The Finger Pointing Game – Determining Fault in an Auto Accident

By | May 20, 2011

Determining fault in an auto accident can be a little bit like playing “cops and robbers” as a kid – you start wondering “who got who first.” But even though this can, at times, seem like a childish game, it’s important to remember just how crucial the question of fault is in an auto accident – after all, the driver who’s at fault will often have the insurance that pays the bills. There’s also a question of who might get sued for further damages if something else happened as the result of the fault of one specific driver.It’s pretty serious stuff, and it’s serious not only because it involves money, but it has the potential to involve human suffering.  Not all car accidents are as serious as others, but understanding why fault is so important is the first step in understanding the finger-pointing game. How should you proceed from here?  Well, continue reading the rest of this article and you should have a better idea of determining fault in an auto accident so that you’re not worried about finger-pointing, but instead thinking two steps ahead of the other driver.

1.  Liability and What it Means Exactly

We’ve all heard the legal term “liability,” but it doesn’t mean a whole lot to us because we aren’t lawyers.  But when you get involved in an auto accident, the word “liability” suddenly becomes a lot more important. Why is that?  Because liability is essentially the legal word for “fault,” – whose fault it is.  What you might think is someone’s “fault” in the non-legal world might be entirely different than who officially has legal “liability” for a specific auto accident.  These surprises are one reason it’s important to tell a lawyer about all of the details involved in your case – you might be surprised to find out which part of the auto accident means the other driver had liability.

Liability can lead to other words like negligence – negligence is when you wrong someone else not because you intended to, but out of your own ignorance or the failure to do the right thing.  If someone was driving with negligence, in the legal sense, then they were at fault even if you’re the one who hit the other car first.  Understanding the difference between who-hit-who and finger-pointing and the actual legal ramifications of an auto accident means you’re starting to get the entire legal concept of “fault.” Or, more accurately, “liability.”

Actually determining who’s liable for damages can be difficult, however, so let’s look at how someone might discern the legal ramifications of an auto accident.

2.  Determining the Fault

This is where things can get a little tricky for someone in their first (and hopefully last) auto accident.  Determining the fault for the accident requires looking at things from a number of angles, which means you’ll have to think outside the box for a bit to really understand it.  You’ll also have to see things from the other driver’s perspective if you want to understand the liability in your auto accident’s case.  So let’s take a look at how this happens.

The first thing to consider is the basic “driver duties” that are automatically prescribed to each driver on the road. Even if you hit the other car, if it was their job to look out for oncoming traffic, then they will be the ones at fault because of their “driver duties.” For example, you can’t park a car in the middle of the road and get mad at someone else for hitting you – even though they hit you, it was clearly you who was in the wrong. The driver duties can include issues like avoidance, looking out for other cars, and obeying traffic rules. Someone running a red light who gets hit by another car is at fault because they ran the red light!

Other issues, like how much the drivers tried to avoid the accident, can come in to play.  Imagine if both drivers appeared to be doing their driver duties, yet one car refused to yield while another tried to.  Which car looks more at fault in that case?  Obviously it’s the car that didn’t yield and didn’t exercise caution.  If both cars had acted like the car that yielded, then the accident would have probably been avoided.  That’s how you need to think about your individual car accident from a legal standpoint.

Are things always so clear-cut?   Of course not.  Sometimes both drivers were disobeying their driver’s duties; sometimes both drivers thought they were doing the correct thing.  These types of issues on the road arise because we drive so much; complicated accidents are bound to happen at times.  You’d be surprised how many good and cautious drivers have had accidents – although that’s no reason to be good and cautious all the time, as your obeying of “driver’s duties” can still mean that you win an auto accident case.

What will you do now that you have some information on determining fault in an auto accident case?  Well, hopefully you’ll talk things over with a lawyer, but it can’t hurt to write down as many details about the accident as possible.  You might discover some law of the road or some driver’s duty that the other person wasn’t obeying when they got in the accident, and if you can prove that’s the case, then you might be able to determine that the other person was indeed at fault.

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