Car Accident Basics

People are injured and killed in traffic collisions every day. Police reported more than 6.06 million car accidents in 2014 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The crashes caused almost 2.34 million injuries and 32,675 deaths. Additionally, auto accidents were the leading cause of death for children aged 11 and young people between the ages of 16 and 24 during that year. Following a car accident, many drivers are left wondering what to do.

Since car accidents are such a common occurrence, there are many laws set in place to help the victims of these crashes to mitigate their losses. Filing a personal injury lawsuit, for example, can help an injured victim get compensation that can help pay for the costs of recovery.

Common Causes of Motor Vehicle Accidents

NHTSA data shows that many of the car accidents recorded in 2014 involved drivers who were alcohol- and drug-impaired as well as drowsy. About 31 percent of crash fatalities involved alcohol impairment. People who drink and drive have a decreased reaction time, make poor decisions and have poor vision because of the effects of alcohol on the body. Drowsiness has a similar effect and makes drivers more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel.

Distracted driving is another major cause of collisions. The National Safety Council reports that 25 percent of all accidents involve the use of cellphones, including talking and texting. However, other forms of multitasking while driving such as adjusting the radio can be equally dangerous. Switching from the road to the radio causes a delay in focus, reducing response time to potential hazards. The NHTSA reports that 16 percent of police-reported crashes in 2014 involved distracted driving.

Car Accidents and the Law

A car accident victim who has suffered injuries can choose to file a civil lawsuit against the driver at fault. A civil suit is separate from a criminal case, and it often allows the victim to collect compensation. This compensation will generally cover any medical expenses and lost income due to missed work. Each state has its own laws providing what compensation can be awarded for. In some states, for example, the victim can collect compensation for pain and suffering.

If a person dies in a crash caused by another driver's negligence, the surviving family members can file wrongful death lawsuits seeking compensation for their losses. The types of damages that can be sought vary by state but they often include funeral and burial expenses, loss of financial contributions and loss of companionship.


Negligence serves as the basis for most personal injury suits. Motorists owe a duty of care to other drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and anyone else sharing the road. Negligence occurs when a driver breaches this duty of care. Some examples of negligent behavior include distracted, drowsy and drunk driving.

To prove a defendant was negligent, a victim must show by a preponderance of the evidence that:

  • the defendant owed a duty of care
  • the defendant failed to uphold that duty
  • the victim was harmed
  • the harm was the result of the defendant's behavior.

Product Liability

In some car accident cases, the fault lies with someone other than the driver. For example, if a vehicle malfunctions and causes an accident, liability for the accident might instead fall on the car's manufacturer. The laws involving product liability vary by state but parties that can be held liable often include:

  • assembly or installation companies
  • parts manufacturers
  • product manufacturers
  • distributors
  • retailers

Consulting a Personal Injury Lawyer

If you don't fully understand what to do after a car accident or the laws regarding car accidents, a consultation with a personal injury lawyer can give you a better idea of the options available. A lawyer can help to determine who should be held liable and assist you with filing the case. A lawyer can also help with negotiations and settlement agreements. If a case goes to trial, a lawyer can provide representation in court and help to prove negligence, helping you to maximize compensation awards.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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