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Gregory Perenich
23 June 2022

3 Car Accident Scenarios: Who’s at Fault? Who Pays?

Car accidents are often more than just an inconvenience. Every car accident disrupts lives and impacts the victim’s well-being. Whether financial, physical, or mental, you need to know who is liable for the accident and what steps to take to ensure the at-fault party is held accountable. The problem is that fault is not always easy to assign, and more than one party may be at fault. Utilizing a car accident lawyer can help you receive the compensation you deserve. 

According to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV) department, more than 400,000 vehicle accidents occur across the state in a year. As a result of these accidents, 3,739 people lost their lives, and nearly 253,000 suffered an injury.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which analyzes data collected from various sources, three types of accidents result in most fatalities on United States roadways. It stands to reason that these are also the most common sources of injury. Here are three car accident scenarios that can demonstrate who might be at fault for an accident and who may be held financially liable for the damages.

Scenario One: Head-On Collision Accidents

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More than one-half of roadway deaths involve a head-on collision. The faster the vehicles travel, the more likely a fatality will occur. When one car crosses a median and strikes another car, the size of the vehicles involved and their speed before impact will determine the level of damage.

Typically determining who is at fault for the accident requires an accident reconstruction team. Following a head-on collision, each vehicle may be straddling a lane when they reach a complete stop. In most cases, the driver who crossed over would be at-fault when they entered the wrong lane. However, this may not be where the entire fault for the accident lies.

Some of the potential reasons why a car may veer into another lane include:

  • The car was rear-ended – A driver may rear-end another vehicle and push them into another lane. In these cases, you may hold more than just the rear-end driver accountable. The driver who struck the car head-on could also have taken action that caused the collision. Police reports, witness reports, and traffic cameras may be able to assign the majority of fault. Still, Florida utilizes comparative negligence in car accidents, meaning parties will share liability for the percent of the accident they are responsible for causing rear-end crashes. 
  • The car was sideswiped – A car may sideswipe a vehicle, pushing that vehicle across into oncoming traffic, causing a head-on collision.
  • Avoiding road hazards – A child or animal running onto the roadway, a large pothole or sinkhole, or a large piece of debris may cause a driver to swerve into the lane of oncoming traffic resulting in a head-on collision. The driver who struck the oncoming car head-on may still bear the most significant financial liability. However, the party responsible for the hazard could be held partially liable. A trucking company may be liable for dropping freight or a tire on the road, or in the case of a pothole or sinkhole, a municipality may be partially liable for the victim’s injuries.

In each of these scenarios, it is essential to recognize that Florida’s no-fault insurance rules may have a bearing on the ability of a victim to collect outside of their insurance policy.

An experienced car accident attorney can help head-on collision victims hold all responsible parties financially liable.

Scenario Two: Sideswipe Accidents

When two vehicles are traveling in the same direction and come in contact, it is more commonly known as a sideswipe accident. These accidents can occur at any speed, and the faster the vehicles are traveling, the more dangerous the accident. Placing liability for these types of accidents can be complicated because it involves determining who had the right of way at the time of impact.

The most common sideswipe accidents occur because of:

  • Blindspot collisions – A car or truck may change lanes within a driver’s blind spot and fail to notice a car in their lane. Upon changing lanes, they sideswipe the car traveling in the adjoining lane. In this case, the driver who left their lane without noticing the car in the adjoining lane is responsible for the accident and may be held financially accountable for the damage and injuries caused.
  • Road condition sideswipe collisions – When a car travels too fast for road conditions and hydroplanes across water on the road, they are at fault for any accident they cause. Drivers have a responsibility to maintain control of their vehicles. Generally, the driver who hydroplaned would be liable for the accident and could be held financially accountable for the injuries and damages resulting from the accident.
  • Two drivers moving into the same lane – When traveling on a highway of three or more lanes, two drivers can attempt to move into the same lane without noticing the other car doing the same. In these cases, both drivers may be held partially responsible for the accident despite neither being aware of the other driver’s intent.

In some sideswipe collisions, it may be necessary to pull traffic camera footage to determine which driver was responsible for the collision. In these cases, an experienced car accident lawyer can be very helpful in obtaining the necessary evidence to show liability.

Scenario Three: Rear-End Collisions

Many people think that rear-end collisions are always the fault of the driver who struck the other vehicle from behind. However, there are specific instances where a rear-end collision may not be the rear driver’s fault.

A distracted driver or malfunctioning brakes can cause a rear-end collision that is not the rear driver’s fault.

