Motor Vehicle Accident Liability
When you suffer an injury in an auto accident caused by someone else, you have a legal right to seek compensation for your injury. The right to seek compensation for a legal wrong arises under tort law.
The law divides torts into three types — intentional, negligent, and strict liability. Most car accidents fall under negligence. Under negligence law, you can recover compensation if another driver’s behavior failed to meet society’s standards.
Here is some information about auto accident liability and what you must prove to recover compensation after a traffic accident.
Negligence and Auto Accidents
Negligence sets the minimum standard of behavior to keep society safe. Negligence law states that in certain circumstances, you owe others a duty of care. If you fail to uphold that duty of care, they have a legal right to seek compensation for any damage they suffer as a result of your failure.
For example, doctors owe patients a duty of care. If the doctor fails to provide medical services in a reasonably prudent manner, the patent can sue the doctor for medical malpractice.
Every negligence case, regardless of the context, requires the injured person to prove four elements to recover compensation:
- Breach of duty
In a motor vehicle accident, you can establish liability by applying these four elements to the facts of your case.
Every driver must drive in a reasonably safe manner. Traffic rules set the baseline for reasonable driving. Under a doctrine called negligence per se, safety laws establish duties for purposes of negligence. Thus, drivers have a duty to stop at red lights and look for pedestrians before turning across a crosswalk.
But the duty extends beyond the rules of the road to include commonly accepted practices. For example, many states have traffic laws against texting while driving. A jury might find a duty to refrain from texting while driving, even if a state does not outlaw the practice directly.
Breach of Duty
A breach of duty happens when a driver fails to drive in a reasonably prudent manner. Importantly, an injured person does not need to prove the driver intentionally drove in an unsafe way. Instead, the injured person only needs to prove that the driver did something that a reasonably safe driver would not have done.
This means that an accident victim does not need to prove the state of mind of the driver. As a result, the jury can focus on the driver’s behavior rather than their thought process before and during the auto accident.
The objective standard used to determine whether the driver breached a duty asks the jury to compare the driver’s actions to a “reasonably prudent driver.” This hypothetical driver always uses good judgment and common sense while driving. Those drivers who cause an accident while failing to meet this standard will be liable for their actions.
To prevail in a negligence claim, you must suffer damage. This element simply prevents people from filing lawsuits every time they see someone else acting unreasonably.
Instead, only those who suffer damage due to someone else’s unsafe behavior can file a lawsuit.
If you suffered a traffic injury as a result of someone else’s unreasonable actions, you meet this element. An injury imposes costs, such as medical bills and lost income, on the injured person. These costs ensure that you have an interest in the outcome of the case beyond policing someone else’s behavior.
The breach of duty must cause the damage. This element ensures that the damage is sufficiently related to the breach of duty to justify holding the driver liable for it.
Causation has two parts. The breach must be a cause-in-fact of the damage. This means that the breach was an event in the chain of events that resulted in the damage.
Suppose that one of your teeth got knocked out during an auto accident. If you later developed an abscess and needed emergency surgery to remove part of your jaw, the auto accident was a cause-in-fact of your jaw removal. Without the auto accident, you wouldn’t have ever needed the surgery.
The breach must also be the proximate cause of the damage. This means that the damage was a foreseeable result of the breach.
“Proximate cause” does not require that the exact injury be foreseeable. Instead, it only requires you to prove that a person could reasonably foresee that their unsafe driving could cause an auto injury. This prevents people from being held liable for benign negligence.
Establishing Liability to Obtain Auto Accident Compensation
You and your accident attorney will gather the evidence to prove each of these elements. Proving a duty and breach will usually require a police report, photos of the accident scene, and witness testimony to prove how the accident happened.
Your damages will be proven with medical bills, wage statements, and other documentation of your losses.
Causation is usually proven with expert opinions. For example, your doctor might provide a letter stating that your injuries resulted from the crash.
To discuss your auto accident and how you can prove the liability of another driver for your injuries, simply fill out our online consultation form or call us. We’ll work with you to help you find a skilled lawyer in your local area.