Many car crashes occur because of drivers’ careless behavior. There are a great number of negligent activities that can lead to accidents. For example, motorists cause collisions by driving distracted, driving drunk, and disobeying traffic laws. Victims of such accidents often question if they may recover compensation from other drivers.
Fortunately, you can sue for negligence in a car accident. However, your ability to file a lawsuit against an at-fault motorist will depend on your state’s laws. Certain states have no-fault car insurance laws restricting a victim’s ability to bring a case against another driver. Other states follow at-fault car insurance laws where no such restrictions exist. In either case, plaintiffs must prove that their injuries were caused by the defendant’s negligent conduct for their claims to succeed. Successful plaintiffs will have the opportunity to recover a wide range of economic and non-economic damages related to their injuries.
Contact our experienced Baltimore car accident lawyers by calling Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (301) 381-4912 for a free case review.
What Constitutes Negligence in a Car Accident?
When describing negligence, people might use a layman definition. For example, people might use words like “careless” or “reckless” to describe an act of negligence. When filing a lawsuit, negligence is a legal concept made up of four specific legal elements. We must prove that the defendant’s actions meet this legal definition if we are to be successful in court.
Duty of Care
The first legal element in the definition of negligence is duty. This element encompasses the defendant’s duty of care they owed to the plaintiff. You can also think of this as a legal obligation to act or refrain from acting under a specific set of circumstances.
A defendant’s duty depends on the specific situation and the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant. In car accident cases, the defendant’s duty has widely been held to involve driving with reasonable safety under the circumstances while obeying traffic laws.
In short, a defendant’s legal duty in a car accident case requires them to drive as safely as possible under the circumstances present at the time. If the circumstances involve rain, snow, darkness, or heavy traffic, what is considered “reasonable” might change.
Breach of Duty
The second legal element of negligence is the defendant’s breach or violation of their legal duty of care. Again, the breach may change or differ between cases, depending on what the defendant did to cause the accident. Common examples of a breach of duty of care involve traffic violations like speeding, running red lights, or driving while intoxicated.
Evidence of a breach can present a challenge to plaintiffs. In some cases, defendants are issued traffic citations by the police at the scene of the accident, and those citations might be used as evidence. In other cases, it is unclear how the accident happened until much later, and there might not be a paper trail like traffic tickets to rely on.
The third element is causation, which links the defendant’s breach of duty and the accident itself. Essentially, proving causation means proving that the breach was the direct and proximate cause of the accident. It is not enough just to establish that a breach of duty occurred. That breach must be the direct cause of your injuries.
Defendants often try to challenge this particular element by claiming that someone else caused the crash or even that the plaintiff is to blame. Often, plaintiffs must be prepared to meet such allegations head-on with proof that they did nothing to contribute to the crash.
Finally, you must establish the existence of damages. Even if all the other elements of negligence are present, you cannot sue if you did not experience any injuries or losses. For example, you cannot sue if a negligent, speeding driver almost hits your car. They must have actually hit your car. Your damages must be real, not hypothetical. You cannot sue for a close call.
Examples of Negligent Driving
As briefly mentioned earlier, negligent driving might take various forms, and finding evidence of a breach can be difficult, depending on the situation. Below are several common examples of negligent driving that might constitute a breach of a driver’s duty of care on the road.
Speeding is so common on the road that most drivers have done it at one point or another. While going a few miles per hour over the limit is typical, going any faster can quickly become dangerous. Speeding is especially dangerous under certain conditions. For example, speeding on a road with numerous curves and turns is extremely dangerous, as navigating those curves safely is more difficult.
Similarly, speeding in bad weather is a recipe for disaster. If the roads are wet, icy, or visibility is low, speeding could cause a severe accident. If the other driver was ticked by law enforcement for speeding, we can use that ticket as evidence in your lawsuit.
Distractions behind the wheel are incredibly common nowadays. With things like cell phones, tablets, and other electronics in vehicles, it is becoming increasingly difficult for drivers to maintain their focus on the road. As such, accidents caused by distracted drivers are common.
If we believe the other driver was on their phone when they caused the crash, we can try to subpoena their phone records to find proof. If their phone was used to make calls or send texts when the accident happened, we might have evidence to help us prove negligence.
Driving Under the Influence
Driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances is so dangerous that many drivers lose their licenses for long periods of time. A drunk driver often cannot react quickly enough to avoid hitting other drivers, and they often speed and drive erratically because of their dulled reflexes.
Fortunately, the police tend to be heavily involved in accidents involving DUIs, and they might turn up evidence we can use in our case. Perhaps the most important evidence is the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) which the police should have measured after arrest.
