While everyone thinks it will never happen to them, we all know car accidents happen no matter how carefully you might drive. Nevertheless, you don’t ever want to be the one at fault for a car wreck. Not only can you not recover your damages (i.e. the damage to your car, rental car expense, pain and suffering, etc.), if you were at fault for the car wreck. Also, the other driver has a claim against you and your insurance company for all these items if your negligence caused the car accident. Of course, such a claim will most likely raise your insurance premiums, as well. However, you already know the solution: let every turn you take behind the wheel of the car be dictated by who has the right of way. This is an important step in helping you to avoid being the at fault driver.
Yes, we all learned that concept when first obtained a driver’s license but we forget how important it is for daily driving. When a police officer comes to an accident scene the first factor he is considering, when determining who was at fault for a car wreck, is who had the right of way. The same is true when your insurance agent is hearing your description of the wreck for the first time.
When I get a call from someone injured in a car wreck, I immediately ask them to describe the facts of the car accident for this very same reason. I need to be able to determine who was at fault for the car wreck to see if I can help that person. Most of the time, whoever has the right of way will determine who is considered responsible for the car accident. Why is this so?
Negligence is a legal term that applies to all car wrecks and means there was a legal duty, that legal duty was breached and but for the breach of that legal duty, you would not have suffered your damages. Whether it is an insurance company, a personal injury attorney or an investigating police officer, the first question we all have is who had the legal duty to avoid the wreck, which typically determines “who had the right of way”.
Let’s look at the instances in which the vast majority of the time, you will be most likely be considered at fault for a car wreck: 1) if you rear-end the other vehicle and; 2) you are turning left in front of the other vehicle or are crossing traffic.
The first one, hitting someone in the rear end, is common-sense. When you allow your vehicle to collide with the rear-end of another vehicle, the argument is you, not the vehicle you were following, had a legal duty to follow at a safe distance. You obviously breached that duty as you hit the other vehicle in the back end. It really does not matter why the other driver may slammed on his brakes, the vast majority of the time you will be considered at fault for the car wreck. To take matters to the extreme, what about if other driver claims he was trying to avoid a squirrel but you think he really slammed on his brakes intentionally because of road rage? Recall that the law is not about what we think happened but rather, what we can prove happened.
How you prove an intentional act on the part of the other driver? I can tell you from experience, it is very difficult to do so. Essentially, you would be trying to buck a strong presumption that your negligence caused the wreck while trying to prove a fact that is almost impossible to prove i.e., that the other driver acted intentionally. The key is to take preventative steps to avoid being the at fault driver.
For the second instance, turning left in front of another vehicle or crossing oncoming traffic, you have to understand that you ALWAYS have the duty to yield the right of way to the other vehicle. It’s one of the most important concepts to consider to avoid being the at fault driver.
When a person calls my law firm and tells me they were turning left, my first reaction is to cringe. Why? Because that other vehicle had the right of way and you didn’t! I will hear stories of how the other guy was speeding or came out of nowhere and the caller believes that this will change who was at fault for the car wreck. Usually, these are little factors that are difficult to prove because I can tell you right now, the other driver will say, “no, I was not speeding.” More importantly, these factors don’t change the big picture, i.e. the legal presumption in which is who ever had the right of way was not at fault for the car wreck.
Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. A lady called the other day and she indicated she was turning left when the car wreck occurred, but she had a green arrow. Obviously, she legally had the right of way because of the green arrow and there was a witness listed on the police report that informed the investigating police officer of that fact. However from experience handing a lot of car wrecks, I can tell you that this would most likely have been a swearing contest between the two drivers as to who had the green light and the presumption of fault would have been against the lady, as her vehicle was turning left.
For the typical driver, a car accident is a pain in the neck that you wish never occurred. As a result, since you know you can’t completely wipe out the odds of being involved in a car accident, the next best thing is to take steps to avoid being the at fault driver by driving with the law on your side. How do you do that? Every action you take as a driver should recognize who, from a legal point of view, has the right of way. You understand that if you don’t have the right of way you have to be all the more cautious in regard to the driving of your vehicle. By doing so, you substantially decrease your likelihood of being involved in a car wreck and substantially reduce the chance that an insurance company or another driver is going to try to claim your negligence caused the car wreck.