Car accidents are a leading cause of unnecessary deaths and therefore the number one source of personal injury claims in the United States. In 2005, 6,087,000 cars were involved in accidents, according to a recent crash data report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This comprised 56.1 percent of all motor vehicle crashes. In that same year, fatal automobile accidents took the lives of 18,440 people, and injured another 1,573,000 people.
Many of the accidents occurred due to negligence on the part of one of the drivers involved. When a car accident is caused by another party’s negligence, people who are harmed often reach settlements with the liable party and their insurer, which provide compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering as well as other damages.
CAR ACCIDENTS AND THE LAW
As a legal matter, a car accident occurs when a passenger car (convertible, sedan or station wagon) is involved in an event or series of events that causes harm, such as property damage, traumatic brain injury and/or death. In 2005, 82 percent of car crashes involved a collision with another motor vehicle and the other 18 percent involved collisions with stationary objects and other non-motorized objects, according to the NHTSA. Most of these motor vehicle accidents involved an element of negligence, and a traffic law violation.
To be compensated by either an insurance company or receive a court award, negligence usually must be proven. Negligence is a legal term that means someone has failed to act in a reasonably careful and responsible manner. In the case of a car crash, negligence is found in facts derived from the police report, eyewitness testimony, expert witness testimony, photographs and sketches of the crash scene. Proving negligence means showing that:
- Someone’s carelessness caused the car accident
- The car accident caused harm and
- The party at fault is responsible for paying compensation for the harm done
If more than one party involved in the accident is at fault, liability may be distributed among the negligent parties according to percentage of fault. This is called comparative negligence.
COMPENSATION FOR CAR ACCIDENTS
Receiving compensation usually means having your property repairs, medical expenses, lost income, physical and psychological pain and, if applicable, lost income/earnings paid for by the negligent party or parties. Insurance adjustors and juries typically use standard formulas to come up with a dollar value for car accident settlements.
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO CAR ACCIDENTS
A number of factors contribute to car accidents, and many are the result of some form of negligence. Some of the most common are:
Driving While Distracted. Distracted drivers account for approximately 80 percent of auto accidents and 65 percent of near accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Each year, motorists cause thousands of driving accidents while texting, making cell phone calls, putting on makeup and performing other tasks. Many states have outlawed texting while driving, and/or driving while talking on handheld devices.
Traffic Law Violations. Most car accidents can be traced to negligence in the form of one or more traffic violations. Common violations include speeding, tailgating, improper lane changing, and failing to yield the right of way. When a traffic citation is issued at the scene of a car accident, any claims are strengthened.
Driver Error. Driver error is the cause of most traffic violations leading to car accidents. Factors contributing to driver error include fatigue, drowsiness, distractions (cell phone use, eating, etc.), inattention, intoxication (drugs, alcohol, medications) and aggressive driving. A study conducted by Virginia Tech University in 2006 showed 80 percent of motor vehicle crashes involved distraction, fatigue or looking away from the road. The same study showed that 93 percent of rear-end collisions occurred as a consequence of inattention. Note that harm caused by driving under the influence is not just a criminal violation – it can also be grounds for a civil suit.
Equipment Failure. Mechanical failures leading to car accidents often involve brakes, tires, steering mechanisms or suspension. A malfunction might point to negligence on the part of the owner or operator of the car, a mechanic or auto repair shop or the manufacturer for designing flawed equipment (e.g., seatbelts, airbags or roofs). Some of the best known cases of equipment failure involve manufacturer design flaws and often result in class action lawsuits involving large settlements. If you suspect equipment failure or a manufacturing defect contributed to an accident you were involved in, be sure to retain possession of your car so that it can be used as evidence in a trial, if necessary.
Road Conditions. Road conditions can be affected by weather, road construction, debris on the roadway and other factors. When road conditions contribute to car accidents, negligence is often involved. Sometimes the government is the negligent party. For example, if a dangerous pothole has gone without repair for an extended length of time, the government may be liable. There are specific rules and time limits for filing a car accident claim with a government entity. For more information, you will need to contact a car accident attorney.
Road Design. Flawed road design can involve intersections, merging lanes, traffic control devices and other factors. When the design of the road is a contributing factor in a car accident, the government may be liable.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
After an accident occurs, there is a limited period of time in which a personal injury lawsuit can be filed – the law that establishes this is known as a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits in Louisiana is one year from the date of the accident.