Serious car accidents touch the lives of many Californians driving motor vehicles; these collisions can cause enormous challenges. Sometimes liability or the issue of fault is clear in a California car accident, such as when a drunk driver blows through a red light and T-bones a driver who has a green light. Typically, the question of fault is not nearly this obvious. Experienced California car accident attorneys and insurance defense attorneys often become embroiled in bitter and contentious disputes over the issue of fault in California car accidents.
Determining Fault is Complicated: Never Admit Fault for a California Car Accident
Drivers who are involved in a collision should never admit to fault either to the other driver or a police officer who responds to the accident scene. The legal complexities of determining fault can be confusing so that even a police officer experienced in investigating traffic accidents is mistaken in his or her opinion of who is at-fault. If an experienced traffic cop can be mistaken about fault in a California car accident, it is easy to see why the average motorist is in no position to conclude that it is appropriate to �fall on one�s sword� and admit fault.
While the complex nature of determining fault for a California car accident is one reason to avoid admitting fault, it is also important to keep in mind that when you are struggling with physical injuries and the stress of being involved in a car accident, your judgment, perception and decision making may be effected.
When drivers admit to fault at an accident scene, this admission will be used against a driver later by the other driver�s insurance company even if the admission of fault was not factually accurate. Beyond not admitting fault, it is important to avoid statements that may be misconstrued as admitting responsibility for a California car accident. It may be enticing to say �I�m sorry,� but an insurance company may later claim that this was an acknowledgement by you that you caused the car accident.
Understanding Negligence as Fault in California Car Accidents
The allocation of fault in a California car accident is typically based on negligence law. Negligence or fault will generally be caused by one of the drivers in a California car accident but not necessarily. Other parties that may share fault in a California car accident may be automakers, vehicle repair shops, manufacturers of vehicle components and public entities that design and maintain roadways. Many accidents are caused by multiple parties so it is important to identify all at-fault parties to maximize one�s likelihood of obtaining the full measure of damages for one�s injuries or loss. When multiple defendants are included in a California car accident lawsuit, it increases the sources from which recovery may be obtained, which may be especially important if the other driver is uninsured or underinsured.
The legal concept of negligence in determining fault in a California car accident essentially refers to the failure to exercise ordinary care to prevent injury to others in motor vehicle accidents. Negligence (or fault) may come in many forms but some common examples include the following:
- Drunk driving
- Inattentive motorists
- Blow through traffic signals or stoplights
- Speeding or exceeding a safe speed given traffic and weather conditions
- Failure to yield right of way
- Drivers impaired by prescription drugs, over-the-counter medication or illegal narcotics
- Unsafe lane changes (i.e. not checking blind spots, turning and looking or cutting off other drivers)
- Following at an unsafe distance (i.e. tailgating)
- Failure to conduct proper maintenance (e.g. tire pressure, lack of tire tread, worn out brake pads)
- Poorly designed intersections or roadways
- Impairment by medical marijuana
Rules of Thumb for Assigning Liability for California Car Crashes
These are only a few example of what may constitute fault or negligent conduct in California. When a driver violates a section of the California Vehicle Code that is intended as a public safety law, a driver may be strictly liable for any injuries caused by the traffic violation if it results in a California car accident. There are some general rules of thumb that apply to fault in a California car accident including but not limited to the following:
Left Turn Collisions: When a driver making a left turn at an intersection collides with a vehicle going straight in the other direction, the driver turning left will usually be determined to be at-fault. While this rule is virtually always true, there may be limited exceptions, such as when the car going straight is drastically exceeding the speed limit or fails to stop at a red light.
Rear End Collisions: Drivers are required to follow at a safe distance so when they rear-end another vehicle they will typically be found responsible for causing the accident. Basic traffic safety laws require that you allow enough following distance so that you can stop if the flow of traffic stops. When you rear-end another driver, it will virtually always mean that you did not allow enough following distance or were driving too fast to stop. California car accident lawsuits involving rear-end accidents also tend to result in liability by the driver that strikes the other vehicle from the rear because it is easy to identify what happened. When there is vehicle damage to the front end of one vehicle and rear of the other vehicle, it makes it fairly easy to determine that one vehicle rear-ended the other.
Comparative Negligence: It is important to understand that just as there may be multiple defendants that are at-fault for causing a California auto accident, the defendant and plaintiff (i.e. both drivers) may share fault. If one considers the example above where one driver rear-ends another driver, the injury victim that is rear-ended may share liability if his or her vehicle taillights are not functioning. In this situation, the judge or jury will apportion fault between the injury victim (i.e. plaintiff) and the defendant and reduce any damage award by the percentage of fault attributable to the injury victim.
If you or a loved one is injured or a love one dies in a California car accident, it is important to speak with an experienced California car accident lawyer who can investigate the accident and evaluate fault. Even if the accident report conducted by a traffic officer concludes that the car accident was your fault, you should not rely on this alone. An experienced California car accident attorney can evaluate the facts and evidence and may reach a different conclusion.
A California car accident lawyer may even work with an accident reconstruction expert to develop evidence and a litigation strategy on the question of fault in a California car accident. If you are involved in an auto collision, contact a California car accident attorney today for a free evaluation of fault.