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Who Determines Who Is at Fault in a Car Accident?

The determination of fault in a car accident boils down to one thing: a decision as to who was the careless party or parties. With regard to car accidents, there is a body of traffic laws that governs and mandates how drivers are to drive. That body of laws also gives guidelines for the measurement and establishment of the bases of liability.

If litigation results, a judge or jury is the trier of fact charged with making that determination of liability or fault—and also the award of damages. This often occurs in the lower level state courts. If the matter is resolved short of litigation, often insurance companies get involved and negotiate the issue of liability and what proportion of fault and accompanying damages each insurer will assume.

What Body of Traffic Laws Determines Liability?

They are the same traffic laws a beginning driver at age 15 or 16 must learn and memorize to pass the written driver's license test in his or her state of residency. These traffic laws are found within the vehicle code of each U.S. state. Incidentally, the laws apply to cars, as well as to motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians.

Obvious and Not-so-Obvious Traffic Law Violations

At times, a traffic law violations are blatantly obvious. In these instances, it is easy to make a determination of the cause of a resulting accident. An example of an obvious traffic law violation is when one driver runs through a stop sign at an intersection and crashes into a second driver's car.

What about less obvious situations? It may be that the existence of a traffic law violation is far less clear. This may happen when two drivers simultaneously merge into a single middle traffic lane and, in so doing, collide. In such a case, the situation likely boils down to a negligence analysis.

What Is the Role of Negligence?

What is negligence? Drivers, walkers, bikers, and motorcyclists behave negligently when they conduct themselves in thoughtless, careless ways. In such circumstances, they may be found liable, at least in part, for the cause contributing to a resulting accident.

To establish negligence, certain legal elements must be proven:

  • The driver is required by law to be careful and reasonable in a given scenario or circumstance. This is always met because drivers are required to exercise caution and care in all situations behind the wheel.
  • The driver, cyclist, motorcyclist, or pedestrian did not exercise reasonable care.
  • The driver's actions were the cause of injury or damage to another or others, whether through an accident or otherwise.
  • A party suffered actual injury or damage as a result.

If you or someone you know has questions or concerns about negligence, traffic laws, liability, or the establishment of fault in auto accidents, it is prudent to consult with a traffic law or personal injury attorney. In most cases, initial consultations are free and cases are taken on a contingency basis. Time may be of the essence in evaluating a case, making a claim, establishing defenses, or otherwise pursuing a remedy.