Who Hit Whom in a Car Accident? After a car accident, the questions and advice from well-meaning family and friends can be endless. Who hit you? Who was at fault? Hire a lawyer and sue. In many cases, “hire a lawyer and sue” is an appropriate action to take to obtain compensation for the expenses and impacts of the injury. However, to have that option available for you, you must be able to show that someone else was liable for the accident. Here is a deeper look at why it matters who hit whom in a car accident and how a car accident attorney can help you prove that you have a right to compensation for your injury.
Why Fault Matters
All roadway users—from truck drivers to commuters to motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians—have a legal duty to take reasonable actions to avoid causing harm to others. This duty generally consists of operating a vehicle safely and following local, state, and federal laws. Failing to drive safely and legally places a person in the position of being liable for the damages they cause to others. When a negligent party causes an accident, generally, the auto liability insurance policy they possess will be the source of money paid to the injured party as compensation for the harm caused. However, the at-fault party’s insurance company will only compensate the claim if you can prove their insured was at fault. Likewise, if the insurance provider fails to compensate the claim, you can file a personal injury lawsuit, and the court will only decide in your favor if you can prove the defendant’s liability.
Who Is Liable? Common Scenarios
Every accident has its own unique features. Determining liability is not always easy. In many cases, there is more than one source of liability and enough fault to go around! One of the important services your attorney will provide is determining all sources of liability and all insurance resources they can claim against to reach a fair settlement for the injuries you suffered. Here is a general look at some of the most common types of accidents and who is often liable for causing them.
Around 1.7 million rear-end accidents occur on U.S. roadways yearly. In these accidents, around half a million people are injured. Rear-end accidents occur when the front of one car hits the back of another. Contrary to popular belief, rear-end accidents are not always the fault of the driver in the following car, but almost always. Most rear-end accidents occur because one car is following another too closely, depriving the rear driver of the time to notice the vehicle in front stopping or slowing and react by slamming on the brakes. Additionally, following too closely keeps the rear driver from having the distance it needs for the brakes to pull its weight to a complete stop. When is a rear-end accident the fault of the lead car’s driver? If they merge or turn into a travel lane without ensuring that there is a safe gap in traffic in which to do so, they can be liable. If the lead car was traveling in reverse when the rear-end accident happened, they can also be found liable.
Head-on collisions are not as common as other types of crashes since both drivers can see and respond by swerving to avoid a collision in most cases. Unfortunately, when a head-on occurs, it is often the result of a previous accident that propelled a car into oncoming traffic or an impaired driver who did not have the mental capacity to realize they were traveling in the wrong lane or the reflexes to respond to avoid a collision. Head-on collisions are commonly violent and severe due to the increased impact caused by the forward motion of both vehicles. Head-on collisions account for just slightly over 6 percent of the injuries sustained in traffic accidents in the U.S. and more than a quarter of all traffic-related fatalities involving collisions between two motor vehicles. The source of liability in a head-on collision can be the driver operating in a travel lane designated for vehicles moving in the opposite direction. If the crash resulted from a previous accident, the claimant’s attorney will likely investigate the cause of the initial accident to determine who was liable for propelling the vehicle into opposing traffic.
Broadside accidents—also known as T-bone accidents—occur when the front of one vehicle hits the side of another. These accidents commonly occur at intersections due to one driver’s failure to yield. Liability in broadside accidents doesn’t usually depend on who hit whom but on who had the right-of-way and who failed to yield. Broadside accidents are extremely dangerous, particularly for the occupants of the side of the vehicle struck. The sides of vehicles offer very little protection, particularly when struck by a larger, heavier, or faster-moving vehicle. T-bone crashes account for more than 40 percent of the injuries and fatalities sustained in motor vehicle accidents across the U.S.
