According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 31,720 people died in motor vehicle traffic accidents between January through September of last year. This figure documents a 12 percent increase from the 28,325 fatalities in the first nine months of the previous year. In fact, this is the most car accident deaths during the first nine months of any year in the past decade. It’s also the highest percentage increase during the first nine months in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history.
However, fatalities only represent a portion of the damages caused by motor vehicle accidents. For example, in one recent year, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics logged 79 injuries per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. While some of these injuries were minor cuts and bruises, others were catastrophic and life-altering, like traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and spinal cord injuries (SCI).
Car accident victims and their families deserve compensation for their injuries and losses. However, the key to getting it is determining which parties were at fault in the accident. Which begs the question – how can you tell who hit who in a car accident?
Car Accidents and Negligence
It’s not always about who it is. It’s more about who was negligent in causing the accident. Sometimes it’s the driver whose car collided with another vehicle, sometimes it’s the other driver, and sometimes a third party. It all comes down to negligence, or the failure to act as a reasonably prudent person would in a similar situation.
For example, a prudent person stops at a red light and drives the speed limit. If a driver fails to stop at a stop sign or drives over the speed limit, they act negligently. If they cause an accident because of their negligence, they bear legal responsibility for the accident.
The Elements of Negligence
After performing a comprehensive accident investigation to determine who was negligent in causing your accident, your car accident attorney will need to prove the four elements of negligence to win your case.
The elements of negligence are:
- Duty: The liable party owed you a duty of care. For car accident cases, traffic laws often define a duty of care and, therefore, are easy to prove.
- Breach of duty: The liable party violated their duty of care somehow. For instance, if a driver is going the wrong way down a highway, there is a breach of duty.
- Causation: The driver’s breach of duty was the direct cause of the accident and the victim’s injuries. Nothing else can have caused the victim’s injuries.
- Damages: As a result of their injuries, the victim sustained various damages such as medical costs, pain and suffering, and lost wages.
Other Potential Negligent Parties
Maybe neither driver caused the accident. Perhaps a third party that was not even at the accident scene did.
Other potentially negligent parties include:
A Vehicle or Parts Manufacturer
Companies that manufacture vehicles and their parts must ensure that they put safe products on the market. Sometimes they are defectively designed or produced or don’t come with adequate warnings. Suppose some part of a vehicle, such as its brakes, tires, or steering wheel, causes an accident. In that case, the manufacturer can have been negligent. In these cases, it doesn’t matter how careful a driver is; accidents still happen.
A Government Entity/Municipality/Contractor
It’s also possible that a road hazard or imperfection caused your accident or perhaps a faulty traffic light or missing sign. Sometimes poorly designed roads or improperly set up construction zones can also lead to accidents. In these cases, a government entity or contractor can be liable for your damages. We must hold them accountable just as other drivers should be if they are responsible for the accident.
If the person who hit you was working at the time of the accident, you can hold their employer responsible for your damages—often in addition to the driver. Since they were on the clock, you can file a claim against the employer’s insurance company. In some cases, the employer is negligent for not performing adequate maintenance on the work vehicle.
When you hire a well-versed accident attorney, they will investigate this possibility and take the necessary steps to hold any liable third parties accountable.
Evidence Used to Determine Who Hit Who/Negligence
#1. The Police Report
Generally, under state laws, drivers involved in motor vehicle collisions must report any accident that causes injury or death to the nearest law enforcement department as soon as possible. If a motorist isn’t able (due to injury or other incapacitation) to make such a report promptly, then a passenger or other involved driver should do it on their behalf. Motorists should also call the police to a crash scene whenever damage has made a vehicle impossible to drive, regardless of injuries or fatalities.
The law enforcement officers will perform a preliminary investigation of the accident at the scene. They will search for clues on the road and examine the vehicles involved.
The following information may reveal the causes of the crash:
- The extent of damage to the vehicles
- Point and angle of impact
- Road conditions
- The location where the car(s) came to a stop after a collision
Police officers will also try to determine whether drivers involved in a crash violated any traffic or other laws to cause the accident. For example, did the other driver run a red stop sign? Did one driver merge without looking if vehicles were already in the other lane? Was a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Such a violation can pinpoint the cause of the wreck.
While conducting their investigation, law enforcement officers will also speak with the drivers, their passengers, and any available eyewitnesses. It’s crucial for anyone interviewed by the police to provide accurate information about what they saw or heard but not to make assumptions about which party might have been at fault.
