If you were involved in a motor vehicle accident, your first concern—after seeking medical attention for any injuries you may have—was probably: whose fault was it? You may also look at the damage to your vehicle and wonder if the police and insurance companies will be able to determine who was at fault for the accident by the impact to your vehicle.
Occasionally, accidents are caused by natural forces or things completely outside of anyone’s control. However, more often, motor vehicle accidents are caused by the negligence or recklessness of one or more drivers. Negligence is a legal term that is used to describe an action or lack of action that departs from the behavior that a reasonably prudent person would take in those same circumstances. Some examples of negligence include speeding, texting while driving, engaging in an activity that results in distracted driving, failing to use a turn signal, or failing to obey traffic lights, signs and laws.
Sometimes, if there is mutual or contributory negligence between two drivers, it can be difficult to discern how much each driver contributed to the damage on a vehicle. Even when there is only one driver at fault, damage caused by an impact from certain angles may leave unclear evidence as to which driver is responsible for the damage.
However, more often than not, a police officer can examine a vehicle and generate a report that gives a strong indication of what happened during the accident and which party was at fault. Even photographs of damage to a vehicle can indicate what occurred very clearly, in some cases. Let’s examine a few different points of impact to a vehicle and what can be concluded from the damage.
If you are rear-ended, it is generally quite clear that someone hit you from behind. Even if you had to stop quickly for a car braking in front of you or an animal in the road, drivers behind you should be driving at a speed and within a suitable distance behind you that enables them to react in time and brake without rear-ending your vehicle. Damage to your rear bumper and marks of paint that match the color of the vehicle that hit you are clear signs that the other driver who rear-ended you was probably at fault.
While less clear than the damaged caused by being rear-ended, if you are hit on the side of your vehicle, it is still possible to discern which driver was at fault. In this situation, the police and insurance adjustors generally need some more information about the location of the accident, statements about what occurred, and what damages, if any, the other vehicle suffered.
There are many different circumstances and actions that could result in a collision causing damage to the side of your vehicle. You may be turning left and accidentally pull out in front of a vehicle. In that situation, you may be negligent for failing to look for oncoming traffic from both ways, but the vehicle driving straight that hit the side of your vehicle may also be negligent for speeding or distracted driving, which caused them to be unable to stop in time. The totality of the circumstances must be considered in that situation to determine what happened and the extend to which each driver was at fault.
Similarly, when it comes to determining fault, having the front of your vehicle damaged in an accident is not as clear cut as being rear-ended, unless the damage is centralized and the damage to the other vehicle indicates that you rear-ended the other driver. In that case, you were likely at fault.
However, if the damage is not centralized or the damage from the other vehicle indicates that a collision occurred head on—that is, both vehicles are damaged in the front—then more information like witness statements and a police report might be needed to determine what exactly happened and which driver is responsible for the accident.
Keep in mind that in many accidents, more than one driver involved in the accident was negligent in some way. In New York, even if you were also negligent, you can still recover from a negligent driver who caused you damages, but the amount you recover will be reduced in proportion to the damage you are responsible for causing.
If you have been physically injured in a motor vehicle accident or sustained damages to your property, including your vehicle, due to another person’s negligence, call the experienced lawyers at our firm today to review your case and discuss your best strategy for moving forward.