Negligence is a common term in conversation, but in the legal world, it has a precise definition. Learning how negligence applies to car accidents could help you drive safer and avoid causing an accident, while simultaneously helping you determine whether you have a legal case against another driver who causes an accident.
How exactly does negligence work in relation to car accidents, and when should you seek legal action?
The Basics of Negligence
For negligence to apply, in the legal sense, to a car accident, multiple caveats need to be fulfilled:
- Requirements for reasonable care. First, there has to exist an expectation or requirement for some degree of reasonable care. In the context of car accidents, this isn’t usually a problem; drivers are expected to operate their vehicles in a way that keeps all other drivers and pedestrians as safe as possible.
- Evidence that care was not exercised. There also needs to be some evidence that the driver in question did not exercise the level of reasonable care that was required of them. There are many ways this could play out; for example, there may be video footage of the driver swerving in and out of lanes, or the driver may have failed a breathalyzer test after the accident.
- Direct causes of injury and loss. Finally, there needs to be evidence that a driver’s negligent actions were the direct cause of the accident, which in turn was the direct cause of personal losses or injuries. For example, a driver may have failed to conduct proper maintenance on their vehicle, but if that lack of maintenance didn’t directly cause or lead to the collision, it may not hold up in court.
Examples of Negligence
It’s perhaps easiest to see how negligence plays out in a number of examples. Drivers are expected to exercise these responsibilities, and neglecting any of them could be considered maintenance:
- Speed. Speed limits vary depending on where you are and what kind of road you’re using, but you’re always expected to maintain a speed under the limit. Depending on the road conditions, you might also need to decrease your speed further. For example, if the ordinary speed limit is 50 mph, but it’s raining so heavily that visibility and traction are interfering with your safety, driving at the full 50 mph could be considered negligent.
- Following distance. Similarly, you’re expected to follow at a safe distance—about one car length for every 10 mph of speed at which you’re traveling. Following too closely means you won’t be able to stop in time if the driver ahead of you is forced to slam on the brakes. Again, you’ll need to adjust your following distance based on environmental and weather conditions.
- Adherence to traffic laws. Drivers are expected to adhere to basic traffic laws, like coming to a complete stop at every stop sign and signaling every lane change or turn. Violating any traffic law that was designed with driver safety in mind could be considered negligent.
- Vigilance and attention. All drivers should also be vigilant, alert, and attentive to their surroundings at all times. Distracted driving is becoming increasingly common, thanks in part to the mobile technologies available to the average consumer. If you take your eyes off the road for even a few seconds to check your phone or scope out the scene of another accident, you could be found negligent for whatever accident you cause.
- Vehicular control. You also need to remain in full control of your vehicle at all times. This covers a wide variety of different responsibilities, including keeping both hands on the wheel, remaining in a position where you can control the vehicle, and using the vehicle in an appropriate way.
- Vehicular maintenance. It’s your responsibility to keep the vehicle in good condition, practicing all forms of routine maintenance and attending to any potential problems proactively, before they affect your safety on the road. Allowing your brakes to remain in a degraded condition, for example, could be considered negligent driver behavior.
- Additional safety measures. There may be other important safety measures to take in order to drive safely and attentively, depending on the circumstances. For example, if you’re required to wear prescription eyeglasses while driving, driving without them could be negligent.
If you were involved in a car accident thanks to the negligence of another driver, it may be in your best interest to seek legal action against them. There are many variables that will determine the value of a potential legal settlement, and even clear-cut cases can get complicated, so it’s in your best interest to consult with a lawyer before making a final choice. Most car accident attorneys offer free consultations, so there’s no disadvantage in making the appointment.