Sideswipe accidents occur when one vehicle collides or rubs against another vehicle traveling alongside it. Typically, sideswipe accidents happen when one driver veers from their lane into the adjacent lane. Sideswipes may occur when a driver fails to ensure they are a safe distance past the vehicle they are attempting to pass before re-entering the lane. Sideswipes can also occur when a driver fails to check their blind spot before merging into a travel lane. Impairment by alcohol or drugs, extreme fatigue, or medical emergencies can also cause a driver to drift into another lane, potentially causing a sideswipe. If any of these driver behaviors result in an accident, the driver can be liable for compensating the expenses and impacts of the injury or death of other roadway users. People often don’t consider sideswipe accidents serious, but more than 900 people die each year in these accidents, and around 371,000 are injured.
When a Defective Auto Part Causes an Accident
Occasionally, an accident won’t result from a driver’s negligence but from a manufacturer’s negligence. Manufacturers of parts used on motor vehicles are required to ensure that their products are reasonably safe when used appropriately. Failing to do so can make the manufacturer liable for compensating those injured or the families of those killed in an accident resulting from the defect. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 2 percent of all traffic-related accidents involve a vehicle defect.
Six Methods for Proving Your Claim
Coming out on top in an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit after a car accident requires determining liability, which isn’t always an easy task. Several parties (insurance adjusters, investigators, police, drivers, witnesses, and more) put their two cents in, but they don’t always tell the truth. Figuring out who has legal liability for someone’s car accident injuries involves using clues and evidence to piece together who hit whom. If you were involved in a car accident, you’re stressed enough. You shouldn’t have to deal with lying, cheating, and manipulation from those who try to avoid financial liability. Below the car accident attorneys at Stewart J. Guss discuss how to prove who hit you, and how to hold them accountable.
Negligent Drivers Lie to Avoid Financial Responsibility
If someone accidentally harms you, you hope they would want to make things right. However, causing a car accident, especially when bodily injury or death is involved, can be costly for the at-fault driver. Motorists with a criminal history or a bad driving record often feel the need to lie to avoid consequences like the fines, fees, increased insurance rates, and other costs that come with causing an accident. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), bad driving represents is a pervasive, chronic problem. More than 51,000 drivers were in fatal crashes across the nation in just one year, and many had previous records and accidents. These alarming statistics include:
8,423 (16.4%) of drivers in a wreck had previous crashes.
7,253 (14%) had previous license suspensions or revocations.
9,647 (18%) had previous speeding tickets.
1,573 (3%) had previous DUIs.
Another reason drivers might lie about an accident is to avoid losing their job, if they drive a company vehicle or a commercial vehicle. Other drivers might lie to avoid racking up “points” against their license that could result in suspension. If you’ve been involved in a car accident after another car struck your vehicle, don’t let the driver get away with it! Contact a car accident attorney who can help you hold the negligent driver accountable. They will use their expertise to work with insurance companies, law enforcement, investigators, and forensic scientists. The following methods could help you in your pursuit of justice:
Method One: Photographic Evidence
When police arrive at the scene of an accident, they write down facts and statements that eventually go into an official crash report. In some cases, officers take photos or draw diagrams. But police can’t take pictures of an accident scene until they get to the accident scene. A lot could change in the time it takes for them to get there, like cars moving out of the way of traffic or a driver leaving the scene of the accident altogether. Valuable evidence could be lost or displaced during these moments. Use your smartphone to take photos of an accident scene. They could prove incredibly valuable. While a photo doesn’t necessarily prove what happened, it can show clues that support other physical evidence, making it easier for law enforcement, accident investigators, and courts to determine who is at fault. Remember, there is no such thing as “too much evidence!” Make sure to capture close-up and wide images of all involved vehicles and the damage done to them, as well as your surroundings like signage, lights, or other damaged property. Photograph the road’s surface as well – slick spots or skid marks could be useful in proving how the accident happened and helping investigators piece together the facts. Photos can even point to other sources of evidence that could help prove who hit whom. For example, a photo might depict witnesses, or could show video surveillance cameras in the background. Taking photos or video of an accident scene—especially before first responders arrive—could make all the difference in your settlement.
