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After an accident, it is always best to talk to an attorney to learn about your legal rights and options.
Determining Fault After a Car Accident
There are a few scenarios in which the at-fault party is usually easily identifiable. Of course, even accidents that seem straightforward can have complications. Our Houston car accident lawyers are familiar with these common scenarios.
One of the most important things to understand about car accident liability is that Texas operates under a modified comparative negligence system.
This means that:
- Everyone who contributes to an accident shares responsibility for the consequences
- Sharing some of the blame for an accident will affect your ability to recover compensation
- If your proportionate responsibility exceeds 50%, you’ll be barred from seeking damages.
So, it’s critical to make sure that you work with an attorney who knows how to conduct a thorough investigation, establish causation, and gather evidence to support claims of fault. And, it is important to never discuss fault at the scene of an accident.
Below we discuss some of the common car accident scenarios. Each scenario includes information on causes and critical factors for determining fault.
Scenario 1: Rear-End Collisions
Rear-end collisions are often straightforward. A rear-end collision occurs when one vehicle hits another from behind. The front end of the trailing vehicle collides with the back end of the leading vehicle.
We call rear-end collisions with minor damages “fender benders,” but serious physical injury can occur from low-speed collisions (especially if you are rear-ended while on a motorcycle). And they are the most common kind of collision.
The single biggest cause of rear-end collisions is driver inattention. The trailing driver in a rear-end collision is the at-fault driver in nearly all cases. Rear-end collisions are the fault of trailing drivers so often that it’s often assumed by investigators. In some states, the law presumes the trailing driver in a rear-end collision is at fault.
Drivers have a duty to maintain a safe driving distance and an awareness of their environment. Even if the leading driver brakes unexpectedly or aggressively, the trailing driver should have enough room to stop in time. Following too close or tailgating is a risk for this same reason.
Since they are so common, rear-end collisions occur in many places. Some common places where rear-end collisions happen are:
At traffic lights, there are two ways rear-end collisions happen. In one scenario, the driver of the leading vehicle is stopped at a red light and the driver of the trailing vehicle does not stop in time. In the second scenario, both vehicles are stopped at a red light but when it turns green, the trailing driver accelerates and the leading driver does not.
Parking lots are a common location for rear-end collisions. In parking lots, cars are frequently going or stopping. Drivers have to stop for pedestrians walking in the lots and watch for other drivers in the lot. If the trailing driver fails to see the leading driver stop suddenly, an accident can happen fast.
In the Middle of the Road
If a driver stops to make a turn or yield to a pedestrian, a rear-end collision can occur. Many drivers do not expect a car to stop in the middle of the road and can be caught unaware.
On the Freeway
For drivers, rush hour can be a nuisance. Congested lanes and merging drivers result in stop-and-go traffic. When a car brakes abruptly, another car changes lanes without warning, or a driver speeds up too quickly, rear-end collisions can happen. If the drivers are moving at highway speeds, rear-end collisions can be catastrophic.
Scenario 2: Driver Runs a Red Light
Drivers run red lights more often than we realize. When an accident happens because a driver ran a red light, it is commonly a “T-bone” collision, also called broadside or side-impact collision. A T-bone crash is characterized by the front end of one car hitting the side of a second car.
The side of a car does not provide as much protection as other parts of the car in the event of an accident. That’s why T-bone crashes can be dangerous.
Whether the car that runs the light ends up hitting someone else or being hit by another car, the driver who ran the light is usually at fault.
The usual reasons drivers run red lights include:
Being in a Rush
There are typically two kinds of drivers when a traffic light turns yellow on approach: the drivers who slow down and the ones who hurry up. Drivers are taught to proceed through a yellow light with caution.
If a car cannot safely traverse the intersection, or if the light turns red before the driver enters, the correct action is to stop. Regardless, when a driver rushes through a yellow light or the light turns red and they continue through the intersection, they increase the risk of accidents.
Being Under the Influence
Drinking causes a delayed response and driving under the influence frequently leads to running red lights. It can be hard for drunk drivers to focus on the road in front of them, make judgments, and even see clearly.
Driving and using a cell phone has been outlawed in many states, but distracted driving persists. When drivers look away from the road to change their music, grab a drink, or respond to a text, they might not notice a light turn red. The consequences can be deadly.
If you’re in an accident with a driver who ran a red light, you should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney in Houston, TX about your rights.
Scenario 3: Failure to Signal a Left Turn
Even at a green light, a driver turning left should yield to oncoming traffic. When yielding, a driver has to wait until there is clearance for their turn, even if that means waiting through more than one red light.
A driver can wait quite a while for clearance to turn at a green light. Waiting can lead to impatience. Impatience can read to risky choices.
Experienced, safe drivers wait through the lights while hurried, impatient drivers may try to maneuver through the intersection. Since the cross-traffic strikes the turning driver while both cars are moving in different directions, the impact can cause a spin or slide into other vehicles, with greater risk for injury.
A failure to signal can make the turning driver at-fault for the accident. Since turning drivers should always yield, the turning driver is often liable for these kinds of crashes.
Scenario 4: Parking Lot Accidents
Parking lot accidents happen every day. Since they happen in parking lots, they are usually at low speeds, and injuries, if any, are usually minor.
However, low-speed collisions can result in critical injuries to the neck and back.
Parking lot accidents often fit into one of the following categories:
Rear-Ended While Backing out
Unlike other rear-end collisions, when a driver backing out of a parking spot is rear-ended, they are usually at fault. Backing drivers are required to check their mirrors and confirm they have room to back out before moving from the parking space.
Hit While Pulling Through Parking Spaces
For many reasons, it may be tempting to pull through the space in front of a parking space rather than backing out. The risk is that another driver will attempt to pull into that empty spot at the same time, leading to a head-on collision. Liability in these scenarios can be complex.
Two Cars Crash Attempting to Pull Into the Same Space
The driver who was closer to the space or the one who arrived near the space first might feel justified in this situation. Determining fault in this situation depends on which car has the right-of-way, and it can be difficult to figure out.
Two Cars Crash at the End of an Aisle
The driver traveling in the lane perpendicular to the aisle may feel like they have the right of way, but it is not as simple as that. In situations like these, it can be hard to figure out liability because many factors are involved.
Drivers should always act with an abundance of caution while driving in parking lots. Parking lots are frequently the site of car accidents.
While it is often easy to determine fault in these common situations, determining fault in any given crash is based on the facts of that incident. Drivers should not admit fault even if they believe an accident was their fault.
How a Personal Injury Attorney Can Help If You’ve Been Involved in a Car Accident in Houston
After an accident, it is critical to contact a personal injury attorney if there were injuries. Drivers who think they are to blame (or partly to blame) for their accident can still benefit from discussing their situation with an attorney.
Insurance companies often rush to determine fault quickly after an accident. An attorney can advise you about your rights before you give a statement to the insurance company.
Other things an attorney can help you do if you have been in a car accident:
- Obtaining witness statements
- Subpoenaing surveillance footage of the parking lot accident
- Working with reconstruction experts to investigate the cause of the accident
A personal injury lawyer can file a lawsuit on your behalf after fault is determined. Call our law office to arrange a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options today.