Common Car Accident Scenarios — Causes & Determining Fault

In 2020, the U.S. had over 6.75 million auto accidents. Of these, about 4.75 million resulted in injuries and 40,000 resulted in deaths. The remaining 1.95 million crashes only damaged property.

Not all of these accidents resulted from negligence. Some accidents result from accidental causes. But according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver behavior and errors cause about 94% of car accidents in the U.S.

Here is some information about some common car accident scenarios and how to determine fault for them.

Determining Liability for Car Accidents

Lawsuits involving car accidents can arise from three legal theories:

Intentional Torts

An intentional tort happens when someone intends to take an action that results in harm. Two intentional torts relevant to car accidents include assault and battery.

Someone commits assault when they intend to place someone in imminent fear of bodily harm. Battery happens when someone intentionally takes an action that causes bodily harm.

Two car accident scenarios that might involve an intentional tort include:

Criminal Flight

Suppose someone flees from the scene of a crime. They see your car stopped in an intersection.

If the driver intentionally rams your vehicle to move it, they committed a battery. If you see the vehicle coming because the driver was honking as the car accelerated toward you, the driver also committed an assault.

These torts exist separate from any crimes the driver committed. The driver might get arrested for criminal assault or even attempted murder. But you can also sue the driver for damages resulting from civil assault and civil battery.

Road Rage

Aggressive driving sometimes devolves into road rage. A driver might not intend to cause harm, but the expression of the driver’s rage might cause injuries.

Suppose that an enraged driver intends to bump your car after you cut them off in traffic. You can sue that driver for battery.

Suppose the driver only intends to scare you but gets too close and bumps you. You might have a claim for both assault and battery.

Strict Liability Torts

The law imposes strict liability in a few limited circumstances. Under strict liability, the accused party’s state of mind does not matter. Instead, you only need to prove that they had control over whatever caused the accident.

Strict liability applies when you get into a crash due to a defect in your car. Product liability for defective products is a form of strict liability.

Suppose that your car accident resulted from a faulty anti-lock brake module. You can sue the car’s manufacturer for damages arising from your injuries. 

To win, you only need to prove that the ABS module contained a:

  • Design defect
  • Manufacturing defect
  • Warning defect

Importantly, you do not need to prove intent or negligence. You only need to prove the existence of an auto defect.

Negligence

Negligence will determine liability in most car accidents, pedestrian accidents, bicycle accidents, truck accidents, and motorcycle accidents

Negligence falls between intentional torts and strict liability torts. For negligence, you do not need to prove the other driver intended to take dangerous actions. Instead, you only need to prove that the other driver should have known the danger of their actions.

Negligence requires proof of four elements:

  • Duty
  • Breach
  • Causation
  • Damages

Every driver must drive with reasonable care. When the driver fails to exercise reasonable care, the driver breaches that duty. The law imposes liability on that driver for reasonably foreseeable damages caused by that breach.

Determining Liability in Common Car Accident Scenarios

Most car accidents follow a few common scenarios, including:

Single-Vehicle Accidents

A single-vehicle accident might seem like a cut-and-dry case. If you were the only driver involved, then fault for the accident must lay with you.

But in some cases, someone else might bear liability for your single-vehicle accident. A truck might have spilled something onto the road that caused your car to lose traction. The road might have a dangerous curve that was not marked with a sign. Your steering or brakes might have malfunctioned due to the negligence of your mechanic. A rancher might have negligently allowed livestock to block the road.

In these scenarios, you might have a claim for damages, even though you were the only driver involved in your single-vehicle accident.

Rear-End Collisions

A rear-end collision happens when a trailing vehicle hits a leading vehicle from behind. Liability for a rear-end collision usually falls on the driver of the rear vehicle. 

This happens because rear-end collisions usually result from:

  • Tailgating
  • Speeding
  • Driving too fast for the weather conditions

These driving behaviors violate the rear driver’s duty of care.

Occasionally, liability falls on the front driver. This usually occurs when the front driver cuts off the rear driver or makes a lane change without signaling.

Distracted Driving Crashes

A distracted driver almost always bears the fault for an accident. But in some cases, the damages recoverable from the distracted driver might get reduced.

Pennsylvania uses comparative negligence to allocate damages. When accident victims play a role in causing their injuries, a jury allocates a share of the fault to them. The judge will reduce the damage award in proportion to the allocated fault.

For example, suppose that an accident happens at an intersection when a distracted driver runs a red light. If the accident victim was speeding to get through the yellow light and hit the side of the distracted driver’s car, both drivers might bear fault for the accident.

Crashes Resulting from a Traffic Law Violation

When a driver violates a traffic law and the violation results in an accident, that driver will usually bear the fault for the accident. 

Pennsylvania uses the doctrine of negligence per se. Under this doctrine, an accident victim can use the driver’s violation of a traffic law to bypass the first two elements of negligence — duty and breach.

As a result, the accident victim only needs to prove the existence of their injuries and establish a causal link between the accident and the injuries.

Evaluating a Car Accident Case

An experienced lawyer can analyze a fact pattern and render an opinion on which party bears responsibility for any damages. 

If you have been involved in a car accident, you should consider talking to a lawyer about whether anyone can be held liable for your injuries. They can help you to determine legal strategies to pursue compensation after these and other common car accident scenarios.