Not using Turn Signals or Other Required Safety Measures
Drivers are required to use various safety measures to avoid collisions on the road. Among these safety measures are lights and signals. For example, if a driver is making a turn or changing lanes, they must use their rear turn signals to notify other drivers of what they are doing. Failing to do so leaves other drivers in the dark and puts everyone on the road at risk of an accident.
Improper lane changes can occur because a motorist failed to use their turn signals or because they attempted a lane change in an illegal zone. For example, a careless motorist can cause a devastating crash by forgetting to use their turn signals before changing lanes on a highway.
Improper left turns are another form of negligence that leads to many car accidents. For example, a driver can cause a serious head-on collision by failing to yield the right-of-way before attempting a left turn at an intersection. Such accidents can lead to devastating injuries.
Tailgating describes the practice of driving too closely behind the car in front of you. Tailgating drivers can cause harmful rear-end collisions because they do not have time to slow down when the car in front of them brakes. Such accidents frequently occur on highways and during periods of high traffic congestion.
Running Red Lights
Also, many accidents are caused by drivers who run red lights. These accidents often happen during rush hour, when frustrated drivers become impatient and behave erratically.
After such accidents, traffic camera footage is often used to prove which driver was at fault. If you were injured because of an accident caused by a driver who ran a red light, our car accident lawyers can help gather the evidence required to support your lawsuit.
Lastly, wrong-way driving is also a common cause of car crashes. Wrong-way driving refers to traveling the wrong way down a one-way street. Wrong-way driving can lead to severe, head-on collisions with oncoming traffic.
Motorists traveling down a one-way street are typically caught off-guard by wrong-way drivers. Accordingly, such collisions are often unavoidable and can cause a great deal of harm. Victims of crashes caused by wrong-way drivers should call our car accident lawyers for help seeking monetary damages in car accident lawsuits.
How to File a Lawsuit for a Car Accident Causes by Negligence
In no-fault car insurance states, your ability to file a lawsuit against another driver is restricted. Typically, you will seek compensation through your own insurer, regardless of fault. You may only step outside of no-fault rules to bring a case against an at-fault driver under certain circumstances.
The ability to file claims against other drivers will involve either a monetary or “serious injury” threshold. Injured parties may only seek compensation from other motorists if they suffered a serious injury or incurred a certain value of medical expenses. Different states will establish varying conditions for when at-fault drivers may be held responsible for accidents they cause.
“Serious Injury” Thresholds to Sue Other Drivers
Some states will use a serious injury threshold to determine when victims of car accidents may bring lawsuits against other drivers. Under a serious injury threshold, an injury must qualify as “serious” under a state’s statutory scheme for an at-fault driver to be held responsible for a crash. Different states will set forth varying descriptions regarding which types of injuries will meet this threshold. However, the following are examples of injuries that are typically considered serious by various states’ no-fault laws:
- Broken bones
- Permanent injuries
- Disabling injuries
Numerous jurisdictions apply this rule. If you were injured in a state that follows a serious injury threshold, our experienced Maryland car accident lawyers can help determine if your injury will qualify.
Monetary Thresholds to Sue Other Drivers
Other states that follow no-fault car insurance laws will use a monetary threshold to determine when at-fault drivers may be sued. Under a monetary threshold, the medical expenses related to your accident must exceed a certain dollar amount to bring a lawsuit against the driver who caused your crash. Different states will apply various thresholds for suing other drivers.
Any medical expenses related to your injury may count toward reaching this threshold. For example, the cost of ambulances, nursing, prescription medication, and physical therapy may all be counted. However, defendants are usually represented by insurance companies who may try to assert that certain treatments were not necessary or did not relate to your injuries. Our car accident lawyers can help deal with insurance companies and ensure that all of your eligible medical expenses will count towards reaching the monetary threshold for suing other drivers in your state.
Many states also include lost wages and potentially other economic damages as part of the damages that can be counted to reach this threshold.
Suing for Property Damage in No-Fault States
Additionally, claims for property damage are typically not governed by states’ no-fault laws. This means that, even in no-fault states, victims can still seek compensation for property damage from other drivers after car accidents. Property damage is typically calculated using the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle. Our Kent County car accident lawyers can help recover compensation for property damage in your case.
Choice No-Fault States
Lastly, three no-fault states follow unique “choice no-fault” car insurance laws. Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and New Jersey allow drivers to choose between a no-fault or fault-based policy when purchasing insurance. In this system, your ability to file a lawsuit against another driver after a car accident depends on the type of insurance you purchased.
