What if I Am Partly to Blame for My Car Accident?
Determining fault and liability in car accidents is rarely clear-cut. Sometimes one party may hold most of the blame while the other contributed to the accident to some degree.
If you believe you may be partially at fault for your car accident, you need to understand how this can affect your ability to recover damages, how your state’s laws will come into play, and how a car accident lawyer can help you with your claim.
Driver’s Duty of Care and a Breach of Duty
The legal term duty of care refers to drivers’ legal obligation to operate their vehicles in a reasonably safe, responsible, and cautious manner to not cause harm to others on the road.
This duty includes following traffic regulations, maintaining vehicle control, and being aware of your surroundings. It can also include avoiding driving in inclement weather, when overly tired or distracted, or even when you have not properly maintained your vehicle, such as driving on worn tires.
When a driver’s unsafe, unreasonable, or careless actions result in harm, they have breached their legal duty to protect other public roadway users from harm.
Examples of Breaches of the Duty of Care in Car Accidents
Breaches of the duty of care in car accidents can take various forms.
Drivers may breach their duty of care by:
- Speeding or driving too fast for road conditions.
- Being distracted while driving, including using a cell phone or other devices.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Failing to yield the right of way.
- Not using turn signals or failing to follow other traffic regulations.
- Driving aggressively or exhibiting road rage.
- Failing to maintain their vehicle adequately or choosing to operate it under dangerous driving conditions.
The Importance of Establishing Breach of Duty in Personal Injury Claims
You must prove that the other party breached their duty of care and that the breach directly caused the accident and resulting injuries to succeed in a personal injury claim stemming from a car accident. If both parties breached their respective duties of care, the court will use comparative or contributory negligence to determine each party’s share of the fault and how it affects the claim.
What Are Comparative and Contributory Negligence?
Comparative negligence reduces the recoverable compensation to the degree that each party’s negligence contributed to the accident. Contributory negligence, however, prohibits the recovery of damages if the injured party contributed to their injuries in any way.
An experienced car accident lawyer will make a strong case to ensure these concepts don’t devalue your claim.
Comparative or Contributory: Which Principle Applies in Your State?
Your lawyer will need to know whether your state applies comparative or contributory negligence because it can significantly affect your compensation in a personal injury claim.
You can divide states with comparative negligence laws into those that use pure comparative negligence (where you can recover damages regardless of your degree of fault) and those that use modified comparative negligence (where you can recover damages only if your fault is below a certain threshold, usually 50 percent).
The states that practice contributory negligence include:
- District of Columbia
- North Carolina
Those with pure comparative negligence laws include:
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
Those with modified comparative negligence laws include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
An experienced attorney who understands your state’s negligence laws can explain these intricate legal concepts and guide you on the best course of action based on your circumstances.
Other Factors Affecting the Value of Your Claim
While contributory and comparative negligence can significantly impact your ability to recover damages after a car accident, several other factors can also impact your claim’s value.
One factor is the insurance coverage available through all parties involved in the accident, as insurance is most often the source of compensation for car accidents and is subject to policy limits.
Insurance policy limits are the maximum dollar amount an insurer will pay for costs associated with a claim. If a claim’s value exceeds the coverage available, the insured might need to pay the remaining compensation out-of-pocket.
If the at-fault party has a low auto liability policy limit, you might find it difficult to obtain compensation for the total expenses and effects of your injury. If your claim’s value exceeds the limits of the at-fault party’s insurance, in most cases, you can claim from your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to cover some damages. An experienced attorney can help you determine all insurance sources available to you.
Your car accident lawyer will need to know the statute of limitations for your claim. This term refers to the time you have after the accident to file your claim. Failing to meet the statute of limitations can permanently bar you from seeking compensation through settlement negotiations or the court.
How to Value and Settle Your Claim?
While many accident claimants want to know right away how much their case is worth, answering that question often takes a while. Your attorney will likely wait until you have reached maximum medical improvement, meaning your condition probably won’t improve even with further treatment, before attempting to establish the value of your claim.
This is a good time to evaluate the claim, as your attorney will have an accurate picture of your medical treatment expenses and additional expenses resulting from permanent injuries.
To value your claim, your car accident attorney will consider:
- The insurance available for compensation
- Your actual out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the accident, such as medical expenses, income loss, and property damage
- The severity of your injuries
- Any associated psychological impact, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress.
Initially, your attorney will send a demand letter to the at-fault party’s insurance company, outlining the case facts, the extent of your injuries, and the compensation sought.
Permanent injuries resulting in disabilities that prevent you from earning an income in the future result in higher-valued claims. Permanent injuries are also known as catastrophic injuries, and some common catastrophic injuries include traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, traumatic limb amputations, and the loss of a primary sense, such as hearing or sight.
Negotiating a Settlement
Many people believe that courts are always responsible for settling car accident claims, but due to the expense and time involved in litigation, along with other factors, your attorney and the insurance company’s claims adjuster will usually try to settle your car accident claim out of court. After filing the claim, your attorney will begin the process of settlement negotiations.
The insurance company will review your claim to determine:
- Whether the policy covers the type of damages sought.
- Whether the insured caused the accident and whether there were other liable parties (including the claimant).
- How much compensation you should receive, if any, based on the level of the insured’s liability and whether the accident occurred in a state with contributory or comparative negligence rules.
Insurance claims adjusters must protect the company’s bottom line, which means avoiding paying out on claims if there is a reason not to. If the insurer cannot find a reason to deny the claim, they will respond to your attorney’s demand with a counteroffer, and negotiations will continue until your lawyer and the insurer reach an agreement or the case proceeds to trial. Even after filing the claim as a lawsuit, you can still settle.
Filing a lawsuit is often the catalyst for more productive settlement negotiations with the at-fault party’s insurer, as they know if they fail to make a fair settlement offer, they will incur the expense and uncertainty of litigation. The insurance company can still make settlement offers and negotiate with your attorney after the trial has started, as long as the court has not yet decided on an outcome.
An Attorney Can Help You Determine Fault and Maximize Your Claim
Partial fault for a car accident does not usually preclude you from seeking compensation for your injuries. Your ability to seek compensation depends on the state laws relevant to your case and how significantly your negligence contributed to your injuries.
You might blame yourself, but you might discover that your actions leading up to the accident did not cause the accident. An experienced lawyer can answer your legal questions about your claim during a no-cost, no-obligation case evaluation.
Retaining the services of an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you understand the concept of fault and how it impacts your personal injury claim.
Your personal injury attorney in Phoenix can advise you on state-specific laws and regulations and ensure you meet all relevant deadlines and procedural requirements. A lawyer can gather the evidence you need to prove that someone else’s negligence caused your injury and perform other services required to assist you through the process.