Though most collisions involve two or more vehicles, there are plenty of single-car accidents too. Imagine a driver who swerves to avoid a deer and ends up hitting a guardrail, or one who hits a bump in the road and spins out.
Single-vehicle accidents take many different forms, and they often result in personal injury or property damage. Is the driver always at fault?
At Hunter & Everage, our attorneys hear this question often, and the short answer is no. There can be many reasons why someone other than the driver is responsible for a single-vehicle accident. Here, we’ll review the general legal principles at play in these situations and share some common examples.
Who is liable for damages in single-vehicle accidents?
Generally speaking, drivers in single-car accidents are only liable if their actions are the “proximate cause” of the collision. While proximate cause can be difficult to determine, there are some concrete examples that provide real guidance for drivers.
Proximate cause is a complex legal matter and the main reason why you want to hire an attorney for any personal injury cases—even for cases that appear to be straightforward. If an injury is the foreseeable result of a person’s actions, then that person is liable for the injury.
What qualifies as foreseeable? There is a lot of grey area here, and every detail counts. Ultimately, the law on proximate cause—also known as “legal” cause—asks whether it’s reasonable to hold a person liable for a particular injury.
If an injury is the direct result of a person’s conduct, or if the conduct triggers an uninterrupted chain of events that ends in injury, then the person is liable. However, if there’s only a remote or tenuous link between them, then the conduct is not the injury’s proximate cause.
What does this mean for single-car accidents? Fortunately, there are some examples that help us understand proximate cause in this context.
This one’s easy. If you drive drunk and you’re involved in a single-car accident, you’re liable for any damage that you cause.
Speeding and other traffic violations
In many circumstances, if you’re speeding or committing some other traffic violation when you get into your accident, then you’re liable for the damage. At a minimum, speeding is going to count against you.
If you swerve to avoid a deer and get into an accident, then you’re not liable for the damage to your own car. Wildlife is too unpredictable to count as legally “foreseeable.” (If you damage personal property because you swerved off the road, you may be responsible for those costs.)
Similarly, if you swerve to avoid an accident and then you’re in an accident yourself, you’re not liable. Here too, the law deems the first accident too unpredictable to be foreseeable.
Sometimes, drivers get into single-car accidents because of road conditions—not weather conditions like ice or rain, but potholes or other road damage. In these cases, you may be able to avoid liability—but you’ll have to show the city or county knew of (or should have known of) the defect in the road and didn’t take steps to fix it.
Finally, if there’s a defect in your vehicle—for example, faulty brakes—then you’re not liable. In these product liability cases, the law holds the businesses that make, distribute, or maintain the vehicle (or the part of the vehicle) accountable.
If you’re in a single-vehicle car accident, you need an attorney
Whatever the case, if you’re in a single-vehicle accident, then you need legal representation if you want to find a way to recover. Reach out to the experienced personal injury lawyers at Hunter & Everage in Charlotte, North Carolina, or Richmond, Virginia, if you’ve been involved in a single-car accident, and we’ll help you choose the right path forward.