In Kentucky and New Jersey, if a motorist does not intentionally choose one option, they will be entered into a no-fault policy. However, in Pennsylvania, the default system is a fault-based policy.
Choosing an insurance policy in a state that follows choice no-fault rules can be a confusing endeavor. Fortunately, our experienced car accident lawyers can help determine which policy you purchased and evaluate your ability to seek damages from another driver.
Other states might have add-on first-party benefits such as MedPay that work similarly to no-fault insurance.
Suing for Negligence After a Car Accident in At-Fault States
The majority of states follow at-fault insurance laws. In states that follow at-fault car insurance laws, other drivers may always be held liable for collisions they cause. No restrictions exist regarding which victims may file cases against other drivers. If you can prove that another motorist caused or contributed to your accident, you may seek compensation from that driver in a car accident lawsuit. The at-fault driver’s insurance company usually pays for damages.
However, proving fault in a car accident lawsuit is not always easy. Our experienced car accident lawyers can help fight defendants’ insurance companies to establish fault in your case.
How to Prove Negligence in a Car Accident
For a car accident lawsuit to be successful, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s negligent actions caused the crash. Each of these elements discussed earlier must be established for a car accident lawsuit to succeed. Unfortunately, analyzing them can be difficult. Our experienced Rockville car accident lawyers can help assess the strength of your case by applying these elements to the facts of your case during a free case review.
Several forms of evidence may be used to prove that another driver was at fault for your crash. The following are common types of evidence utilized by our experienced car accident lawyers.
Witness testimony can be very valuable when proving fault for a car crash. Witnesses can help explain to courts how or why a particular accident occurred. They may provide oral or written statements pointing to the collision’s root cause. For example, a witness may state that they watched as the defendant sped through a red light before colliding with the plaintiff.
Victims should always attempt to retrieve contact information for any witnesses to their accidents. Contact information should include witnesses’ names, addresses, and phone numbers. Our team can provide guidance when reaching out to witnesses for their statements.
Physical Evidence from the Scene
Physical evidence from the scene of a crash is another common type of evidence used to prove that another driver was at fault for an accident. Numerous forms of physical evidence may be used. For instance, an opened liquor bottle found in a defendant’s car may be used to show that they were drunk when a collision occurred. You can contact our experienced car accident lawyers for help assessing the weight of physical evidence from the scene in your case.
However, some evidence may be hard to bring into court or otherwise preserve. In such cases, potential plaintiffs may document evidence in other ways.
Photos from the Scene
Photos from the scene of a crash may also be used to prove that another driver was at fault. For example, photos showing a crushed vehicle at the scene of a crash may be used to show that another motorist was driving at high speeds when a crash happened.
Photos from the scene can also be used to disprove a defendant’s assertions regarding the cause of a crash. For instance, an at-fault defendant may allege that poor road conditions actually caused an accident. In that case, photos from the scene showing adequate road conditions may be used to disprove the defendant’s theory as to how the accident happened.
Victims should always take photos at the scene of an accident if possible. Our team can help evaluate photos from the scene of your accident during a free case review.
After any injurious accident, a police officer should visit the scene to draft an official accident report. Accident reports are often the first documents lawyers and insurance companies analyze when determining fault for a crash. The following information may be provided in an officer’s report:
- Names and contact information for all drivers involved
- Statements from drivers involved
- Statements from witnesses
- A drawn diagram of a crash
- Information regarding the property damaged by the crash
- An officer’s personal notes regarding the cause of a crash
Even though they often cannot be entered into evidence in a court case, accident reports can still be very valuable when building a car accident case. If you were injured because of a car crash, our Towson car accident lawyers can help obtain a copy of your official accident report.
Traffic Camera Footage
Furthermore, traffic camera footage can also be helpful when proving that another driver was responsible for a crash. These surveillance cameras have been set up at many intersections and along highways across the country. Footage from traffic cameras can help prove fault by showing the events that unfolded before, during, and after an accident.
Unfortunately, recovering traffic camera footage can be a frustrating task. Those in control of such evidence may not act cooperatively. You should reach out to an attorney for help acquiring copies of relevant surveillance footage in your case.
Personal recollections can also be used to prove fault in a car accident lawsuit. It can be difficult to remember all the relevant details surrounding your accident. Any one of these details may be crucial when building your case. Accordingly, you should attempt to record a personal recollection of your crash while your memory is fresh. Your remembrance of an accident can be highly useful to our car accident lawyers when proving another driver was at fault in your case.
