Car Accident Scenarios: Who's at Fault?

Howard Raphaelson
Partner, Attorney
Car Accident Scenarios: Who's Fault

If you've sustained injuries in a car accident in New York and wish to file a personal injury lawsuit against the other party, determining who is at fault (or what percentage of fault) will impact the amount of compensation you may be awarded.

While most people involved in a car accident will attempt to argue that the other party bears more responsibility than they do, damage to each of the vehicles often speaks for itself.

Determining fault by the location of damage in a car accident is just one factor that an investigator considers at an accident scene.

He or she also closely evaluate the following:

  • Whether the car had an anti-lock braking system and if it operated as expected
  • Crash-worthiness of each of the vehicles
  • Whether the use or headlights or high beams played a role in the crash
  • Angle of each steering wheel· Whether either car experienced sudden acceleration just before the crash
  • The impact point of each vehicle

Determining fault in a car accident is challenging, and often impossible to prove on your own.

In this article, we'll review several types of common car accident scenarios to help you understand what investigators look for to help determine fault.In this article, we'll review several types of common car accident scenarios to help you understand what investigators look for to help determine fault.

The experienced New York City personal injury attorneys at Raphaelson & Levine work with industry experts and accident reconstruction specialists to help prove to a jury that the negligence of the other party caused the crash and your subsequent injuries.

If you've been involved in an accident and have questions about your legal rights and options, we invite you to contact our firm today for a free consultation.

NEXT STEP: Call 212-268-3222 of contact us online for a free consultation.

Car Accident Scenario: Rear End Collision Fault

In New York, generally, a rear-ending collision is the fault of the vehicle that strikes another vehicle in the rear. This type of crash happens when two vehicles are traveling in a straight line in the same direction and the car located behind the other, strikes the leading vehicle in the back.

New York law holds the driver in the rear position liable for causing the accident in most situations. This is because he or she did not leave an adequate stopping distance to avoid a crash in the first place. According to the safe stopping distance rule, the car in back must allow enough space between his or her vehicle and the vehicle in front to stop safely without striking the other car. This applies to emergency situations and inclement weather as well.

One exception to the rule of automatically assigning blame to the rear driver is when the lead driver cuts in front of him or her so closely that the rear driver can’t stop in time to avoid a collision.

The lead driver could also strike the vehicle of the driver in the rear position by accidentally shifting the vehicle into reverse. After a vehicle crash, a rear-end accident attorney will work with accident investigators to study the damage on each vehicle after a rear-end collision to gauge how the accident occurred and who is at fault in a car accident rear-ending.

Scenario: Fault in a Car Accident When Backing Up (Parking Lot Scenario)

The good news about accidents that occur in a parking lot, driveway, or other scenarios where a driver is backing up and strikes another car is that often times these types of accidents occur at very low speeds which may be less likely to cause serious injury.

However, even in circumstances with no apparent vehicle damage, occupants can still suffer permanent and debilitating injuries - such as a recent $500K Rear-End Accident Settlement involving a vehicle with no damage.

Is the person backing up always at fault? Unfortunately, determining who is at fault in a car accident when backing up isn’t always so straightforward. That is because a car can be traveling in any direction, making it difficult to determine who had the legal right of way.

The typical parking lot for an office building or shopping center contains multiple lanes with vehicles parked on every side. Additionally, vehicle drivers enter parking lanes through the lot’s perimeter and through lanes. The typical rule is that a driver approaching a through lane has the right of way and drivers approaching the through lane via a parking lane must yield.

As an example, assume that one driver pulls out to enter a through lane while attempting to leave the parking lot. In doing so, he or she strikes another vehicle traveling in the through lane. Insurance companies would likely assign fault to this driver for causing the accident.

One exception to this rule is when the through lane driver fails to heed a stop or yield sign that allows vehicles exiting the parking lot to have the right of way.

Another common type of backing up accident is when two vehicles collide as the drivers are backing out of parking spots on the opposite sides of the same lane of parking. It is challenging to determine fault in this case because both drivers have the obligation to determine that it’s safe to back up their vehicle before doing so.

