In the aftermath of a collision, it is not always easy to determine which driver initiated the impact, ultimately causing the accident.
In some cases, traffic or surveillance cameras in the vicinity may have captured the accident. As such, an injured party may have undisputed video evidence that establishes who contributed to causing the crash. In the absence of video evidence, the involved parties may need to gather additional information to help determine who hit who in an auto accident.
The Physical Condition of the Vehicles May Provide Clues
The location and extent of physical damage on each vehicle may provide clues as to which driver caused the accident.
Oftentimes the type of physical property damage incurred will depend on the type of collision.
- Rear-end collisions: Under New York law, drivers must leave a safe “space cushion” between their vehicle and the vehicle they are following. In a classic fender-bender, damage usually shows that the rear driver initiated contact. Despite physical evidence of a rear-end collision, there are instances where the rear driver may not be entirely at fault for a crash. Perhaps the leading driver contributed to the accident due to malfunctioning brake lights or suddenly stopping without using a turn signal. In these cases, the driver in the rear may use the front driver’s behavior to discredit a claim that he or she is liable. In an accident involving more than two vehicles, the impact of one car hitting another may cause the first car to collide with a third vehicle.
- Left-turn collisions: New York law requires drivers turning left across traffic to yield to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. In a collision involving a left turn, the driver coming from the other direction typically collides with the turning car. However, the turning driver may be the party who violated traffic laws by failing to yield. Therefore, the physical evidence of impact may or may not establish which driver was at fault.
- Chain reaction accidents: Many factors may contribute to chain reaction accidents. Construction-related hazards, bad weather conditions, traffic back-ups, or aggressive or distracted driving commonly play a role in chain reaction accidents.
- Side-impact collisions: According to GEICO, side-impact collisions may take different forms, and physical damage to the vehicles may determine which car initiated impact. If two cars are traveling next to each other in different lanes, it may be difficult to determine which car was the first to sideswipe the other. However, a side-impact accident may cause damage to the front of one vehicle, while causing damage to the side or rear of the other. In this case, an investigation may reveal the vehicle with damage near the front initiated the impact.
- Parking lot accidents: By nature, it may be tricky to establish which car hit which in parking lot incidents, as the collisions commonly occur when two drivers are backing out simultaneously. Was one driver partially backed out from his or her space when the second car started to reverse and, if so, which car hit the other? A driver may sustain rear damage when he or she collides with a vehicle passing behind while backing out of a parking space. In this situation, evidence of causation may be more clear.
- Head-on collisions: Head-on collisions often make it challenging to determine which driver was responsible for the accident. The impact of a head-on collision may push vehicles into different directions or positions. A medical condition, mechanical failure, drunk driving, or distracted driving may have contributed to a driver’s failure to maintain their lane. Records like toxicology reports or cell phone data may help determine if one of the drivers was more likely to be traveling on the wrong side.
Can You Count on Eyewitnesses or an Admission of Responsibility?
Eyewitness accounts may seem to provide reliable information about which vehicle initiated impact. However, while these accounts may be useful, human memory can become distorted after an accident. Also, eyewitnesses who were passengers in one of the vehicles may not be seen as credible.
Passengers may have an interest in backing the version of events offered by their driver. Even a party’s admission of responsibility or apology for causing an accident may not stand up to scrutiny. Accounts of how the accident occurred may change after discussions with family, friends, insurance companies, or lawyers.
Professional Crash Investigators Use Varied Tools to Help Reconstruct the Accident
The New York State Police have a Collision Reconstruction Unit that collects evidence concerning automobile crashes. Digital tools and collision reenactments can help create a forensic map that reconstructs the accident scene. In some circumstances, officers may be able to generate a computer diagram or a three-dimensional animation of the accident for use at a trial.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Institute investigates crashes to improve the safety of the nation’s roadways. Professional crash investigators analyze the accident scene, inspect the vehicles involved, and interview crash victims. Investigators may examine skid marks, the vehicles’ relative positions, physical damage, photographic evidence, police and medical records, and weather reports to establish how an accident happened.
You Can Help Guide the Investigation
Your actions at the accident scene can help uncover who was responsible for the accident. As mentioned, memories fade, so you may want to take photos of the scene if you are able. Helpful photos may show damage to the vehicles, skid marks, obstructions, traffic lights, or road signs. Check the police report for accuracy and suggest corrections promptly.
You should also gather contact information from eyewitnesses who may support your case. While you must speak with the other driver to share license, registration, and insurance information, avoid the temptation to apologize. Evidence of an apology may be used to discredit a driver’s claim that they were not at fault.
A Car Accident Lawyer Will Know How to Investigate an Accident
Depending on the nature of the accident, law enforcement, insurance adjusters, or accident reconstruction specialists may need to evaluate the case to determine cause. When appropriate, lawyers will work with these professionals to sort through the facts to determine what caused the accident. Determining cause may require a detailed investigation by an experienced personal injury attorney who can fight for your right to seek the compensation you are entitled to. Contact Diamond Injury Law today.