If you’ve been involved in a car accident and one party is suing the other party for injuries that were sustained during the accident then it’s most likely the suit is based on the legal theory of negligence.
Negligence is when a person fails to exercise the reasonable care that an ordinary person would have exercised in a similar situation. To put it simply, it means the negligent person acted unreasonably, usually in a careless manner that has caused another person harm or injury.
To that end, drivers on the road must drive with care and follow the rules of the road to avoid injuring other motorists or pedestrians. For example if a driver fails to stop at a stop sign and hits a pedestrian, the driver is said to be negligent and is legally responsible to compensate the victim.
When a motorist doesn’t obey the rules of the road and it results in an accident, that driver is said to be negligent. Listed below are some of the driving behaviors that can constitute negligence in a personal injury case.
- Speeding: Drivers have a duty to drive at a reasonable speed on the road which means that a driver should factor in traffic conditions such as weather, visibility and even work zones. It should be noted that drivers who do not factor in the road conditions and are driving under the speed limit can still be found negligent.
- Driving while using a cell phone or texting: States across America are cracking down on the use of cell phones in cars. Whether its text messaging, talking on the phone, holding the phone to use the GPS application, use of a handheld device while driving has become a serious safety concern and has led to many accidents and fatalities on the roads. In these cases distracted driving does constitute negligent behavior behind the wheel.
- Failing to signal when changing lanes: Many car accidents happen when motorists make a quick lane change, fail to use their signal or check if there are any cars in the lane they wish to merge into. If a motorist fails to use his turn signal in advance of changing lanes then that driver can be found negligent and can be liable for any injuries to the other driver.
- Tailgating: Drivers should keep a safe distance between their car and the car in front of them. If a motorist rear ends a lead car, a police officer can ticket you for tailgating. Drivers on the road owe a duty to the car in front of them not to follow too closely and to allow enough distance between the vehicles to brake.
- Driving while intoxicated: The statistics are staggering as every half hour someone in the US dies from an alcohol related crash. If you are found driving while intoxicated and there is an accident there is a presumption that you are negligent.
- Not observing road conditions: If you are driving on the road you are responsible to take into account the conditions of the road including weather conditions, traffic patterns, construction zones etc.
It should be noted that a police officer can give you a traffic ticket after they are called onto the scene of an accident. Police officers can levy a charge against you based on the facts and statements made at the scene of an accident without seeing the events transpire first hand. Many times police officers can charge you with speeding, improper lane change, driving while using a cell phone and driving while intoxicated after assessing the accident.
Note that just because a defendant may be found negligent, it doesn’t necessarily mean a negligent plaintiff isn’t also held accountable. Many states such as New York have a “comparative fault” rule which means the amount of the defendant’s liability can be reduced by the amount that the plaintiff was at fault. So if, for example, a drunk driver hit a vehicle and killed the plaintiff, but the defendant can demonstrate the defendant was speeding and therefore was 20% at fault, the amount of monetary damages will be reduced by 20%. Other states have a “contributory negligence” rule which means that if the plaintiff is negligent, even to a slight degree, he cannot recover monetary damages in a lawsuit.
Adam H. Rosenblum is a licensed attorney practicing in New Jersey. His personal website is personal-injury-nj.com.