In 2017 alone, the City of Houston experienced over 65,000 car accidents, a third of which resulted in possible bodily injury. These injuries can range from minor injuries, such as aching backs and whiplash, to more serious bodily injuries— including broken bones, spinal injuries, or brain injuries. These injuries can leave serious and long-lasting effects on a victim’s life and the victim will ultimately be left with economic damages such as medical expenses incurred as a result of the accident.
Should the victim be fully liable for their injuries, even if it is not entirely their fault? Consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney will greatly increase a person’s chance of identifying who should be liable for the accident and who should be liable for compensating the injuries for the damages sustained to the victim. However, it is also important for the client to have a good understanding of legal liability.
In this article, we will discuss legal liability and provide information that can help determine who may be liable for your accident and injuries.
Determining Who Is Liable For Car Accident Damages And Injuries
The basic principle of liability begins with the “duty of care”. In our society, people owe a duty of care to others to not unreasonably cause them harm. There are several questions to ask to determine negligence and liability in a car accident.
The questions to consider are:
Did Someone Owe You a Duty of Care at the Time of the Accident?
Every driver on the road owes a duty of care to every driver on the road. All drivers owe a duty to follow all traffic laws and to drive safely. They owe this duty to other drivers, truckers, motorcyclists, and pedestrians.
Although it may not seem obvious, drivers are not the only ones who owe a duty to others on the road. This duty extends to employers who employ drivers, bars/restaurants which serve alcohol, car manufacturers, car mechanics, trucking companies, and many more.
Who Breached the Duty of Care and Caused the Car Accident?
While most accidents can be attributed to an irresponsible driver, there are some cases in which no driver has acted irresponsibly. However, in the event of an accident, it is likely that a driver violated traffic laws or failed to operate their vehicle in a safe manner, causing the accident. These laws are designed to protect other drivers and pedestrians on the road. Violation of these laws can be a clear indication of who is liable for the accident.
To fully determine who may be liable for your car accident, a car accident attorney can determine who owed you a duty of care and who breached this duty of care. One or more persons can have owed you a duty of care in some cases.
Did the Breach in Duty Result in your Car Accident and Injuries?
To prove that one driver is liable for the accident, one must prove that the other party’s negligence caused the accident and your injuries.
For example, let’s say that a driver ran a red light and struck your vehicle. As a result, you broke your leg from the accident. The driver owed a duty of care to follow traffic laws and not run the red light. He breached this duty when he ran the red light. Because the other driver negligently ran the red light, it created the condition that caused the harm and resulted in the accident. Your broken leg can be directly attributed to the accident, therefore making that driver liable for the accident and your injuries.
What Are Your Damages?
For someone to be liable, there must be damages incurred by you as a result of the accident. The two main types of damages typically associated with car accidents are property damage and bodily injury.
Property damage is composed of the damage that is sustained to your vehicle, which is measured by monetary value.
Bodily injury is done similar fashion and can be composed of all the medical expenses involved with treating your injury as well as future medical expenses that result from the injury caused by the accident.
An experienced car accident lawyer can help identify all the types of damages you may have sustained and ensure that you are properly compensated and made whole again.
Conflicting Statements Produced by Both Parties Involved
In most car accident cases, it is easy to determine who is liable. Unfortunately, we have all experienced or know someone who has experienced a case where the parties involved produce conflicting statements leading to he said/she said predicaments. This often complicates the process in determining liability, but an experienced personal injury attorney can help determine who is liable for the accident.
In most personal injury lawsuits, the person held liable is often another driver.
The Driver’s Employer Could be Held Responsible
The driver’s employer could also be liable for the accident and your damages. The main question to ask is whether the driver was working during scheduled hours for the employer and if they were doing work for the employer. Some cases can include an employee simply picking up coffee for their boss. But in many cases, employers hire drivers who spend hours on the road as a part of their job. Even Ridesharing employers like Uber and Lyft may be partially liable if their drivers are involved in accidents.
Responsibilities to uphold when hiring:
Employers have certain responsibilities to uphold when hiring a driver. These responsibilities may include:
- Checking if the driver has caused previous accidents
- Being aware of the driver’s skill and driving manner. If an employer knows that the driver drives in an unsafe manner, it is their responsibility to correct this. The employer may retrain the driver by enrolling them in a driving safety course or even remove them from the road completely. If the employer does not take action against the driver that does not drive safely, they could be held liable or partially liable for an accident that arises from the driver.
- Ensuring the driver is capable of driving. If the employer knows or has suspicions that their driver may be intoxicated, it is their responsibility to remove that driver from the road or not allow them to drive. If the driver were to cause an accident and the employer was aware of their intoxication, they can be held liable for the accident and damages that occur.
- Ensuring that company regulation is followed. For trucking companies, drivers are only allowed to drive for a limited amount of hours per day without taking breaks. However, some employers or truckers do not follow this regulation. This can include falsifying records that keep track of how many hours they drove for that day. It is both the driver’s and employer’s responsibility to follow this regulation. If they do not, they can be held liable or partially liable for an accident.
Bars and Restaurants
Bars and restaurants could also be held liable for accidents as well. Any place that serves alcohol is responsible for who they serve alcohol. They must not serve alcohol to anyone who is already intoxicated, especially if that patron is believed to be driving.
If a bar or restaurant fails to recognize and continues to serve an inebriated patron, they can be held liable or partially liable if that patron causes an accident.
Determining Liability for Accidents Involving Multiple Vehicles
For a two-car accident, it’s fairly simple as one would look at the other driver for liability. However, for accidents involving multiple vehicles, there are more variables and drivers at play and liability should be considered carefully.
Other drivers may be liable if they:
- Violate traffic laws, such as speeding, running red lights, stop signs, failure to yield, making unsafe lane changes, driving while intoxicated, driving under the influence, or other laws designed to protect the public safety and interests.
- Are distracted while driving. This may include talking or texting on the phone, eating, drinking, sleeping, attending to passengers, or even taking their eyes off their eyes off the road for an unsafe period of time.
- Drive unsafely
- Road race
- Fail to drive with care in hazardous conditions
- Fail to pay attention to the road and those around them. The driver must pay full attention to their surroundings while driving. They should be aware of all the conditions on the road as well as other drivers and pedestrians.
What If You Are Liable For The Car Accident?
Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes we can be distracted at the wheel. Whether it was being on the phone or failing to follow the speed limit, these are factors that may contribute to the accident. In these cases, insurance companies will often assign a percentage of liability to each driver.
For example, if a court found you to be 15% liable for the accident, the court will reduce your total damages by that percentage. However, if you were found 50% or more liable for the accident, you will be barred from recovery for any damages.