One of the first things that will happen after a car accident is the insurance companies and police will attempt to determine liability – who is at fault. This is not always easy to do, especially when multiple vehicles are involved.
One of the situations drivers face is what happens when their defensive driving techniques actually lead to a secondary accident. For example, the car in front of them stops suddenly with no warning. Even by applying the brakes immediately, the driver knows there is no way to avoid hitting the car, resulting in a certain accident. So, they decide to swerve and miss the stopped vehicle. In so doing, they turn out into oncoming traffic and hit another vehicle. Are they at fault when they were trying to avoid an accident?
Some would argue that the person who hit another car is liable regardless of the circumstances. Others would maintain that the first driver behaved in an unsafe way and caused the second accident.
In cases like this one, there is what is known as comparative liability. In other words, the driver of the second car bears some responsibility for the accident, but they are not the only liable party. The actions of the first driver who stopped without warning also played a part in the accident and should bear some responsibility. In a rear-end collision, the driver following behind is almost always deemed to be at fault because they are obligated by law to follow at a safe distance to avoid an accident even if the other driver makes a sudden stop. In this situation, the driver who swerved and hit the other car would most likely be determined to be at fault.
However, if the first driver had stopped around a curve where it was impossible for others to see the vehicle until it was too late to stop, they may be held partially responsible.
In some states, when a person is partially at fault, they cannot claim any damages. However, the more common case is contributory liability, which means if you are partially responsible, the amount you are awarded is reduced.
For example, a driver may be deemed to be 25 percent responsible for an accident. If they are awarded one million dollars for a car accident, they would receive $750,000, which is one million minus the 25 percent liability.
It is important that you know what is stated in your insurance policy as well as what the laws are for your state. If you are unsure, you can contact a car accident attorney who can review your policy and will be able to tell you what you are entitled to based on state law.
Driving defensively does not mean you will avoid all accidents, but it does mean you may be held less liable than if you did not try to avoid the accident at all. It is also important to know when and how to use these techniques.