WHO IS LIABLE IN A CAR ACCIDENT?
You might think that the other driver is the only possibly liable party in a car accident, but that’s not always the case. The liability must be tied to the cause of the accident, and while that might be the case more often than not, there are times when other parties are at least partially, if not entirely, responsible. At the Law Offices of Steven Zwick, we investigate the cause of the accident and then put together a case that links the liable party to your accident through that cause. Some of the parties that could be held liable include:
The Driver – If the driver of the other vehicle violated traffic laws, was driving recklessly or drunk, was texting while driving, or made some other error while driving and caused the accident, they will probably be the primarily liable party.
Another Driver – It’s possible that an additional car that didn’t sustain any damage could still be the cause of an accident if other drivers were avoiding the additional driver who was behaving unreasonably.
A Bicyclist or Pedestrian – Similar to having to avoid another driver leading to an accident, the same could happen in the case of a pedestrian or cyclist who put themselves in a position that caused drivers to make a risky maneuver to avoid them.
Government Entities – Generally, government entities are responsible for the management and upkeep of roads. So if poorly maintained road conditions were the cause of an accident, it could be the government that is liable.
Parts Manufacturers – Sometimes, a faulty part can cause a vehicle to become uncontrollable and lead to an accident. In those cases, it may be that the manufacturer of the part could be held liable.
Employer of a Commercial Vehicle – If the other vehicle in your accident was a commercial vehicle, it’s possible that the employer of the driver may be responsible if something on their part increased the likelihood of dangerous driving. Things like insufficient training or unreasonable expectations regarding delivery or transportation time could lead to the employer being liable.
Unless another driver deliberately used their vehicle to harm you, then any car accident claim is going to require that you prove negligence on the part of the other driver. A car accident claim is a personal injury claim, and California law for personal injury requires proving negligence. Establishing the negligence and fault of the other driver will allow damages to be awarded. There are three things that must be proved in order for negligence to be proved in a car accident claim. They are:
A Duty of Care – In the case of motor vehicles, this is pretty straightforward. Anyone operating a motor vehicle has a clear duty to handle their vehicle in a safe manner and not be a danger to others in the area.
A Breach of Duty – It must be shown that the driver failed to handle their vehicle in the manner a reasonably careful driver would have done.
Cause – The driver’s unsafe actions must be shown to be the reason that the accident occurred.
Proving these three elements is critical to any car accident claim. What we do at the Law Offices of Steven Zwick is help investigate your case and put together a case for negligence. A duty of care is fairly obvious in the case of any motor vehicle, and the majority of the argument centers on the breach and how that breach contributed to the accident.
One of the most important things we can bring to your case is our experience in preparing a strong argument for the liability of whoever caused your accident. Proving liability is the process of demonstrating a breach of duty and showing that the breach was the cause of the accident. The breach alone is not enough to prove liability. For instance, a driver may have done something like fail to signal a turn, but that isn’t necessarily the cause of an accident if another driver hit them while running a red light. Therefore, to prove liability, we gather together a variety of evidence, using anything that can demonstrate where the fault for the accident lies. This can include things like:
The Police Report – The police report is a good place to start when it comes to establishing fault. However, it’s important to remember that the police report is usually the product of a relatively quick, on-the-scene investigation. While the police do what they can with limited time and resources, there are plenty of situations where the police report is incorrect in its description of the accident and potential fault. A good lawyer can exploit any potential holes in a police report, which is why we go much further in our investigation of the accident.
Video of the Accident – Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to find a video of the accident, potentially from a dash cam or from a security camera on a nearby building. This footage can often be very helpful in proving fault.
Photos of the Accident – It’s important to take many photos of the scene of the accident. Things like the way the damage appears on the different vehicles and skid marks on the road can help us piece together what happened.
Expert Witnesses – In some cases, it may even be helpful to call in an expert witness to lend their knowledge to the situation. This could be mechanical if there was an issue with one of the vehicles, or it could be a crash expert who can recreate for the court what they believe occurred in the crash.
Eyewitness Testimony – If a third-party observer saw the accident occur, it may be helpful to present their perspective to the court.
We can help make sure our clients put together a comprehensive damage request to make to the court. Car accidents can have far-reaching implications for our lives, some of which are hard to recognize initially. That’s one of the areas that our experience proves to be valuable to the victims we work with. Things like medical bills and car damage repairs can be easy to understand, but things like missed future earnings, pain and suffering, and emotional distress are a bit more complex to give a valuation. We can help you calculate those and argue for a thorough damages plan. The damages that are paid out in car accident claims can come from three categories. They are:
Economic Damages – Anything that has an easily discovered monetary value is handled under economic damages. These are things that you might have a bill for, like medical expenses and care repairs. It can also include things like missed wages for the time you were out of work or even reduced future earning capacity if your injuries are significant enough that you’ve had to alter your career plans. If someone has died as a result of a car crash, this may include things like funeral and burial costs as well.