  • Distracted driver – A car stopped at a traffic signal may be rear-ended by the car behind them. However, that car may have only rear-ended the first vehicle because a third car in the line of traffic was distracted and failed to break. The driver was texting, checking their GPS, or otherwise distracted. In these cases, both the distracted driver and the driver of the second car, the one in the middle, may bear some liability for the resulting accident.
  • Malfunctioning brakes – A vehicle hits another car because its brakes malfunction. Though this may seem to demonstrate clear liability on the driver of the vehicle with faulty brakes, it may depend on the type of vehicle. For example, if the vehicle was a commercial truck, you may hold an employer or maintenance company partially responsible for your damages and injuries. If a driver had recently had their car serviced, you may hold a mechanic partially responsible for the accident. In some cases, a manufacturer error that leads to the break failure will make the manufacturer liable.

These may seem like far-fetched scenarios, but they happen more times than you would think. Moreover, they can be confusing for victims to establish liability independently. Car accident victims should seek legal advice when they have suffered an injury in a car accident, particularly when the question of fault is in doubt.

No-Fault Insurance Can Complicate Claims

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When they register their vehicles, Florida drivers must have personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage and maintain that insurance by paying their premiums. PIP or no-fault coverage means any driver involved in an accident could file their claim for personal injuries under their policy.

There are limits to these policies, and they do not reimburse 100 percent of the victim’s losses. There are specific limitations on the coverage paid and the type of medical care covered. If PIP insurance does not cover a victim’s injuries, they may pursue a claim against the at-fault party’s insurer for the remainder.

Before an accident victim can file a personal injury claim against an at-fault driver, they must be able to prove serious injury.

In nearly all cases, that means:

  • The victim suffered significant scarring as a result of their injury
  • The victim suffered broken bones as a result of the accident
  • The victim suffered an injury that could be considered permanent (loss of vision, for example)

There may be other cases that would allow a victim to step outside of the no-fault system. Still, to determine this, a victim would benefit from having their case evaluated by an attorney with experience navigating the complicated issues involved with no-fault insurance.

Injuries Suffered in Car Accidents: Minor to Fatal

When someone is involved in any car accident, several factors will determine how serious the resulting injuries are.

Some of these include:

  • Speed of involved vehicles – The faster a car is traveling when it strikes another vehicle, the more likely the victims will suffer serious injuries.
  • Size of vehicles involved – When two vehicles of similar weight and size are involved in an accident, both drivers could potentially suffer similar injuries. However, when a larger vehicle strikes a significantly smaller vehicle, the driver of the smaller vehicle will likely suffer a more serious injury. Common examples would include where a commercial truck struck a car or a car struck a motorcycle.
  • Pre-accident health of victim – When an accident victim is in good health, they can often recover more quickly or completely from an injury. However, when a person is not in good health, they may take longer to recover.
  • Age of victim – Children and seniors may suffer more serious injuries simply because they tend to be more fragile than other victims. Seniors in car accidents often suffer more serious injuries than younger people because their bones are more fragile. Children may also suffer more serious injuries than adults because of their size.

While collisions can occur for any reason, some typical causes involve distracted driving, driving under the influence, or drivers who fail to follow traffic signals or signs.

Experienced Lawyers Can Help Victims

Too often, victims of a serious car accident discover that their minimum insurance coverage is insufficient to compensate them for the losses they suffered as a result of an accident. Sometimes, victims are uncertain what the law means by “serious injury,” and insurance companies rarely, if ever, explain the law. A car accident victim should seek legal advice to ensure that they pursue the full compensation they deserve and that they properly navigate the claims process.

An accident that injures a primary breadwinner can put a family in financial jeopardy. Serious injuries impact not only the accident victim but their entire family. Injuries disrupt routines and cause financial challenges if someone needs three to six months to recover. An insurance company will often under-appreciate an accident’s emotional toll on an entire family.

Though insurance claims are vital to a victim’s recovery, insurance companies never like to pay an insurance claim. Thankfully, victims can file injury claims directly with their insurer under the no-fault statutes. However, victims need other options when the medical bills, lost income, and other expenses greatly exceed a no-fault policy’s limits. An attorney can help advise on the best way forward.

Only with a proper legal evaluation will someone know if they can and should pursue a claim against another driver or another party responsible for their injuries. Insurance companies are concerned with profit, not the well-being of an accident victim. While the insurer may pay a claim without question, they may exclude certain portions or attempt to reduce a claim to pay less to claimants.

No matter the seriousness of a victim’s injury, it is wise to contact a car accident lawyer in Florida for a free case evaluation. You need to understand your legal rights and options so you have every opportunity for the insurance company to make you financially whole following an accident.