A vehicle accident can be a harrowing experience, especially if you’ve been injured or have lost wages as a result of the accident.
With so many questions coming to the forefront of your mind, it can easily get overwhelming to try to navigate the realm of automobile accident lawsuits.
Here, you will find all the basic facets that go into a successful automobile accident case.
Automobile accidents will always fall under the category of personal injury, and more specifically you will likely file a civil suit for the tort of negligence against the driver or drivers who caused you harm.
Automobile and truck accidents represent the largest swath of personal injury cases in the United States and, like the majority of civil suits, will most likely get settled before ever reaching a jury trial.
It must be understood that any negligence case, whether it be an automobile accident or a slip and fall case, requires the same four elements that need to be proven to make a successful personal injury case.
Those elements are duty, breach, causation, and harm. We will discuss all four elements here, and what exactly needs to be proven in each to win your accident lawsuit.
To begin, it must be shown that the person you are suing owed you a duty of care.
Okay, but what does that mean in terms of an automobile accident?
It means that the driver you are suing has to owe you some form of duty. For negligent physical harm, it means that the driver either needed to be proximate to you in terms of time & space (also known as the zone of danger) or, in the alternative, have a proximate relationship with you.
So, let’s say a driver suddenly swerves into your lane, causing you to jerk the wheel and crash into a guardrail. Based on those limited facts, you can determine that the driver was close to you in terms of time & space, and therefore owed you a duty of reasonable care.
Now, let’s say the driver never swerved, but rather his wheel fell off and went barreling towards you a mile away and smashed your windshield, causing you injury. It would seem that the driver would be too far away in terms of time & space to owe you a duty. However, the fact that the wheel is his, from his vehicle, establishes a proximate relationship between him and you, and he therefore owes you a duty of reasonable care.
There are other means of establishing duty of care, but these are the most common means of doing so in terms of automobile accident lawsuits.
Now that a duty of care has been established between you and the defendant, we move onto establishing that the defendant breached the duty of care they owed you.
When it comes to breach of duty, two prongs need to be established: the standard of care and breach of duty.
The standard of care sets out exactly what it says. This is where we determine whether the defendant owed you a standard of care as a layperson, or a professional, as a child, or otherwise. In an automobile accident case, the defendant will owe a standard of care in line with a layperson, otherwise known as an average person.
Now, the breach of duty is where you must show that the defendant breached their duty of care owed to you. This seems like a redundant statement but this is how it actually works. On paper, it seems strange. But, in practice, it amounts to you showing that the defendant did something that breaches their duty of reasonable care. If they do something to you that isn’t reasonable, you may have proof of a breach.
Once we have established that the defendant owed a duty of care and breached it, we move onto causation. Like breach of duty, there are two prongs to causation that need to be proven: scope of liability and cause in fact.
Scope of liability encompasses two major questions:
When talking about foreseeable type of harm, we are asking whether the injury you sustained was foreseeable to the defendant given the action the defendant took that resulted in your injury.
So, if you get in an automobile accident and suffer broken limbs, that type of harm is clearly foreseeable to reasonable people.
But, if you were to get in a wreck and tried to claim that you got stage IV lung cancer as a result of it, that type of harm would not be foreseeable to most people.
Next, when discussing superseding causes, these are just other factors that could have contributed to the accident, such as your negligence or a 3rd parties negligence, among other things.
Cause in fact requires us to figure out if the defendant’s breach of duty was indeed the cause of your injuries.
Cause in fact requires you to show that you would not have been injured “but for” the defendant’s negligence. This is what is known as the “but-for” test of causation.
The fourth and final prong in a successful car accident lawsuit is to suffer a type of harm that is actually recognized by the law.
Generally speaking, harm comes in 3 categories: physical harm, economic loss, and emotional distress.
Most injuries in an automobile accident will fall under physical harm. However, there are some circumstances that the other two categories may come into play. For example, if a car accident requires you to miss substantial earnings, economic loss could be a type of harm you could claim for.
Similarly, if a car accident results in emotional distress from your injuries or otherwise, you may be able to claim for that as well. The more claims you can tack on, the more your eventual settlement or verdict might be.
Automobile accident lawsuits can be a tricky thing to navigate. But, by following the basic principles laid out above, you can make a highly successful personal injury case.
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