Upon the conclusion of their investigation, the police will draft a report presenting a wide range of relevant information about the collision. To the greatest extent possible, it gives the law enforcement investigator’s conclusion about who hit who and which driver is responsible.
If no one was injured or killed, it’s still vital to report the crash to the police by filing a written report within five days. In some jurisdictions, this is the law. In addition, you should keep in mind that not all injuries are immediately obvious. For example, suppose you don’t realize you are hurt at the time but have symptoms later. In that case, your accident report can provide a valuable record of what happened.
Even though the police will likely speak with any witnesses, nothing prevents you or your car accident lawyer from doing so too. The police report might list their names, but you can also attempt to get their contact information at the crash scene.
Eyewitness accounts can prove helpful in piecing together who-hit-who in the auto accident. The sooner you or your attorney speak with witnesses and record their statements, the better because memories can fade or even change over time.
#3. hotos From the Accident Scene
Most people carry a smartphone these days. So if you have one or a camera with you at the accident scene, be sure to use it to take photos. A picture really is worth a thousand words when determining fault and liability in an accident.
Take pictures of your car, both inside and out. Take pictures of the point of impact on both cars up-close and from a distance. Even if what is in these pictures doesn’t seem significant, a motor vehicle crash reconstruction expert can find them valuable in determining how the accident occurred.
You’ll also want to get photos of the broader crash scene too. It’s best if you can attempt to capture the perspective of each motorist in the moments leading up to the wreck.
Take pictures of:
- Traffic lights
- Street signs
- Lane markings
- Roadside objects
- Any visual obstructions
- The road surface, including any skid marks, road damages, or imperfections like potholes or loose gravel
- Spilled vehicle fluids
- Wet/icy areas
All of these things depict the true accident scene. They might give investigators and your car accident attorney clues to who is responsible for the accident.
You should also be sure to take photos of your injuries. They not only serve as the only proof of the harm you suffered in the crash, but they can document the nature and scope of your injuries. Your lawyer can use these pictures to analyze who is liable by reflecting on how your body moved in the collision or which side of your body suffered injuries.
#4. Your Injuries
It is not just photos of your injuries that might supply evidence about who caused the crash. Everyone in an accident should seek medical care as soon as possible. You should have a licensed physician examine you, even if you don’t feel any pain or experience any symptoms of being hurt in the accident. It’s entirely possible to be injured in ways you may not feel, like a concussion, or to sustain an injury in ways that will reveal themselves later, like soft tissue injuries.
Medical professionals take notes on your injuries and your descriptions of how they occurred. These are documented in your permanent medical record and can be used as evidence later. Additionally, if the other party’s insurance company disputes liability, physician testimony about how the accident likely caused your injuries will help uncover the truth in your claim.
If you wait to seek medical diagnosis and treatment, you can be sabotaging your claim. The insurance claims adjuster will likely say that you weren’t injured, weren’t hurt that bad, or somehow injured yourself post-accident, and therefore their insured is not to blame for your injuries. To counteract these arguments, see a doctor as soon as possible after your accident.
#5. Surveillance Cameras
More and more public places and even roadways have surveillance cameras these days. Although you can’t control whether these cameras will cover the area where your crash occurs, it’s always a good idea to check to see if a camera captured the collision. If you retain the services of a skilled motor vehicle accident attorney, they will take care of this on your behalf. There’s no better evidence of fault and what really happened than a video of the crash itself.
#6. Forensic Analysis
In complex accidents, it’s sometimes necessary to hire a forensic analyst to evaluate all available evidence thoroughly. These experts are well-versed in sifting through pictures, police reports, eyewitness statements, and medical records to identify the likely trajectory and speed of the vehicles, the point of impact, and, ultimately, who is to blame or who hit who.
The Statute of Limitations
While it will take some time to investigate and determine fault in your accident, you also should be aware of the statute of limitations. This law dictates how much time an injured party has to file a legal claim after they sustain an injury. The statute of limitations varies by state and sometimes by case type. For example, in New York, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the injury.
Any attorney you hire to represent you in a car accident claim should know this deadline. They will work to file your legal claim within the deadline if your case doesn’t settle before then. However, if you miss this crucial deadline, you no longer may use the legal system to pursue compensation for your injuries.
If you recently suffered an injury in a car accident or someone you love did, it’s time to reach out to an experienced auto collision attorney for help. Don’t hesitate to contact for your consultation today.