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In the United States alone, there are typically more than six million car accidents each year, millions of injuries, and tens of thousands of traffic related fatalities. Motor vehicle accident law may involve cars, motorcycles, trucks, school buses, light trucks, 18-wheelers, or pedestrians.
Legal issues surrounding motor vehicle accidents may include negligence, recklessness (DUI or drunk driving), product liability (tire failure or vehicle rollover), class action, and insurance (no fault, claims coverage, or subrogation). The most common cause of action brought in a car or motor vehicle accident involves the legal concept of negligence.
Negligence under the common law involves looking at four issues:
- Did the defendant (or tort-feasor) owe a duty to the plaintiff or victim?
- Was that duty breached?
- Was the plaintiff or victim injured (to the person or property)?
- And was the breach of the duty the proximate cause of that injury?
Some states provide that if a tort-feasor broke a law, such as a traffic ordinance, that such action is “negligence per se” – that is, it is unnecessary to investigate into the particular circumstances of the accident as any prudent or careful (non-negligent) individual would follow the law.
One reason why trucking accidents, including 18-wheelers, are treated differently than traditional motor vehicle accidents is that the government regulates the trucking industry with a host of rules – that if not followed may result in a negligence per se finding.
Many states reduce any damage awards to plaintiffs to account for the plaintiff’s comparative negligence in the case. If a fact finder, a jury or a judge in a bench trial, determines that a plaintiff was 25% at fault, but suffered damages of $100,000, the jury or judge would then award only $75,000 in damages to the plaintiff to account for the plaintiff’s negligence of 25% of $100,000.
Further, some states prohibit plaintiffs from recovering any damages if the plaintiff was more than half (50%) at fault; this is the doctrine of contributory negligence. That a person is responsible for an accident does not necessarily mean that he or she cannot recover damages.
The design and manufacturing of vehicles can sometimes turn an average bump or bruise into an injury much worse, or even death.
Legal liability, however, should not be confused with the ability to collect damages. While most states require motor vehicle operators to carry insurance; not all drivers do in fact carry the coverage. Further, some automobile insurance policies may contain inadequate coverage limits. Drivers who do not carry insurance, or who have inadequate insurance, are not likely to have enough personal assets to cover a victim’s injuries. Uninsured or underinsured motorist insurance coverage is one way by which to protect yourself in this situation.