Expert Witness Testimony
Lastly, expert witness testimony can be used to prove fault for many car accidents. Expert witnesses are considered experts because of their training, education, and experience in their respective fields. Such witnesses can be brought in to explain a variety of complex theories regarding the causes of accidents. For example, an engineering expert may be summoned to assert how a defective braking system contributed to a crash. Furthermore, an accident reconstruction expert may be called in to explain how a defendant’s improper lane change led to the accident at issue. Our Aberdeen car accident lawyers can help summon the appropriate expert witnesses to support your claim.
Your bodily injuries are extremely important in your law and damages calculations. We need copies of your medical records pertaining to these injuries to prove just how badly you were injured. These records may also include details about the cost of treatment, which should factor heavily into your economic damages.
Medical records may also be used to back up claims for non-economic losses like pain and suffering. If your records clearly indicate severe injuries, it is reasonable that physical and mental pain and suffering should follow.
What Damages Can Be Recovered from a Negligent Driver in a Car Accident Lawsuit?
No-fault insurance claimants usually can only recover economic damages such as medical expenses and lost wages related to their accidents. However, plaintiffs in car accident lawsuits can recover a wide range of economic and non-economic damages related to their injuries. The following categories of damages may be recovered.
Pain and Suffering
Plaintiffs in car accident lawsuits may recover damages for the physical pain and emotional suffering they endured because of their crashes. Damages for pain and suffering can be hard to quantify. However, the impact these damages have on victims’ lives can be immense.
When calculating damages for pain and suffering, courts will typically look at the impact of certain car accident injuries on a plaintiff’s life. Many car accident victims suffer injuries that inhibit their ability to enjoy the same hobbies or activities they did before their collisions. In such cases, plaintiffs may recover compensation for their lost enjoyment of life.
Certain injuries may never fully heal. However, the financial compensation available in car accident lawsuits can go a long way toward getting victims’ lives back on track. The assistance of our car accident lawyers can be very helpful when pursuing monetary damages for pain and suffering in your case.
Plaintiffs may also recover damages for medical expenses in car accident lawsuits. Many car accident injuries require expensive, long-term medical care. Accordingly, plaintiffs may recover compensation for all past, current, and future expenses related to their car accident injuries. These damages cover all costs, from ambulance rides to surgeries and post-operative treatment.
Damages for medical expenses are typically established through medical records and bills. Accordingly, you should seek prompt medical treatment after an accident. Proper documentation is required to obtain financial compensation. Furthermore, defendants and their insurance companies may use a delay in medical treatment to allege that you were not truly hurt. By letting an injury heal on its own, you may inhibit your ability to recover damages for medical expenses in your case. Our car accident lawyers can help find the right doctors for you.
Additionally, plaintiffs in car accident lawsuits may recover damages for lost wages. Many car accident injuries force victims to spend time away from their jobs while they recover. Therefore, such victims may receive compensation for any lost income incurred while they were away. Damages for lost wages will usually be calculated using a worker’s average weekly income.
In some cases, car accident victims cannot perform the same tasks they could before their crashes because of their injuries. Such victims can recover monetary damages related to their lost future earning capacity. However, proving a lost future earning capacity can be difficult. Expert witness testimony is usually required to establish damages for lost wages in the future. Accordingly, the assistance of our Bel Air car accident lawyers can be very beneficial when pursuing damages for a lost future earning capacity in your lawsuit.
Damages for out-of-pocket expenses are another type of damages that may be awarded in car accident lawsuits. There is a wide range of out-of-pocket expenses victims can incur because of their injuries. For example, a plaintiff may incur out-of-pocket expenses for the cost of traveling to and from their medical appointments. Further, a victim may sustain out-of-pocket expenses for the cost of child care while they recover from their injuries and attend court proceedings.
Out-of-pocket expenses are typically established through financial documents like receipts. Accordingly, you should preserve receipts for expenses you incur because of your car accident injury.
After most car accidents, victims will incur some degree of damage to their vehicle. Accordingly, plaintiffs in car accident lawsuits may also seek damages for property damage. Property damage is generally calculated using the cost of repair or replacement of a vehicle. Our car accident lawyers can help pursue compensation for property damage in your case.
You can also include the costs of destroyed personal belongings. For example, if you had your expensive laptop computer in the car during the accident and it was destroyed, the cost of your computer should be added to your total damages.
Lastly, in rare cases, plaintiffs in car accident cases may recover punitive damages. Punitive damages act to punish grossly negligent defendants and discourage their behavior. For example, punitive damages may be awarded to a plaintiff injured because of an accident caused by a drunk driver traveling the wrong way down a one-way street. Further, punitive damages may be awarded to a victim injured by a motorist engaging in drag racing on a public road.
