Overview of Motor Vehicle Accidents
Motor vehicle accidents are the cause of hundreds of thousands of injuries and deaths each year. These accidents involve cars, trucks, common carriers, motorcycles, and pedestrians.
The Law Controlling Motor Vehicle Accidents
Basic negligence laws apply except when a common carrier injures a passenger. The judge will instruct the jury that “a person must use reasonable care in driving a vehicle. Drivers must keep a lookout for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles. They must also control the speed and movement of their vehicles. The failure to use reasonable care in driving a vehicle is negligence”. CACI 700
For related information go to Negligence Law.
If the plaintiff was injured while riding on a bus or taxi, the law imposes upon the driver a higher duty or care than just reasonable care. To learn more about this go to Actions Against Common Carriers.
If the accident involves a pedestrian, the judge will instruct the jury that “the duty to use reasonable care does not require the same amount of caution from drivers and pedestrians. While both drivers and pedestrians must be aware that motor vehicles can cause serious injuries, drivers must use more care than pedestrians.” CACI 710
Some people believe that if they have the right-of-way, they cannot be held responsible for an accident. Although the law requires a driver or a pedestrian to let the other go first depending on who has right-of-way, the judge will instruct the jury that “even if someone has the right-of-way, that person must use reasonable care to avoid an accident.” CACI 701
Speed is often involved as a cause of accidents. The law requires that a person drive at a reasonable speed. The jury decides whether a particular speed is reasonable based on the circumstances such as traffic, weather, visibility, and road conditions. Drivers must not drive so fast that they create a danger to people or property. If the defendant or the plaintiff was not driving at a reasonable speed at the time of the accident, then that person was negligent.
The judge will instruct a jury that “the speed limit is a factor to consider when you decide whether or not the plaintiff or defendant was negligent. A driver is not necessarily negligent because he or she was driving faster than the speed limit. However, a driver may be negligent even if he or she was driving at or below the speed limit.” CACI 707
On average, there are over 5,870,000 vehicle crashes each year. Nearly 1,312,000 are weather-related.
The California Vehicle Code sets forth the law concerning what drivers and pedestrians can or cannot do. If either the plaintiff or the defendant violates one of these laws, the judge may tell the jury what the law is and that a violation of that law might constitute negligence. If the injured plaintiff was not using a working available seat belt, the jury could conclude that the plaintiff was negligent.
The issues involved are whether a reasonably careful person in plaintiff’s situation would have used the seat-belt and more importantly, whether, based on expert testimony, plaintiff’s injuries would have been avoided or less severe if he or she had used the seat belt.
The Use of Experts in Motor Vehicle Accident Cases
Some motor vehicle accident cases do not require the use of an expert witness to establish liability. Other cases depend on expert testimony. The most frequently used experts in these types of cases are accident reconstructionists. An accident reconstructionist can be used to determine speed, location and movement of vehicles and pedestrians. An accident reconstructionist might also be able to determine whether one of the parties had the ability to see a potential hazard and had time to react to it. Demonstrative evidence is often used to assist the jury in visualizing and understanding accident reconstruction testimony.
Liability of Owners of Motor Vehicles
The law limits the owner’s liability to $15,000 for personal injury of one person, and $30,000 for the death or injury to more than one person, and $5,000 for property damage. The owner will be held responsible for the full amount of the damages if the defendant gave a minor (a person under the age of 18) permission to operate a vehicle and the minor was negligent. A defendant is also responsible for the full amount of the damages if the plaintiff was harmed because he or she negligently permitted a driver to use the vehicle. To prevail on this theory, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant knew, or should have known, that the driver was incompetent or unfit to drive the vehicle. This is referred to as “negligent entrustment.”
Proving liability and obtaining just compensation for injuries sustained and damages caused in a motor vehicle accident is not as easy as it may seem.
The attorneys at Cheong, Denove, Rowell & Bennett have authored numerous papers and have lectured to other lawyers on products liability, damages and trial practice.
We have the extensive resources to handle the most complex legal matters, yet are small enough to offer individualized service to our clients.