If one driver has already started backing up, nearby drivers should exercise caution by waiting until he or she is out of the parking spot before putting the car into reverse. The second driver would be at fault for causing the accident if he or she failed to carefully observe the other car backing up

Learn more: If Someone Backs Into Your Car, Who Is At Fault? (5 Scenarios)

Scenario: Fault in a Car Accident Changing Lanes/ Side Swipe/ Side-Collisions

The types of accidents that consider who is at fault in a car accident changing lanes usually refer to side impact or accidents where one vehicle strikes the driver or passenger side doors of another vehicle.

The T-Bone crash, which occurs when one vehicle strikes the side of another directly, and the sideswipe crash, when one vehicle strikes another at an angle, are the most common types of accidents that occur when one driver is attempting to make a lane change.

Deciding who is at fault for causing a T-Bone or sideswipe accident depends on the factors that caused the accident. For example, did one driver run a stop light or sign and smash into another vehicle?

If so, he or she would clearly be at fault for the accident as well as any injuries suffered by the other driver. It could also happen that one driver cuts in front of another who was attempting to make a turn or change lanes. The driver who cut in front would be the one at fault, even though he or she might attempt to claim that the other driver didn’t yield the right of way.

Faulty brakes or other equipment defect is another possible cause of side-impact collisions at an intersection. In this scenario, the manufacturer of the vehicle or the last mechanic to work on it could share the blame for causing the accident - such as a recent multi-million dollar settlement awarded to our client who was paralyzed due to a car accident caused by a manufacturer's defect.

Other Factors in Determining Fault

When a car accident involves more than two vehicles, determining whether one person is at fault or if several people share blame can be especially challenging. For example, three cars could be involved in a rear-end collision with the back car pushing the middle car into the front car. However, the driver of the lead car could share some responsibility as well depending on his or her behavior immediately preceding the crash.

In addition to surveying the damage at the crash scene, investigators will also study the police report, any evidence at the crash scene and interview witnesses to get the best idea of the chain of events leading up to the accident.

This goes for all types of crashes, not just ones involving more than two vehicles. Yet another common car accident scenario is when neither car shows evidence of a crash yet the behavior of one of the drivers caused it.

This is what legal experts call a no-contact car accident. A common example of a no-contact car accident is when one driver swerves into the lane of another. The driver who swerved shows no vehicle damage but still caused damage to the other vehicle and injuries to the driver because his or her actions forced the other car off the road.

These types of accidents can be especially difficult to prove when no one else witnessed them.

Determining Fault by the Location of Damage: How to Tell Who's at Fault

One of the first things an accident investigator studies at the scene of the crash is the damage that each vehicle sustained. The reason for this is that it can provide strong clues as to what actually took place immediately before and during the crash. For example, damage to the rear end of one car and the front end of another clearly shows a rear-end collision.

Damage to any portion of the passenger side of a vehicle usually indicates a fault by the other driver as well. The driver causing the crash likely failed to stop for a traffic control device or backed out of a parking spot or driveway without making sure the area directly behind them was clear.

To prove fault in a car accident, our firm works with accident reconstruction experts with training and expertise to consider such things as dynamics, engineering, and physics.

Additionally, the accident reconstruction specialist can create scale models of each vehicle, obtain measurements of any debris left at the scene, and even re-create the accident entirely. Finally, our accident reconstruction specialists consider these factors in addition to the ones listed above:

  • Tire marks left at the scene
  • Use of cruise control by either driver
  • Surface of the road at the time of the accident
  • Spilled fuel or other road debris
  • Whether each driver used turn signals appropriately as well as if they were operational at the time of the crash
  • Whether the brake lights on either vehicle were working properly

Discuss Your Claim With an Experienced Auto Accident Attorney

Since 1992, the New York car accident lawyers at Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm have helped hundreds of others in your situation. If you've suffered injuries in a vehicle crash, our legal team will determine fault and help you recover maximum compensation.

We have the unmatched resources that have helped our clients recover more than $700 Million in personal injury verdicts and settlements.

Don't wait, speak with one of our award winning attorneys today.

CALL NOW: Contact us online or call at 212-268-3222 for a free lawyer consultation.

Howard Raphaelson
Partner, Attorney
Howard A. Raphaelson founded Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm, P.C. in 1992 after graduating from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, NY. With over thirty years of experience as a personal injury lawyer, he has earned a trusted reputation from his peers, judges, and top leaders, including recognition among the top 5% injury attorneys as a “Super Lawyer” (Thomson Reuters) and “New York’s Best Lawyers” (New York Magazine).

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