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Auto Accident Litigation

By Aaron Larson
March, 2005


It is sometimes amazing that, as auto safety improves and with the wide use of airbags and other restraint devices, some extraordinarily serious accidents result in only minor injury. Sometimes, when reviewing pictures from car accident scenes, it is amazing to learn that the driver of a wreck that can barely be recognized as a car managed to escape with only bumps and bruises. Yet unfortunately, serious injuries still occur in the context of auto accidents, and they remain the leading cause of death for people aged 35 and younger.

Car Accident Litigation

In a typical lawsuit involving a motor vehicle accident, the driver of a vehicle determined to be at-fault for causing the accident will be sued by the driver of another vehicle involved in the accident. Sometimes the lawsuit will be by a passenger in the at-fault driver's car.

After the Accident...

Remain At The Scene - In accidents involving personal injury or significant damage to property, you should remain at the accident scene until the police authorize you to leave. Depending upon the extent of damage or injuries and the laws of your state, leaving without police permission may result in a charge of "leaving the scene of an accident" or of "hit and run". Also, if you do not remain to explain how the accident occurred, you may find that the other person involved in the accident has placed all responsiblity on you - and that version forms the basis for the police department's determination of fault.

Protect the Injured - If you are trained and competent to administer first aid to an injured person, try to help. Have somebody report the accident to the police. The person reporting the accident should be instructed to inform the police that people were injured in the accident, including the number of injured persons, so that appropriate emergency personnel can be summoned. If you are on the road, or your vehicle remains on the roadway, turn on the emergency flashers, and use flares or other appropriate devices to warn oncoming traffic of the accident.

Exchange Information - Obtain information about:

Do Not Admit Fault - You do not have to admit that you caused an accident, even if you believe you did. Allow the police to make their own determination of fault based upon the facts.

Get Medical Care - Sometimes people don't realize that they have suffered injury in a car accident, because of a post-accident adrenaline rush. Sometimes they know they suffered an injury but think it will get better by itself. Any delay in obtaining treatment has the potential first to complicate your recovery, and second to present an opportunity for the at-fault driver to try to claim that your injury did not result from the accident (perhaps instead resulting from a subsequent accident or event).

Collecting Evidence

Assuming the police do not photograph the accident scene, you may wish to get a camera and take some pictures. Pictures can help establish how an accident occurred, particularly where conditions which contributed to the accident are temporary in nature. For example, it can be helpful to have pictures taken before weather conditions change, if weather was a contributing factor in an accident. Also, if a malfunctioning traffic signal or misplaced construction cones or barrels played a role in the accident, a picture will help establish the hazard that existed at the time of the accident, but in the absence of pictures it may be difficult to demonstrate the nature or significance of the hazard.

Special Issues

Road Design - Sometimes the design of a road, highway, or rail crossing will contribute to a motor vehicle accident. Depending upon the law and circumstances, it may be possible to bring a complaint against the governmental entity or railroad company which was responsible for creating a particularly dangerous intersection ro stretch of road.

No Fault - Some states have passed variations of "no fault" auto accident laws, which may restrict the circumstances under which you can bring a personal injury suit, and may make you responsible for insuring for certain types of injury or economic loss. (For example, you may obtain emergency medical care and rehabilitation, or an intial period of wage loss benefits, through your own insurance as opposed to the at-fault driver.)

Truck Accidents - Accidents involving "big rig" trucks may implicate special rules and regulations, as the drivers of semi tractor-trailers are responsible to follow certain state and federal safety laws and regulations which do not apply to other drivers. If a truck driver is demonstrated to have violated the safety rules, for example by driving too many hours without sufficient sleep, it may be easier to establish liability for an accident caused by that driver.

Vehicle Defects - Sometimes a defect in a vehicle will create a special hazard in an accident. For example, an improperly designed seat belt may fail, or an improperly installed seat may detach from the floorboard of a vehicle. After-market modifications may also at times render a vehicle unsafe, or create a hazard to other drivers. Where defective equipment plays a role in an auto accident, it may be possible to establish a product liability claim or negligence claim against the manufacturer or installer of the equipment.

Owner Liability - Sometimes the driver of a vehicle won't be its owner, but will be driving somebody else's vehicle with that person's permission and consent. Under such circumstances, depending upon state law, the owner is typically responsible for any injuries resulting from the driver's negligence.

Employer Liability - If an employee is acting within the course and scope of employment at the time he causes an automobile accident, it may be possible to include his employer in an injury lawsuit on the grounds of "respondeat superior" or "vicarious liability". Where the employer is vicariously responsible for the negligence of an employee, judgment is ordinarily "joint and several" meaning that if the employee cannot pay the judgment the employer is oblgated to pay its entire amount. An employer might also be liable on theories of negligent hiring or supervision, if the employer did not exercise due care in exclusing unsafe drivers from jobs which involve driving activity.

About The Author
Aaron Larson is a Michigan lawyer whose practice emphasizes civil appeals and litigation consulting. Copyright © 2005, Aaron Larson, all rights reserved.
As legal advice must be tailored to the specific facts and circumstances of your case, information cannot substitute for the advice of qualified legal counsel. All information on this website is believed to be accurate as of the time it was authored. However, due to the possibility of changes in the law since that time, and as personal injury laws can vary significantly from state to state, you should verify any information you find on this site with a licensed legal professional in your state. All information on this site is presented on an "as is" basis. Your use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.