Traffic accidents can raise complex issues of fact and law. California is a "fault-state," meaning the party at-fault in an auto accident is on the hook to pay for the expenses of the other party. In some cases it is clear who the party at fault is, the damages are minimal or easy to assess, and the accident can be settled simply. However, in many other cases there are contestable issues surrounding exactly who was at fault and exactly how severe the damages should be.
Proving Fault in Auto Accidents
When vehicles collide on the road, the most important legal issue is determining who is at fault. Sometimes multiple parties bear some blame, and the question is how much fault to attribute to each party. Whatever the facts of a case, determining liability is the first step towards getting crash victims the compensation they deserve. There are a number of factors that courts will consider when determining fault.
Rules of the Road
Every state in the country has implemented traffic laws, commonly referred to as the "rules of the road." California's rules of the road, which are a part of the California Vehicle Code, can be found here. When a violation of these rules caused or was a substantial factor in causing an accident, there is a presumption that the driver in violation was at fault. It is important to note that a violation of the rules that was not actually a cause of the accident would be irrelevant to the issue of fault.
The Type of Accident
Fault is predictable for certain types of accidents, but it cannot be completely determined until the specific facts of a case are considered. For instance, rear-end collisions are almost always the fault of the driver of the vehicle who was coming from behind, but there are significant exceptions to this rule of thumb. When a driver applied the brakes in a reckless manner, cut a car off rashly, went below the speed limit to an unsafe degree, or was driving without functioning brake lights, they may be at fault when they get rear-ended. Similarly, accidents involving left-hand turns are usually the fault of the car turning left. In most cases, those drivers should have been looking ahead and been able to see the oncoming car coming towards the intersection. But again, there are exceptions, such as when the other car was speeding, running a red light, or otherwise abruptly entering the intersection out-of-turn.
For some car crashes, police respond to the scene and a police report is created. In many other instances, there is no police report. Different cities have different policies regarding when police should create an accident report. However, if a report does exist, this can be powerful evidence of fault in a subsequent lawsuit. In these cases, the drivers involved in an accident should read and understand the police report. If the reporting officer had the opinion that an accident was clearly the fault of only one driver, that driver should probably look to settle the case. Conversely, if the police report bolsters a person's claim, they should be confident taking a case to court if necessary.
Assessing the Damage
A separate legal issue that arises following an auto accident is determining exactly what harm each of the parties suffered. In some cases a party may admit fault but contest the alleged damages. Accident expenses must be documented. For personal injury claims, medical testimony from a doctor can be required. In some cases—for instance when the other driver was totally at fault—it may be possible for a party to collect damages for pain and suffering as well. California also permits victims of drunk-driving accidents to collect punitive damages.
If You Have Been in an Auto Accident, Qualified Legal Counsel Can Help
If you have been involved in an auto accident, it is crucial to consult with a qualified attorney to understand your rights. Auto accidents can raise complex questions of law and fact. Attorney Scott D. Hughes is experienced in these types of cases. He understands these issues and can analyze the facts of your case to get you a fair outcome. If you would like more information about this issue or would like to discuss your case, please contact us at 714-423-6928 to schedule your free consultation.