Method Two: Video Recording
Like photographs, video recordings of an accident provide undeniable evidence about who hit whom in a car accident. Many people choose to install dashboard cameras in their vehicles. If you don’t have a dash cam, check to see if a witness or other driver involved in the accident might have one. Many cities and towns now have traffic cameras at intersections, which provide video recordings that can reveal who is at fault in an accident. Businesses from restaurants to convenience stores, banks, and retail shops often have security cameras. In some cases, their security camera footage might point toward a street and capture an accident. Finally, passersby or witnesses may also have cell phone photos or video of the accident. Your lawyer can discover and evaluate the usefulness of these files for your car accident claim. Video footage of your accident helps investigators get the real story when at-fault drivers are trying to dodge responsibility. Police won’t always seek out this video, even if it exists, but an experienced auto accident injury attorney has the determination and resources needed to hunt down this evidence for you and your case.
Method Three: Witness Statements
If a car accident occurs on a busy street, other cars might stop and help. In some cases, these motorists witnessed the car accident and will stick around to give their statement to the police. But regardless of whether a witness waits for police and emergency response teams to arrive at the scene of the accident, you should ask for their contact information. Witness statements can serve as a powerful tool to help support your recollection of an accident and can help police come to a conclusion about who hit whom. Sometimes witnesses might not have all the details of an accident, but they can still help fill in the gaps about what happened immediately before or after a traffic crash. It’s unlikely that witness testimony by itself will determine who caused a car accident (although it certainly could in some cases). Yet, when combined with other evidence and the police report, witness statements can become valuable tools to eliminate questions about the cause of – and financial liability for – a car accident. This is why it’s important to collect the contact information of as many witnesses as possible after a car accident.
Method Four: Event Data Recorder
Did you know more than 90 percent of new cars have event data recorders (EDRs) that record information from a vehicle’s most recent collision? An EDR is a device similar to the flight data recorders, or “black boxes,” on many airplanes. At one point, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) considered making EDRs mandatory in passenger vehicles but withdrew that proposal because the vast majority of auto manufacturers already voluntarily equip vehicles with them. EDRs record information for seconds before, during, and after a collision. Examples of statistics stored in an EDR include:
Vehicle dynamics and system status before the crash
Vehicle crash signature
Seat belt use
Airbag deployment information
Whether or not a crash triggered the activation of an automatic collision notification system
Law enforcement and insurance companies can use the crash data from an EDR to help determine exactly how a car accident occurred and who is at fault.
Method Five: Location and Type of Damage
The location of the damage on a vehicle is one of the first things law enforcement, investigators, and insurance adjusters look at after a car accident. The nature, extent, and location of the damage on a car body, even if it’s “only cosmetic damage,” can help investigators determine the speed of the vehicles at the time of impact, the angle of the impact, and whether either driver took evasive action to avoid the impact. That evidence can help investigators develop theories of why the accident happened. An absence of evidence of evasive action, for example, could indicate that a driver was asleep at the wheel or crashed while texting and driving. Skilled investigators can even analyze paint chipping, paint transfer, and rust patterns on each of the vehicles involved in an accident. Look out: Some vehicles may have been involved in accidents before, and a deceptive driver might try to scam the insurance company by claiming their old accident damage was from their new accident. Fortunately, investigators and insurance companies can analyze the rust patterns in a car to ensure an accident actually happened. When a collision occurs, paint chips off or transfers from one vehicle to another vehicle. Paint transfer and chipping patterns offer big clues for determining how a car accident occurred and who is financially responsible. While vehicle damage doesn’t tell the whole story of an auto accident, it can help eliminate some of the possibilities.
