Automobile Accidents



 Q. I was in a car accident, but I think I can prove it was not completely my
fault. Will this make a difference with regard to what damages ultimately are

A. In the past the rule was that if you could prove the other driver contributed in
any way to the accident, he or she could be totally barred from recovering anything from
you. But now most states have rejected such harsh results and instead look at the
comparative fault of the drivers. If a jury finds that you were negligent and that your
negligence, proportionally, contributed 25 percent to cause the injury and that the
defendant was 75 percent at fault, the defendant would only be responsible for 75 percent
of your damages, or $75,000 if your damages totaled $100,000. In some states, a plaintiff may recover even if he or she were more negligent than the defendant, that is, negligent in
the amount of 51 percent or more. (See the “Automobiles” chapter for more
on standards of negligence for car accidents.)


Q. A neighbor who rides with me to work was injured when I got into a car
accident. Do I have to pay her medical bills?

A. In many states today, no-fault automobile insurance would protect you–and
often passengers in your car–by compensating those injured up to a specified level,
regardless of who was at fault in the accident. About half of the states currently have nofault
insurance. Though there is a strong trend away from them, some states still have
automobile “guest statutes” that make drivers liable for injuries to nonpaying-or guest–
passengers only if the drivers were “grossly negligent” by failing to use even slight care in
their driving. In a guest statute state, if your neighbor can prove she was not a guest
passenger–that both of you agreed to share expenses–then she possibly could recover
from you under ordinary negligence principles. Cases have also held a driver liable for the
negligent operation of a car and for harm caused by known defects, but not for injuries
caused by defects in the vehicle about which the driver had no knowledge.


Q. I received an injury when the bus I ride to work was involved in an
accident. Is the bus company at fault?

A. It’s likely. “Common carriers”–bus lines, airlines and railroads–transport
people for a fee, owe their passengers “the highest degree of care” and are held to have a
special responsibility to their passengers. Common carriers must exercise extra caution in
protecting their riders and do everything they can to keep them safe. Whether you win
your case will depend on the circumstances of the accident. Did the driver pull out in front
of a car and have to slam on the brakes? What were the road conditions? A jury will have
to consider those factual circumstances to determine if your driver acted negligently. But
as an employee of a common carrier, the driver must provide you with a high degree of
care. (If the bus were hit by another car, the other driver may also be liable for your


Q. My car sustained damage when it hit a pothole on a city street. Can I
recover from the city?

A. Some cities have pothole ordinances, a form of immunity that releases them
from any liability for pothole accidents, except where they had prior notice. Whether you
can recover will depend on your city’s law controlling liability and its immunities against


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Negligence law




Q. If someone causes an accident and I am hurt, on what basis will that
person be responsible (liable)?

A. A person is liable if he or she was negligent in causing the accident. Persons
who act negligently never set out (intend) to cause a result like an injury to another person.
Rather, their liability stems from careless or thoughtless conduct or a failure to act when a
reasonable person would have acted. Conduct becomes “negligent” when it falls below a
legally recognized standard of taking reasonable care under the circumstances to protect
others from harm.




Q. Negligence law seems so confusing. It uses words such as duty and
causation. What do they mean?

A. Negligence law can be complex and confusing even for people who are familiar
with it. To understand it better, forget all the legal jargon and go back to casino online the car accident
example. A driver has a duty to use reasonable care to avoid injuring anyone he or she
meets on the road. If a driver fails to use reasonable care and as a result of that failure
injures you, then the driver is responsible (liable) to you for those injuries.




Q. Who determines whether a defendant has acted reasonably?

A. After being presented evidence by your lawyer, a judge or jury will decide what
an “ordinary” or “reasonable person” would have done in similar circumstances. In the
example of an automobile accident, a judge or jury is likely to find a driver negligent if his
or her conduct departed from what an ordinary reasonable person would have done in
similar circumstances. An example would be failing to stop at a stoplight or stop sign.


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injury claims


Q. What can I expect after the first consultation?
A. If a lawyer believes your claim is one you can recover on-and you have signed
the retainer-he or she will proceed with gathering information about your claim. In order
to arrive at a figure for damages, your lawyer will need to determine the extent of your
injuries, including pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement, the cost of medical
treatment, and lost wages. Your lawyer then provides your damages figure to the insurer
of the person who injured you. If the insurer considers it a valid claim, the case is likely to
be resolved early on and won’t have to be tried in court.


