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Home ► Blog ► Auto Negligence: When Is Someone Considered a Negligent Driver?
Traffic accidents are often harmful, sometimes fatal, and can almost always be prevented. With nearly 7 million motor vehicle crashes in the United States in just one year, it’s safe to say that driving can feel unsafe. While this might make it sound like driving is inevitably dangerous, most crashes don’t have to happen, but often result from simple auto negligence.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data shows that most auto accidents are caused by human error. Negligent driving – instances where a driver acts thoughtlessly or carelessly – is one of the most common reasons for car accidents today. With drivers being more distracted than ever, it’s a serious problem. However, through better awareness, education, and driving practices, we can help reduce the number of vehicle accidents on U.S. roadways. Let’s take a look at auto negligence accidents and how we can stop them.
The legal definition of negligence is:
“Failure to exercise the degree of care expected of a person of ordinary prudence in like circumstances in protecting others from a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm in a particular situation.”
In cases of traffic law, this means that drivers are expected to be reasonably careful to avoid injuring other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians on the road. Negligent driving covers cases where a driver is not reasonably careful and injures another person as a result. This includes instances such as speeding, not following traffic signals, and texting while driving.
Traffic negligence law includes both comparative and contributory negligence.
“Comparative negligence” means that both parties in an accident are partially at fault. For example, let’s say a driver rear-ends you while they’re speeding, but it’s nighttime and your taillights are burnt out. The court could determine that you are partially at fault because of the lights and that you are responsible for 10 percent of the damages.
“Contributory negligence” is a rare case decision that is banned in most states. Under contributory auto negligence, a victim has no chance to receive compensation for their injuries if they are ruled to be in any way at fault in the accident. In the case above, if the speeding vehicle struck you, you would not receive compensation any damages.
Driver negligence cases are some of the most common causes of car accidents in the United States. This includes both intentional and unintentional driver decisions. These are the four types of driver negligence:
Distracted driving is the number one cause of car accidents in the United States. This includes any case where a driver is distracted by something and not paying attention to the road. Texting-while-driving and eating-while-driving are common examples.
Reckless driving defines situations where drivers carelessly handle their vehicles and/or drive in an overly aggressive manner. For example, a case of someone swerving back and forth between lanes is considered reckless driving.
Common legal cases for driver negligence are made when a driver ignores traffic laws. This includes things like rolling stop signs, driving above posted speed limits, and not stopping at red lights. Driver negligence covers instances where drivers both intentionally or accidentally disobey traffic laws.
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is extremely dangerous. It’s estimated that every day, 28 people in the United States are killed in drunk driving accidents. While many people think of DUIs when someone operates a motor vehicle under the effects of having consumed liquor, driving under the influence can also cover cases of abusing prescription drugs; for example, the famous Tiger Woods DUI case.
Car accidents or truck accidents can involve several different factors that could contribute to auto negligence. Road traffic accident negligence can also be a factor in cases involving public transportation and rideshare services. While auto negligence has a direct legal definition, it’s not always clear-cut how it is proven in court.
When are you considered a negligent driver? According to the courts, it’s multifaceted. To claim auto negligence in court and hold a party liable for injury, four elements must be proven in the civil litigation process:
This means proving that the liable party had a legally bound duty to others that he or she failed to follow. Drivers have a reasonable duty to drive with care and caution while following all rules of the road. This is to protect other motorists, passengers, and pedestrians. The term “reasonable” is usually determined as what a reasonable, careful person would do, and it can sometimes be a point of contention in car accident lawsuits.
Proving breach of duty means proving that the defendant breached a legal obligation they had to other involved parties and that the breach resulted in injuries or harm to others. Drivers must exercise ordinary care to avoid harming others on the road. Breaches could include driving at unsafe speeds, failing to be alert, not keeping control of their car, or failing to maintain brakes and other necessary car equipment.
The victim or injured party must prove that actual loss occurred due to the other party’s action. This can include car repair costs, injuries, and other compensatory and punitive damages to person or property. Plaintiffs are responsible to calculate and show the exact costs and losses associated with the accident.
There must be a clear cause-effect relationship between the liable party’s breach of duty and the damages and/or losses the other parties incurred. For example, if a driver rear-ends someone at a stoplight because they failed to stop, the plaintiff will likely be able to prove the driver is liable. A majority of car accident lawsuits revolve around causation. If it is not clear that the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s damages, it is not likely that auto negligence can be proven.
Proving all four of these elements can be difficult. Defendants will often make cases that their actions did not lead to the plaintiffs’ injuries, or that they did not breach reasonable legal duty. When auto negligence is proven, the guilty party is usually required to pay the costs of the injured party’s damages. This could also result in a driver’s license suspension, and for defendants with a driving record with repeat traffic violations, having driving privileges revoked by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Many car accident victims bring driver negligence claims to court or their insurance companies in hopes of receiving compensation for their losses, injuries, and other damages. While this can bring justice, it can also mean a difficult legal process for everyone involved. Both working to prove auto negligence claims and fighting against them require due diligence and an understanding of the legal process.
It is vital to handle such claims in a proper manner, particularly if a traffic accident involves serious injury or wrongful death. Even minor cases, such as a simple fender bender, can have potentially major financial consequences. Plaintiffs and defendants preparing for negligent driving claims should contact an injury lawyer for a full understanding of their legal options.
Claiming, and proving, another driver’s negligence is a key step for car accident victims in earning fair compensation for their damages and suffering. Victims looking to make auto negligence claims against other drivers should first meet with a personal injury lawyer or car accident attorney to develop a well-structured liability argument. They can help prove liability and determine if the settlement can be made out-of-court.
To help make the case stronger, victims should gather evidence that supports their auto negligence claims. This includes photos from the scene, personal information of all parties involved, incident reports, medical bills, and any other relevant evidence. The better documented the accident, the more likely the victim will be able to prove auto negligence.
Fighting negligence claims requires a strong understanding of liability and the capacity to present a well-structured, truthful legal argument. Facing negligence in traffic accident lawsuits can have detrimental consequences, so it’s important that defendants work with an experienced legal professional. They can help to disprove the four required elements [legal duty, breach, losses/damages, and causation] mentioned earlier.
There are also measures defendants can take to limit liabilities. This includes practicing safe driving and keeping up with their vehicle maintenance. As mentioned earlier, never admit fault at the scene of an accident. Being prepared with the right supplies and taking quick action to mitigate injuries or other damages might also help to disprove negligence.
Negligent driving is a serious problem that can have serious consequences for everyone on the road. Traffic accidents create stressful situations both behind the wheel and in the courtroom. While accidents are common, there are steps drivers can take to reduce their risks. Through safe driving awareness, we can help prevent accidents and keep U.S. roadways safe.
“Contributory Negligence.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, www.law.cornell.edu/wex/contributory_negligence.
“Driving under the Influence.” Driving under the Influence - an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics, www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/driving-under-the-influence.
“Facts + Statistics: Highway Safety.” III, www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-highway-safety.
“Find Out What Are The Leading Causes For Most Car Accidents | Markets Insider.” Business Insider, Business Insider, markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/find-out-what-are-the-leading-causes-for-most-car-accidents-1027930348#.
“Negligence.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/negligence#legalDictionary.
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