Method Six: Accident Reconstruction Specialists
Law enforcement agencies, lawyers, and insurance companies sometimes rely on accident reconstruction specialists when severe or fatal accidents occur. Accident reconstruction experts take an in-depth scientific approach to find out the causes of a car accident and how it all went down. Specialists who reconstruct accidents have extensive training in physics and engineering. They rely on a wide array of data to come up with explanations for how a crash occurred and who hit whom. Some of the info accident reconstruction specialists analyze includes:
Where each vehicle came to rest
Accident scene evidence, especially skid marks and road conditions
Damage to each vehicle
Speed each car was traveling
The severity of the crash
Visibility and weather
Other factors, such as alcohol use, test results, and distraction levels
The experts who review crash data after a car accident can frequently determine who hit whom, and make informed recommendations for your next steps. In many cases, an accident reconstruction specialist serves as an expert witness who supplies testimony in court. If a negligent driver is trying to scam you and blame you for the damage they caused, you need to contact a qualified auto accident attorney as soon as possible. You shouldn’t have to pay for property damage and personal injuries when another driver hits your car.
Seeking Compensation After an Accident
If you were injured in an accident because of another driver’s careless or reckless actions, you have a right to seek compensation for the financial and emotional costs through the personal injury claims process. This process usually begins with a claim against the at-fault party’s auto liability insurance policy (or a business policy if the accident involved a defective part used on one of the vehicles). When the insurance provider who services the policy receives the claim, they will assign a claims adjuster to evaluate it. They will determine if their insured is liable for the accident and how much compensation they owe to the claimant. It is important to understand: the claims adjuster is an insurance company employee. Their job isn’t to evaluate claims to fairly compensate third-party claimants for their insured’s negligence. It is to save the insurer money by reducing or eliminating claims. One of the main reasons to hire an attorney to assist you with your claim is that the insurance company does not want to compensate you. If liability in the accident is easily proven and the insurer knows they have to pay you, they will attempt to pay as little as possible on the claim. If the insurance company fails to resolve the claim by paying it outright or offering a fair settlement, you can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury through a personal injury lawsuit. This legal claim filed in civil court asks the court to determine whether the at-fault party was liable and how much compensation they owe for their liability.
Who hit whom in your accident? Who was at fault? This is the question the personal injury claims process aims to answer. You prove liability by showing.
The at-fault party had a duty to take reasonable actions to avoid harming others. Reasonable actions involve driving safely, obtaining the minimum amount of insurance, keeping the vehicle maintained, and following all other traffic laws. In product defect claims, you must show that the manufacturer had a duty to design a safe product when used as intended.
The duty owed by the at-fault party was breached by careless or reckless actions, such as speeding, failing to yield the right-of-way, distracted or impaired driving, failing to check blind spots, or other acts of negligence.
The breach caused an accident in which you were injured.
In addition to proving liability, car accident claimants must also produce documentation to justify the expenses they incurred due to the accident. This documentation can include bills for medical treatment or car repair, information from your employer indicating wage loss, or even the permanent loss of your ability to perform your work tasks. Witnesses such as family or friends can testify to the impact of the injury on your quality of life, and medical experts can shed light on the permanence of your injury and how it will likely affect your future.
What Damages Can You Claim?
As noted, you can seek compensation for the financial and psychological impacts of the injury. These losses are also called economic and non-economic damages (damages refers to compensation received for harm). The economic losses you can seek compensation for include:
All reasonable costs associated with medically treating the injury.
Wage loss and loss of future earning capacity in cases involving permanent injuries.
The repair or replacement of your car and property damaged in the accident.
The types of non-economic impacts you can seek compensation for include:
Physical pain and suffering resulting from the injury or medical treatments for the injury.
Emotional distress relating to the trauma of the accident or the loss of earning capacity or independence.
Loss of the enjoyment of life due to the injury impairing your ability to participate in activities and events you enjoy.
Affording an Attorney to Help With Your Claim
Anyone who needs the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney to seek compensation can afford it. Personal injury attorneys offer free case evaluations and a contingent fee billing method. The free case evaluation allows you to talk with a legal professional about your case, get answers to your questions, and learn more about an attorney’s role in the process. The contingent fee allows you to wait until you win compensation to pay for your legal team’s services. If a car accident caused by someone else injured you, let a car accident lawyer near you explore your legal options and support you through this difficult time, starting with your free case consultation.