Q. If I am not happy with my lawyer, do I have to keep him or her?

A. No. You have a right to hire and fire any lawyer at any time.


Q. What does it mean to settle a case?

A. Settling a case means that you agree to accept money in return for dropping
your action against the person who injured you. You’ll actually sign a release absolving
the other side of any further liability. To help you decide whether to accept the settlement
offer, your lawyer will be able to provide a realistic assessment of whether a lawsuit based
on your claim will be successful. (Settlement also can take place at any point in a lawsuit
once it is filed, including before trial or even after a case has been tried but before a jury
reaches a verdict.) The decision to accept a settlement offer is yours, not the lawyer’s.


Q. What happens if I file a lawsuit?

A. You become the plaintiff in the case and the person who injured you becomes
the defendant. Lawyers for each side (and for the insurer) typically begin gathering facts
through exchange of documents, written questions (interrogatories) or depositions
(questions that are asked in person and answered under oath). This process is called
discovery. After discovery, many cases get settled before trial. Only a small percentage of
personal injury actions ever go to trial. Of the cases that do go to trial, most plaintiffs ask
for a jury to hear their case, but personal injury actions can be decided by judges as well.
That is known as a bench trial, as opposed to a jury trial.


Q. What if more than one person has caused my injury?

A. You must bring an action against every person who causes your injury. The
negligence of two drivers, for example, may have produced a collision in which you were
injured. According to traditional legal principles, each one could be held 100 percent
liable to you. In a more recent legal trend, however, many jurisdictions have abolished
such “joint and several” liability and each defendant, known legally as a “joint tortfeasor,”
becomes responsible for only that portion of the harm he or she caused. This is the rule of
comparative negligence, which exists in most states. (See the section titled “Automobile
Accidents” for more on comparative negligence.)


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What will I get if I win my case


Q. What will I get if I win my case?

A. If you win, a judge or jury awards you money, known as damages, for your
injuries. That amount can include compensation for such expenses as medical bills and
lost wages, as well as compensation for future wage losses. It also can compensate you for
future lost wages and medical expenses and for physical pain and suffering. In addition,
you may receive damages for any physical disfigurement or disability that resulted from
your injury. The money is intended to restore your loss, is not considered as income, and
is not taxable as income by the federal government or the states. Note that an award of
damages does not necessarily translate into hard cash. You may have to take further legal
steps to actually collect the money. If a defendant against whom you have won a judgment
does not pay it, collection proceedings can be initiated. If the defendant owns property, for
example, you may be able to foreclose on it. Another option would be to garnish the
defendant’s wages. Your personal injury lawyer-or any lawyer you contact-would be able
to help you in this regard.


Q. Will the person who caused my injury get punished?

A. No. Punishment comes from criminal cases, not civil cases. Defendants in civil
actions for personal injury do not receive jail terms or stiff fines as punishment. Those are
criminal sentences and personal injury cases are civil disputes. But juries and courts can
award what the law calls punitive damages when the defendant’s intentional acts have
injured you. These awards are rather rare. Courts use them to punish people (and more
often large corporations) who have behaved recklessly or against the public’s interest.
Courts also hope that ordering the payment of punitive damages will discourage such
defendants from engaging in the same kind of harmful behavior in the future.


Q. Does a personal injury lawsuit have to be filed within a certain amount of

A. Every state has certain time limits, called “statutes of limitations,” that govern
the period during which you must file a personal injury lawsuit. In some states, for
example, you may have as little as one year to file a lawsuit from an automobile accident.
If you miss the statutory deadline for filing a case, your case is thrown out of court. (As
explained later in this chapter, limitations in medical malpractice cases are often
calculated differently.) You see, then, why it is important to talk with a lawyer as soon as
you receive or discover an injury.


Q. What if a person dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit?

A. It depends on whether a person dies as a result of the injuries or from unrelated
causes. If a person injured in an accident subsequently dies because of those injuries, that
person’s heirs may recover money through a lawsuit. Every state has some law permitting
an action when someone causes the wrongful death of another. And if a person with a
claim dies from unrelated causes, the tort claim survives in most cases and may be brought
by the executor or personal representative of the deceased person’s estate.


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