Most Common Car Accident Scenarios: Who’s Liable?

common car accident scenarios

Statistics show that the average U.S. driver will be involved in three to four car accidents during their driving life. If you’re lucky, these accidents will all be minor fender benders that don’t seriously damage your vehicle or cause any injuries.

But unfortunately, each year more than 38,000 people are killed in crashes on U.S. roads, while another 4.4 million people are injured severely enough to require medical care. Most accidents can be boiled down to a few main categories. Below, we’ll look at the five most common auto accident scenarios and how fault is usually determined in each one.

Rear-End Collision

Whenever the front of one vehicle collides with the rear of the one ahead of it, it’s a rear-end collision. These collisions can involve more than two vehicles—in some chain-reaction crashes, any vehicles in the middle will be both the collider and the collide-ee.

So who’s at fault in a rear-end collision? It depends.

  • The rear driver. Most rear-end collisions are attributed to the rear driver. Causes can vary, but often include driving while distracted, tailgating, speeding, or driving while intoxicated.
  • The front driver. If a vehicle with a standard transmission rolls backward into the one behind it, a vehicle reverses into another one, or the front driver brakes in an unsafe manner, they may be held responsible for any resulting rear-end collision.
  • A third party. If a rear-end collision is caused by faulty brakes, poor road conditions, or inclement weather, the at-fault party can range from the state highway department to the vehicle manufacturer or a repair shop.

Rear-end collisions are one of the simplest accident types when it comes to determining fault, but it’s still important to make a police report whenever possible. Having a report from the scene of the crash can provide the present-sense impressions that a judge or jury will need to assess liability.

Sideswipe Collision

As the name implies, a sideswipe collision involves two or more vehicles hitting each other in the side while traveling in the same (more common) or opposite (less common) direction. A sideswipe can occur when one vehicle changes lanes without looking or signaling, a vehicle crosses the center line and swipes the side of the oncoming vehicle, or a vehicle makes a too-wide turn in an intersection with multiple turn lanes. Assessing fault in a sideswipe collision can be a bit more complex, and may rely on witness testimony. Some factors the judge or jury will consider include:

  • Whether evidence or testimony makes it clear that one driver was changing lanes during the collision;
  • Whether cell phone records indicate one or more drivers was distracted when the crash occurred;
  • What speed each car was traveling before the accident; and
  • Whether there is evidence that one driver was driving recklessly before the accident—tailgating, weaving in and out of lanes quickly, or speeding.

Depending on each party’s degree of negligence, the jury may assign some fault to the defendant and the plaintiff. Under Nevada’s contributory negligence laws, a plaintiff can recover damages from a defendant (or defendants) as long as the plaintiff’s proportion of fault is under 50 percent. The remaining damages will be apportioned to the other parties consistent with their degree of fault.

For example, if the jury returns a verdict finding that a plaintiff’s damages are $500,000, the plaintiff was 25 percent at fault, and the defendant was 75 percent at fault, the plaintiff will be able to recover $375,000—75 percent of their total damages.

Colliding with an Object

Some serious crashes don’t involve another driver at all. If you collide with an object or obstruction—whether a piece of debris in the road or a decorative landscaping boulder—you may not be at fault if you can show that the object posed a hazard and should have been removed from the roadway or set further back.

The liable parties in an object-collision crash can be varied. Depending on the circumstances of the crash, you may have a valid claim against the state or local highway department, the owner of the property adjacent to the crash area, or (for objects that have fallen from or off vehicles), another driver or their employer. It can take some time to dig into the facts of this type of crash to assess who may be responsible.

Parking Lot Collision

Though many parking lot collisions occur at such low speeds they don’t cause any injuries or property damage, some parking lot collisions can still be serious. Pedestrians are far more likely to be struck and injured in a parking lot than on a sidewalk. And with multiple vehicles and people moving in different directions at the same time, determining fault in a parking lot collision can be a real challenge.

Some common scenarios include:

  • One driver backs into another while exiting a parking space. In most situations, the driver backing up will be at fault. However, if they can show that the vehicle they struck was speeding or driving recklessly, they may be able to avoid a finding of liability.
  • A driver strikes a pedestrian. Again, unless the driver can show that the pedestrian was in some way negligent—darting in and out between vehicles or not paying attention to where they were walking—the driver is likely to be at fault. If the accident took place at night, the driver may also be able to argue that the parking lot owner was responsible due to poor lighting.
  • Two drivers collide head-on while driving down a lane. Factors considered when determining fault will include which side of the lane each driver was traveling on and whether either driver was using their phone or otherwise distracted.
  • One driver pulls forward through a parking space and collides with someone pulling into the parking space. Here, the inquiry often turns on who could see what and when—depending on the height and size of the surrounding vehicles, the vehicle turning into a parking space may be less likely to see someone pulling forward than vice versa.
  • Two drivers back into each other while both pulling out. In this scenario, it’s not uncommon for both drivers to be assessed a near-equal share of fault. All drivers backing out of a parking space are responsible for checking for safety before moving their vehicle; a dual-rear-end collision usually means that one or both drivers stopped checking their rearview mirror or backup camera. In many cases, the second driver to back out will be given a slightly greater share of liability under the rule that the first vehicle to back out has priority.

T-Bone or Side Collision

Second only to head-on collisions when it comes to the potential for major injury, t-bone collisions can be extremely dangerous. Even with side airbags and a sturdy frame, the side is generally the weakest part of a vehicle. And in many t-bone collisions involving high speed, the force of the impact can push the vehicle into another vehicle, a telephone pole, or a tree, causing even more damage.

A t-bone collision is caused by one vehicle failing to yield the right-of-way to another vehicle. These often occur at intersections, where one driver runs through a stop sign or stoplight while another driver is already mid-intersection. Fault is usually assigned to the driver who refused to give the right-of-way. However, if the other driver was intoxicated or distracted, they could be considered contributorily negligent if the jury finds that they could have avoided the crash if they’d been paying attention.

Contact a Nevada Auto Accident Attorney to Preserve Your Rights

Every auto accident is different. And except for the rare circumstances that one driver is completely and obviously negligent and immediately admits fault, it’s not always clear who is at fault for a crash. In many situations, police or insurance companies may need to conduct an accident reconstruction, looking at skid marks, road debris, and the collision spots on each vehicle to figure out what happened, then corroborating their theories with witness statements, photos, and videos.

Some of the factors that often contribute to car crashes include:

  • Intoxication or substance abuse
  • Driver fatigue
  • Driving under the influence of sleep aids
  • Driver distraction
  • Mechanical failure
  • Road hazards or disrepair
  • Weather conditions

If you’re injured in an auto accident or have suffered property damage, it’s important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Under Nevada’s statutes of limitations, injured drivers or pedestrians have only two years in which to file a lawsuit against the responsible party or parties. Drivers who are claiming only property damage have three years to file a civil lawsuit. Missing these deadlines could leave you unable to recover any damages, even if fault is clear.

An attorney can research your claim, determine who may be at fault, and gather evidence supporting your claim for damages—medical bills, lost wages, repair quotes, and even police dash-cam videos and witness statements. Don’t go into this important process alone. Give our experienced Nevada auto accident attorneys a call today to learn more about your options.