Non-Economic Damages – Some of the costs of an accident aren’t things that can be bought or sold, and those things are dealt with under non-economic damages. The court will consider a restitution amount for things like pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of consortium.
Punitive Damages – Sometimes, the behavior of the defendant in a claim is so egregious that the judge may want to add punitive damages to the case. These damages are meant to act as a kind of punishment for the actions of the defendant and as a deterrent for the behavior being repeated.
One of the things that could affect the potential damages awarded in a claim is that California uses a comparative fault system. This means that the fault for the accident can be shared amongst the parties involved. For instance, if you were hit by a drunk driver but were also speeding at the same time, it’s possible that the court might say you are 5% at fault for the accident and the drunk driver is 95% at fault, depending on the circumstances. The damages you can collect are proportionate to the fault of the other driver, so you could seek 95% of the damages from the drunk driver.
WHAT TO DO AFTER AN ACCIDENT
The immediate aftermath of an accident can be tremendously important to any future claim. Of course, no one is going to be able to do everything exactly in the right way for their case right after an accident. Injuries or a general state of shock might inhibit your ability to collect any evidence from the scene. However, there are some things that you or someone you trust should attempt to do after an accident if you have the capability to do so.
Call for Help – The first thing you always want to do after an accident is to make sure anyone with serious injuries gets help as quickly as possible. Calling 911 will also send the police to the scene. This will get the initial investigation process started. They will record their findings in the police report, which can later be used in your case.
Let the Paramedics Help – Even if you don’t think you have injuries, let the paramedics take a look. They are trained to handle traumatic situations and may be able to recognize a problem that you haven’t because of the shock.
Use Caution – Answer everything the police ask you honestly and clearly. Aside from the police, though, be very careful in discussing the particulars of the car accident with anyone. You want to be careful when talking with any other drivers involved, so especially when speaking with any insurance agents. If you say anything that sounds like an admission of fault, it could be used against you later.
Document the Accident – One of the most helpful kinds of evidence for understanding the accident and later attributing fault can be pictures and video of the scene. If you can’t do it yourself but have someone with you or even an independent witness who can, every little thing can help. Some of the pictures you might want to take should include:
All vehicles (even those without damage)
Damage to vehicles
The entire scene, with skid marks if there are any
Traffic signs in the area
Anything else that seems relevant
Get Contact Information – Don’t only rely on the police report for contact information. You’ll want to personally get contact information from anyone else involved in the accident: things like a full name, phone number, address, email address, and insurance information. If there are any eyewitnesses, it can be helpful to get their contact information as well.
Go for a Full Medical Assessment – It’s a very good idea to get a more thorough examination as soon as possible after the accident. The paramedics are trained to look for traumatic injuries and might not notice less immediately serious injuries from the accident. Also, because of the adrenaline and shock, you might not notice anything is wrong in the immediate aftermath of the accident. It’s critical to do this quickly because if there’s more time between the accident and an examination, the defendant could try to use that time to downplay the seriousness of the injury or even argue that it occurred well after the accident. Be sure to take good notes on anything the doctor tells you, and anything from them in writing can help.
Get the Damage to Your Vehicle Assessed – The insurance company may want one of their agents to take a look at the damage and come up with an estimate, but you will want to get another opinion on the situation as well. Again, it is a good idea to take thorough notes, and any paperwork that is given to you should be saved.
Contact the Law Offices of Steven Zwick – The sooner you reach out to us after the accident, the better we can help you. We can talk you through the next steps you need to take and help you understand the process of gathering evidence, negotiating, and, if necessary, filing a claim.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
If you’re in an accident, you obviously want to focus on any recovery you need. However, it’s important to start understanding the liability situation as quickly as possible. We can handle much of the heavy lifting, but a decision on filing a case needs to happen within two years of the accident. Therefore, the investigation needs to be started quickly so that negotiations can begin. Additionally, if it appears that the government or another public entity is to blame, the window for filing shrinks to six months. Don’t hesitate to contact us at the Law Offices of Steven Zwick.
GET HELP TO GET WHAT YOU DESERVE
If you’ve had your life disrupted by a car accident that was someone else’s, then you are entitled to restitution for the damage they’ve caused. However, it’s more than likely the case that you will have to fight to ensure you get that restitution. To give yourself a strong case to win that fight, you’re going to need a skilled, experienced legal team behind you. At the Law Offices of Steven Zwick, we have experience and skills that can benefit your case from start to finish. Contact us today if you need a team to help you get what you deserve.