Car accidents are among the most common causes of serious injury and death in the United States. For this reason, insurance claims and car accident lawsuits are among the most commonly handled civil tort cases dealt with by California lawyers every year. While not every accident warrants the involvement of an attorney, car accident cases that have resulted in significant injury or property damage absolutely benefit from the involvement of an experienced attorney as they greatly increase the speed, amount awarded and probability of success.
Car Accident Cases
Improved technology in today’s automobiles make the cars in our driveways safer than ever before. Hidden from plain sight, today’s vehicles offer a myriad of accident prevention equipment to keep you from ending up in an accident items such as anti-lock brakes, blind-spot detection, all-weather tires and more. In the event that you are in a collision, it is hoped that the on-board safety equipment will keep you from suffering significant harm. Advancements such as improved seat-belt performance, specially designed seats, inclusion of air bags and side impact curtains, use of safety glass, reinforced roll cages, and intentionally designed crumple zones all work to keep you as safe as possible.
For all of the advancements that have been made in safety technology, car accidents are still common-place. This is overwhelmingly due to distracted and negligent drivers. For this reason, most car accident cases are dealt with as a class of tort law which stems from the basic tort principles of negligence. Negligence in this sense, is the failure to use a reasonable degree of care for which any prudent person would have used under the same circumstances. Negligence can therefore include both the actions that one should take, that were not taken, and those that should not have been taken, but were taken.
Common Types of Automobile Accidents
Every car accident is unique, but there are a few common types of accidents. Below are some of the more common accident types that we see.
Driver Negligence or Error
Driver negligence is common and is the label regularly used to describe a drivers failure, oversight or error and arises in a myriad of circumstances or situations. Common driver errors include:
- Disregarding a traffic control device
- Failure to yield the right of way
- Following too closely
- Excessive speed
- Driving under the influence or while intoxicated
Distracted driver cases are on the rise. As the number of personal devices that individuals interact with has risen, so too have the number of distracted driver cases. Common driver distractions include:
- Cell phone useage
- Texting while driving
- Make-up application
- Operation of vehicle accessories such as the radio, heater
- Children in the back seat
- Eating while driving
- Events outside of the vehicle such as accident scenes
Poorly Maintained Vehicle
Poorly maintained vehicles is another significant area of automobile litigation. This can be especially true of commercial vehicles which spend significantly more time on the road, and where maintenance is the responsibility of someomne other than the driver(s) of that vehicle.
Failure to properly maintain and service a vehicle can have catastrophic consequences. Even the failure of a single part of the car, truck or bus can result in an accident. For example, a brake failure on a single wheel of a heavily loaded commercial vehicle can result in a runaway vehicle that cannot be stopped by its driver.
Road Defect or Poorly Designed Roadway
In some cases, the condition or design of a roadway can be the cause of an accident. These are often referred to as ‘roadway defect cases’. These cases can include:
- Poorly designed roadways
- Inadequate means of controlling traffic
- Construction or debris
- Poor roadway maintenance
Automotive Defects – Auto Product Liability
In some automotive accident cases, the cause of the accident can be attributed to a defect in the automobile. In other accident cases, a defect can make the resulting injuries exponentially greater. These types of accident cases fall intp a unique class of litigation known as products liability. Product liability in the context of motor vehicle accidents can include design flaws, mechanical failures and compromises in the performance and structural integrity of a vehicle. Common failure events include tire blowouts, brake failure, and airbags failing to deploy.
Design flaws and manufacturing defect will sometimes be the cause of an accident, but most often we see manufacturing defect causing injuries sustained to be far worse. Examples of this include the following design flaws:
- High center of gravity in an SUV increasing rolling over potential.
- Poorly protected gas tanks increasing likelikhood of ignition in a collision.
- Airbag deployment failure.
- Restraint system (seatbelt) failure.
Who Is At Fault – Shared Accident Responsibility
Often, accident fault is not attributed to a single party but instead attributed to two or more parties. There can be multiple factors which contributed to the occurence of an automobile accident. Potential contributing factors can include the condition of the roadway, manufacturing defect and most often a second (or multiple) drivers.
In cases that involve two vehicles, it is not uncommon that each driver is found to be partially at-fault. Similarly, in accidents that involve more than two vehicles – muliple drivers can be found at-fault. These cases recognize the negligent actions of all drivers that contributed to the accident occuring. In these situations, responsibility for the accident is aportioned to each individual involved, by comparing the negligence of the plaintiff against that of the defendant.
Through apportioning, the plaintiff may be awarded damages to the degree that they are responsible for the accident. For example, if a jury finds the plaintiff 20% responsible for an accident, the plaintiffs recovery may be reduced by 20%. In this way, the victim receives some compensation for their injuries, rather than being denied any recovery.
Car Accident Insurance Coverage
Unfortunately, not all drivers are adequately insured motorists. This can be a motorist who has no insurance at all, or can be a motorist who has a level of insurance that is inadequate to cover the financial losses incurred in an accident. In these circumstances, it is sometimes possible for the victim to make a claim under his or her own automobile insurance policy. This is possible when the victim posseses what is known as ‘Uninsured Motorist’ (or UM) automobile insurance coverage.
In cases where the negligent driver is uninsured, it is extremely challenging for an injury victim to obtain adequate compensation. However, there is hope of compensation in cases where the victim carries uninsured motorist coverage through their own automobile insurance policy. The challenge here, is that it can be difficult dawing on this type of coverage. For that reason it is best to bring in a knowledgeable attorney who is well-versed in unisured motorist accident cases, to help navigate the road to adequate compensation.
California has very low insurance requirements. With insurance costs directly related to a driver’s record we unfortunately see that it is often the the worst drivers on the road who carry the most inadequate coverage – a direct result of the high coverage costs which result from their bad driving records.
While it is most common that we see the at-fault driver is under-insured, carrying inadequate insurance coverage, there are other occasions where the driver the other driver is uninsured entirely or cannot be identified, as is the case in hit-and-run accidents.