If you've been injured in an automobile accident, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the person who caused the accident to obtain an award of damages. In a personal injury suit, you and your lawyer will try to prove that the driver of the other vehicle caused the accident due to failing to pay attention or take reasonable care.
To prove that a person was not driving with reasonable care, you need to show that there was:
- The legal duty to use care
- A violation of that duty
- A direct relationship between the accident and the injury.
Receiving an award depends on what the other person should have anticipated at the time of the accident and not what actually happened.
Duty of Care
Lawsuits involving automobile accidents generally focus on whether the other person had a duty of care and used care while driving his or her vehicle.
A particular standard of care must be met when operating a car. To meet this standard or duty of care, drivers must:
- Operate the vehicle at a reasonable rate of speed
- Keep the vehicle under proper control
- Look out for all situations that could result in an accident
Additionally, these lawsuits also focus on whether the other driver's actions created an unreasonable risk. Generally, if a risk can be reasonably anticipated, it must be avoided.
What Caused the Injuries
For a motorist to be responsible for your injuries, careless conduct must have contributed and caused your injuries. For example, a pedestrian injured by a motorist must prove that she was not at fault, and the motorist's actions caused her injury. If the pedestrian's reckless behavior caused the injury, or if some intervening force caused the injury, then the motorist may not be held liable for the pedestrian's injuries.
Also, a reasonable person must be able to anticipate a risk of harm to others. For instance, a driver must take reasonable care of people walking across the street in a crosswalk.
A person may not be held responsible for the plaintiff's injuries if another action happened to cause the accident or injury. For example: A motorist's negligence caused a collision with another vehicle, which brings a police officer to the accident. Another collision occurs and the officer is injured.
Who's responsible for the officer's injury? The negligent motorist of the first accident or the negligent motorist of the second motorist? The negligent motorist of the second accident is accountable because his action caused the officer's injury.
Defenses to Personal Injury Lawsuits
If someone is being sued because they could be at fault, certain actions can be taken for their defense. Contributory negligence, assumption of risk and emergency doctrine are used to reduce the amount of damages owed to the plaintiff or even to release the defendant from paying damages at all.
Contributory negligence happens when the person bringing a lawsuit created an unreasonable risk of harm to himself or others. This risk contributes to the injuries caused by the defendant. In states that recognize contributory negligence, a plaintiff who creates unreasonable risk to himself can't recover damages.
Other states may use the less strict rule of comparative negligence. Comparative negligence takes into account the plaintiff's conduct and looks at who created an unreasonable risk of harm contributing to the injury. However, unlike contributory negligence, comparative negligence allows the plaintiff to recover damages, reducing them by the percentage of the plaintiff's fault that the judge or jury determines.
When there's an assumption of risk, a person acknowledges that an injury may occur in any given situation and accepts the risk. This can be accepted either by expressly agreeing not to hold anyone responsible for any resulting injury or by voluntarily acting after being informed of the potential dangers.
The emergency doctrine defense is used when a person is confronted with an emergency requiring immediate action and doesn't make a decision about what do, and can't be found negligent if they don't choose a course of action that would have had a better outcome.
For example, a driver's brakes suddenly become inoperable, due to no fault of her own. She can't be found negligent for hitting the car in front of her car instead of using the emergency brake, because it was an emergency situation.
Questions For Your Attorney
- How can I show that I did not act carelessly and that the accident was not my fault?
- Can any defenses be used to reduce the amount of damages I have to pay?
- Can I recover money after an accident even though I was over 50 percent at fault?