Collisions between cars or other vehicles are dangerous—921 people were killed in traffic accidents last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This doesn’t include the thousands of victims who suffered serious injuries in the wake of a car accident.
What’s the most common cause of all these collisions—and the many more that don’t injure or kill anyone? It’s very tempting, of course, to point at factors known to cause a high proportion of accidents, such as driving while impaired (DWI) with alcohol or other substances or driving too fast. But the answer is actually much more simple. The underlying element in both of these causes, and every other cause of vehicle crashes, is negligence.
Negligence Causes Every Collision
Negligence rests on a concept the law calls “duty of care.” All vehicle drivers owe a duty of care to the public when operating the vehicle. They should exercise the same level of care that someone with an ordinary level of prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. For a vehicle driver, that means they must obey all traffic laws and regulations. They must drive safely and prudently.
If drivers either violate the law and regulations, drive unsafely and recklessly, or both, they can be said to have violated the duty of care. If the violation of duty of care caused an accident, the accident can be said to have occurred because of the driver’s negligence in exercising the duty of care.
If the accident harmed someone as a result of the negligent actions, the negligent driver can be deemed liable. If they are liable, they are responsible for the injuries.
Let’s say, for instance, that a driver consumes too much alcohol at a holiday party. Driving home, they run a stop light and hit another car broadside. The passenger on that side is thrown through the windshield and their head and torso are severely injured. The driver of the other car suffered a broken arm.
The driver who had too much to drink was negligent on several fronts. First, they combined drinking and driving, which is known to be unsafe and imprudent. Second, they failed to obey by a basic traffic law: stopping at a stop light. Alcohol consumption often slows reflexes and impairs judgment, so an inebriated driver might be more prone to violate traffic laws and regulations.
Nebraska and Wyoming are both fault states when it comes to car accidents. If a negligent driver harms you, you can approach their insurance company to pay damages, or file a personal injury suit against the at-fault driver.
While negligence is always the cause of collisions, not all negligence is borne by vehicle drivers. Factors other than driver error can cause accidents.
Sometimes, accidents are caused by manufacturing defects in the vehicle. Perhaps the brakes suddenly fail, or the tires are prone to blow out at high speeds. Drivers are responsible for maintaining their vehicles, of course, as part of safe and prudent driving. But manufacturing defects can cause accidents to occur even if the cars are properly maintained.
Manufacturers also have a duty of care to the public, to make sure that their products are safe and will work effectively under normal conditions. If their products can be proved unsafe, or not to work effectively, manufacturers can be deemed negligent. The negligence can occur at in point in the manufacture: design, production, and shipment.
Manufacturers can also be negligent if they knew or had reasonable cause to know their vehicles were unsafe, but concealed this knowledge from the public.
If they are negligent, they can be liable for injuries caused by the defect.
An investigation may need to prove if manufacturing defects were involved.
Negligence in Road or Other Maintenance
Accidents can also be caused by the condition of roads or other areas where a vehicle operates. Significantly uneven pavement, for example, can cause a car, truck, or SUV to tip and roll over. Deep potholes can also cause a rollover. Improperly marked or confusing construction zones can be one of the causes of accidents. Nonworking safety equipment, such as traffic signals, can precipitate an accident.
If any of these or related factors cause an accident, the entity responsible for maintaining the roads or other areas may be negligent in their performance of duties. These entities could be county, city, or state governments or private contractors.
Here, too, an investigation will likely be necessary to prove the factors involved in the accident.
Negligence of Other Parties
Other entities might also be negligent if a collision occurs because of actions that are either against the law or imprudent and unsafe. In Nebraska, for example, the bar, restaurant, liquor store, or other establishment that served liquor to an intoxicated minor who drives may be investigated to see if they served too much knowing that the person was already inebriated.
They could also face liability charges: Nebraska Revised Statutes Sec. 53-404 states that any person who is injured by an intoxicated individual may file a claim against the retailer who sold the alcoholic beverage if the person causing injury was a minor.
What Actions Cause Vehicle Collisions?
While every collision is caused by negligence, the actions that result from negligence differ, of course. What are the most common precipitating causes of vehicle accidents?
In many crashes, negligent driving behaviors were to blame. Speeding, for instance, causes roughly 17 percent of all traffic fatalities across the country. It should be noted that these events include both going over the posted speed limit and driving too fast for existing conditions, such as limited visibility due to fog or darkness.
- Speeding is the largest single cause of accidents.
- Driving while impaired with alcohol or other substances was the second single cause of fatal accidents.