Our experienced Bethesda car accident lawyers can help explain whether punitive damages may be awarded in your case during a free case review. Punitive damages are based on a much higher degree of negligence, making them hard to prove in court. Different states also have different rules regarding limitations on punitive damages.
Timeline for a Car Accident Negligence Lawsuit
The timeline of a car accident case might be hard to predict and is based on the unique circumstances of the accident and the parties involved. However, understanding how certain laws affect your claims and the legal channels we need to move through, you can better understand how long your case might take.
Statutes of Limitations
Time limits to file certain types of lawsuits are set forth by states’ statutes of limitations. Different states will establish varying statutes of limitations. Failure to file your lawsuit per your state’s statute of limitations could cause you to forfeit your claim.
However, regardless of your state’s established statute of limitations, you should contact our car accident lawyers immediately after your crash for help filing your case. Crucial evidence to support your claim may become difficult to collect over time. For example, witnesses can forget important details, and physical evidence can become lost. The sooner you attempt to file your case, the easier the task of gathering evidence will be.
As discussed in more detail below, filing an insurance claim is often a necessary and time-consuming part of your lawsuit. In states with no-fault insurance laws, drivers might be required to file insurance claims before filing lawsuits, and they might only file lawsuits under very specific conditions.
Additionally, your insurance claim takes time to complete. The insurance company might be hesitant to pay for your extensive damages, and we might go back and forth with insurance adjustors fighting over compensation until a settlement is reached. Even if a settlement is reached, it might not be sufficient to cover all your needs, and you might still file a lawsuit.
Filing Your Complaint
Furthermore, there are numerous requirements victims must comply with when filing car accident cases. For instance, plaintiffs must file their lawsuits in the correct court, attach necessary supporting documents, pay court fees, serve all named defendants, and avoid filing a frivolous claim. Those who do not adhere to any of these conditions may be forced to re-file their cases. By filing your lawsuit early, you can afford more time to re-file your case if required.
A settlement might be a good option if you want to speed up the process and get at least some of your damages paid for. Settlements are private agreements that occur outside of court. Information exchanged in settlement negotiations is often barred from being used in the courtroom.
If you have a lot of strong evidence, and the defendant would have a tough time refuting your claims, they might be more willing to settle out of court. On the other hand, if your case is more evenly matched, reaching a favorable settlement agreement might be more challenging.
If you do settle, you do not need to go through a trial, and you might cut short the time you spend on your case. However, settlements typically provide less compensation than a trial.
Dealing with Insurance Companies When Suing for Car Accident Injuries
One of the most frustrating parts of filing a car accident lawsuit involves dealing with insurance companies. Defendants are usually represented by insurance companies who will hire teams of people to dispute various elements of plaintiffs’ claims. The guidance and support of our experienced Bowie car accident lawyers can be very valuable when dealing with insurance companies in your case. The following are examples of ways our attorneys can help.
Many courts will use a form of comparative negligence when awarding damages in a car accident lawsuit. Under the doctrine of comparative negligence, damages will be awarded using percentages of fault. Accordingly, if a plaintiff was 30% responsible for their accident and a defendant was 70% liable, the defendant must pay for 70% of the damages caused by the crash while the plaintiff must account for the remaining 30%. Furthermore, in some states, plaintiffs who are over 50% to blame will be precluded from filing car accident lawsuits.
Accordingly, insurance companies will often try to shift blame for a collision. By shifting blame onto the plaintiff, a defendant’s insurance company can avoid paying the full value of a particular claim. Our experienced car accident lawyers can help ease plaintiffs’ stress by fighting insurance companies to establish that a negligent defendant was at-fault.
Assessing Settlement Offers
In most car accident cases, plaintiffs will face the difficult task of settling their lawsuit or going to trial. If a settlement agreement is reached, a defendant will pay a plaintiff an agreed-upon amount of monetary damages in exchange for their case being dropped. Plaintiffs who settle early can obtain financial compensation more quickly. Furthermore, parties who reach settlement agreements can save on the immense costs associated with going to trial.
Still, not all settlement offers are acceptable. Insurance companies usually want to settle cases as cheaply as possible. In those cases, victims may consider taking their case to trial. At trial, plaintiffs will have the opportunity to recover additional compensation. However, those who are unsuccessful at trial risk receiving nothing for their injuries. Our car accident lawyers can help determine the true value of your claim, so you can decide if settling your claim or going to trial is the right decision for you.
Speak with Our Car Accident Lawyers to Determine if Your Accident was Caused by Negligence
If you were injured because of a car accident, seek guidance and support from our experienced Columbia car accident lawyers by calling Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (301) 381-4912 for a free case review.