Meliha Perez Halpern is now Senior Counsel at ChasenBoscolo

Personal Injury Law 101: An Introduction to Auto Accident Negligence

Accidents can happen when you least expect them. If you’ve been injured in an accident—such as a crash on the Beltway—your access to legal recourse will depend on your ability to show how the accident happened and who was responsible. Auto accident cases, as with most personal injury cases, revolve around the question of negligence. In basic legal terms, you and every other driver on the road must take “reasonable care” to avoid causing harm to others. When anyone fails to act with reasonable care, they can be held liable for another person’s injuries, illness, or in extreme cases, death.

Most auto accident cases rely on a common-sense approach to the concept of negligence. You must first prove that you were injured as a result of the accident, or that an existing injury or disability was made worse by the accident. You must then show that the other party’s negligent or careless actions created the conditions that caused your accident.

Who is to blame for the accident?

  • If another driver’s careless actions directly caused your injury—for example, they drifted into your lane and hit your vehicle because they were texting while driving—that individual is legally responsible.
  • If your own carelessness was the primary reason for the accident, or if the defendant’s involvement was too far removed from the cause of the accident (in other words, their negligence had little or nothing to do with causing the accident), then you may not be able to claim compensation from another party.
  • If the accident occurred on private property, and the owner knew and failed to correct a dangerous condition that caused the accident, the property owner may be liable for your injuries. For example, perhaps you swerved to miss a large, unmarked pothole and crashed into another parked vehicle—even though your actions technically caused the accident, it was the property owner’s negligence regarding the pothole that ultimately led to the crash.
  • If your injury was caused by a manufactured defect in your vehicle or another driver’s vehicle, the manufacturer could be held responsible responsible for failing to correct the dangerous defect. For instance, perhaps your accelerator has a tendency to stick or a safety feature like your airbag or seat belt fails.
  • If some other third party’s negligent actions directly caused your auto accident, such as a construction crew working on the road or a pedestrian stepping out into traffic, they could be held legally responsible. Would you expect to be held responsible if you triggered a pile-up by slamming on your breaks to avoid hitting a careless jogger buried in his or her phone? Of course not.

How do you know whether another person has a “duty of care” to protect you against injuries? The answer can depend on the timing, the situation, and your relationship with the person—but in most cases, every American has a duty of care to act in a reasonable manner so as to avoid injuring others. Every driver has a duty of care to drive safely and responsibly, so running a red light, driving at extremely high speeds, and texting while driving could all be considered breaches of that duty of care if an accident resulted. A property owner’s duty of care extends to guests, visitors, customers, or anyone who can reasonably be expected to access the property. So a business owner has a duty to make sure a dangerous hazard in their parking lot is fixed and to appropriately warn customers about the danger.

There are, of course, many exceptions based on the circumstances. For instance, duty of care usually does not extend to trespassers, or people who enter a property without the property owner’s knowledge.

The key is to establish whether an opposing party involved in your accident knew, or should have known, of a condition that would pose foreseeable risk to you or others. Was there something wrong with the circumstances, and should they have known it likely to be dangerous? If you can then show that the defendant was negligent in his or her duty of care, and that this negligence caused the auto accident that resulted in your injury, you will likely be able to recover damages in your personal injury lawsuit. Your total damages may include compensation for your medical expenses, medication and treatment costs, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering, and others.

At Pérez Halpern LLC, we understand how an injury can make you feel as though your life has been put on hold. With the help of our firm manager, our attorney is dedicated to working closely with our clients to ensure they receive fair compensation following auto accidents and other personal injury scenarios. Give us a call to make use of our extensive experience and our compassionate approach to personal injury law.

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