Every time a car accident attorney looks at a case, one of the first questions that needs to be answered is, "Who is alleged to be the at-fault party?" In other words, the law wants to know which driver caused the accident to happen.
This question gets way more complex for a car accident lawyer when the incident involved a chain reaction and multiple vehicles. Let's take a look at how it might be determined which motorist was at fault.
The Concept of Negligent Behavior
At the core of this question is the legal notion of negligence. The way the law sees negligence in auto accident claims and suits is that every motorist has a responsibility to prevent other people from coming to harm due to their own actions or failures. For example, you can't just whip your car around making a left turn in an intersection without looking for oncoming traffic. A reasonable person would consider that extremely negligent, and an at-fault driver would likely be found responsible for causing such an accident.
Note that outside factors, such as bad weather, may make it so no one is considered responsible. This concept is referred to as force majeure.
Negligence in Chain Reaction Cases
It's very possible that multiple drivers may have been acting negligently at the same time. Suppose three drivers were involved in an incident. Driver #2 was tailgating Driver #1, and likewise, Driver #3 was tailgating Driver #2. Compound the hypothetical accident even further, suppose #2 and #3 both failed to react because they were looking at their phones.
The first driver has a pretty strong argument against the second because most states presume a rear-end accident involving a tailgater is the second driver's fault. Where things get a fuzzier is in determining how much Driver #3 contributed to the incident.
Types of Negligence
Every claims adjuster, judge, and jury in America is expected to come up with a percentage number assigning responsibility for the accident. Each state has its own rules regarding how negligence is assessed as a percentage of what happened, and this often determines whether you can even pursue a claim.
In contributory negligence states, even 1% responsibility opens you up to a claim or lawsuit. Many people could be found liable.
Some states, however, require that one party is shown to be at least 51% responsible for the incident. In those states, it's critical for a car accident attorney to narrow the case down to a small set of actions that point to a particular driver.
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