- The third greatest single cause of collisions is failure to stay in the proper lane, which causes more than 7 percent of all traffic fatalities.
- The fourth biggest driving behavior to cause deaths was failure to yield the right-of-way, which was at over 7 percent.
- Both distracted driving and careless driving caused 5.7 percent of all collision-related fatalities.
- Not obeying traffic signals, signs, or law enforcement caused 4 percent of traffic deaths.
- Driving recklessly, negligently, or erratically was responsible for 3.8 percent of fatalities.
- Overcorrecting or oversteering caused 3.5 percent of all traffic deaths.
- Obscured vision caused 3 percent of all fatalities.
- Sleepiness, fatigue, and related conditions, such as blacking out, caused 2.5 percent of fatalities.
Bear in mind, however, that more than 50 percent of accident reports nationwide don’t carry a specific cause. Negligent behavior that can cause traffic collisions can take many forms.
How Can I Prove Negligence?
Ascertaining the cause of a collision rests on evidence. To allege negligence on the part of the at-fault driver, your case will need evidence about the cause of the accident, including what occurred and how. It’s always prudent to call law enforcement after an accident, and in most places, it’s the law. The police report filed after an accident is a chief piece of evidence concerning who was responsible. The report will note the drivers and vehicles involved, what occurred, what the drivers reported at the time, the date and time, the weather (if relevant), and all other relevant details.
If you are in an accident and have a smartphone camera or other camera with you, it’s a good idea to take pictures of your vehicle, the other vehicle, the scene, the road, and your injuries. A great deal of information about the cause of an accident can be determined from good quality pictures. Your injuries will also be mute testimony of how an accident may have occurred.
If there are witnesses, talk to them and get their contact information if you are able.
You should also get the contact and insurance information of any other drivers involved—not for evidence, but to pursue a claim if they were at fault for the accident.
If an accident’s causes need to be investigated to determine the cause of fault, it’s prudent to contact an attorney. Attorneys often have teams of experienced investigators. They can also see if any surveillance cameras have footage of the collision.
Finally, for your health and safety, it’s highly advisable to see a doctor after any traffic collision. You could be injured—and you could be injured in ways that you don’t feel, or don’t feel initially. Importantly, this protection of your health can also be used as evidence of the extent of your injuries if you decide to pursue a claim.
If Another Party Is Negligent, How Can I Be Compensated?
People injured or otherwise harmed in a collision caused by another party can bring a suit for economic and non-economic losses. The suit is usually first brought against the at-fault party’s insurance company. If you deem the settlement the insurance company offers unfair, you may also pursue a personal injury lawsuit. Economic and non-economic losses are termed “damages” in a legal case.
Economic losses include:
- Past and future medical expenses to treat accident-related injuries, including ambulance rides, doctor’s visits, surgeries, hospitalization, prescription medication, physical therapy, and more
- Lost wages from work due to the accident and treatment for injuries. Lost wages means any income that the injured party was unable to earn due to their injuries.
- Loss of future earning capacity if the injured person is unable to work at a former occupation or unable to work the same amount of time.
- Damage to the injured party’s car or other property
The amount of economic damages you can recover is calculated on the cost of medical treatment, the amount of wages or other income lost, and an analysis of expected future medical costs and lost income. The latter often requires expert testimony.
Non-economic damages may be sought in a personal injury suit, for general damages or pain and suffering. The monetary value of this type of damage doesn’t consist of toting up bills to get a final result. Instead, an attorney and a court consider several factors in determining a fair amount.
They may ask or consider, for example, whether the injuries caused the victim’s daily life to be limited or altered. A person with a spinal cord injury, for example, may not be able to walk. They may have to quit work, have their home retrofitted, and consistently engage home healthcare or other aides.
They may consider whether the injuries affected the victim’s ability to perform the tasks of daily living or ability to sleep. They may examine the impact on the victim’s life over the long term. They may examine the impact of the injuries on the victim’s working and social relationships.
Is There a Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Suits?
If you elect to file a personal injury suit for damages, you must do so within the statute of limitations for personal injury cases. A statute of limitations is a period of time after which courts will very likely refuse to hear your case. For personal injury cases in Nebraska and Wyoming, the statute of limitations is four years for auto accident injuries.
While this may seem like plenty of time following an accident, this doesn’t mean you should wait to pursue a claim: evidence is lost, witness memories fade, and postponing your claim can make it far more difficult to obtain the best result.
If you need more information or assistance, a free consultation with an auto accident injury lawyer can answer your questions and help you decide what to do next.