevant authorities) from the scene so they can arrive and create an accident report.
The report provides as much detail about the accident as possible. The reporting officer will log the time, temperature, and weather conditions. They will also note the direction of travel and speed for all parties. Lastly, they’ll write down each party’s version of events.
Many times, both parties in minor “fender-benders” where the police aren’t involved will decide to go their separate ways or deal with the matter outside of the insurance companies. Unfortunately, this is typically not a good idea. An official accident report provides neutral, third-party information that is often vital if you later need to seek damages or protect yourself if you’re sued.
Hire an Attorney
Always consult with an attorney following a vehicle accident of any kind. A car accident lawyer understands the burdens of proof, the statute of limitations, jurisdictions, and other legal issues that influence the outcome of the case.
“Even if the accident didn’t result in any perceived injuries or damage, it’s always in a person’s best interest to contact a lawyer soon after,” said Gary Christmas of Christmas Injury Lawyers. “An attorney can help you explore your options, especially if you need to establish fault.”
The Importance of Witnesses
Witnesses often help establish fault following an auto accident. An experienced personal injury attorney understands how to find and secure anyone who potentially saw something relevant.
Before a witness appears in court, the attorney will help prepare them for the process. As part of this preparation, the attorney will explain the cross-examination, where opposing counsel will ask the witness questions.
Although not a person, the accident report can also be a valuable “witness” because it provides impartial details. Also, the officer on the scene and other first responders might provide eyewitness testimony.
When pursuing financial recourse for medical bills, damages, or other expenses, the chances of winning in court increase significantly when an appropriate level of damages are pursued. If the amount sought after is too high, the case fails to look realistic. Too low, and necessary expenses won’t be covered, even if the case is won.
Long-term medical care expenses often play an important part in determining damages. Minor injuries can increase in severity over time, resulting in chronic pain and limiting the ability to work. For instance, back pain results in a collective loss of 260 million workdays annually.
Seek out medical attention immediately after an accident, even if you do not feel injured. Documenting any injury progression helps legally establish the extent of your injury. On-going medical expenses, such as physical therapy, as well as future expenses, are both added to the dollar amount of the damages in the case.
Auto Accident Liability Law and You
The cause of a car accident might seem obvious in its immediate aftermath. However, establishing fault legally is an entirely different situation. Determining legal liability in an auto accident requires extensive documentation, witnesses, and the ability to assess an appropriate level of damages.
Fortunately, understanding the tips above can help any injured party find success within the legal system.