Monday, October 21, 2013

What Happens When Both Drivers Are at Fault?

Most people understand the basic elements of liability in a car accident. If you hit someone, you’re responsible; if they hit you, they’re responsible. However in real life situations, things are usually not so clear cut. Real accidents have multiple causes and sometime it seems that no one, or everyone, is to blame. Historically the law has struggled with this dynamic, usually falling on the side of caution by choosing to assign the blame for a confusing accident to one of the involved parties under the theory that if you were mostly at fault, you should pay.

However, over the years this method lead to some inequitable results and California law has evolved to better assign rights and responsibilities in complicated tort situations. The modern theory, broadly called comparative fault, attempts to assign financial responsibility for an accident proportionally with actual responsibility. Sometimes called contributory negligence, this theory seeks to determine to what degree each party contributed to the incident and allows everyone to collect against, or deduct against any other party that added something to the accident.

Comparative Fault In California

Let’s say, for example, that Driver A and Driver B are involved in an accident. At trial it is determined that Driver B was 20% responsible and Driver A was 80% responsible. Let’s also say that both drivers suffered total damages $100,000 each. Under California law, Driver A is entitled to collect $80,000 from driver B; representing Driver B’s proportional contribution to the accident. Likewise, Driver B is entitled to collect $20,000 from Driver A, representing Driver A’s contribution to the accident. With offsets, Driver A will wind up with $60,000 from the incident (after paying their share of Driver B’s damages). In other words, both drivers are allowed to collect from each other relative to how they contributed to the incident.

Joint and Several Liability

A related concept addresses how multiple defendants, who each contributed to an accident, must share the financial responsibility of covering their victim’s damages. While this area of the law can sometimes get complex, the basics are as follows: Let’s say that Driver A is simultaneously hit by both Drivers B and C and incurs $100,000 in damages as a result. At trial, Driver B is determined to be 80% at fault and Driver C 20% at fault.

In theory, Driver C should only have to pay $20,000 of the damages; after all they only caused 20% of the accident. However, to spare Driver A, the victim, from the hassle of having to sue, and collect from, multiple difficult parties, the law demands that both Drivers B and C are liable to Driver A for the full amount of the damages until the entire $100,000 has been paid to Driver A (note: Driver A cannot collect more than $100,000 in total). Drivers B and C can later settle between themselves for any overpayment made by one of them, at which time they will be allowed to argue their relative contributions and responsibilities in a legal process called subrogation.

Even if you’re at fault…

The lesson, of course, is that even if your actions contributed to an accident, you may still be able to collect something for your damages. An experienced attorney will be able to help you determine exactly what your options are, allowing you to proceed armed with the information you need to protect your legal rights. Don’t delay, accident lawsuits are subject to a statute of limitations which means that if you wait too long you may jeopardize your rights.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Leaving the Scene Could Make You A Felon

Three-Year Old Tariyah Williams
When three-year old Tariyah Williams darted out of her yard into the street, Florida driver Eric Clayton barely had time to brake before hitting the little girl. Eric stopped, carried the child back to her yard, spoke a few words to witnesses, and abruptly left the scene of the accident. Tariyah later died from her injuries and Eric turned himself into the local police station. He is now facing up to 15 years in state prison on felony-hit-and-run charges. The irony; media reports suggest he may not even have been at fault in the incident and, if so, would likely have been able to walk away from the accident with nothing more than his memories to haunt him.


Take responsibility

Car accidents are serious and stressful enough. Exacerbating the circumstance by leaving the scene of an accident can turn an already difficult situation into a misdemeanor or a felony in California; even if you did not cause the accident.

Under California Vehicle Code 20002, drivers are required to do the following:

  • Immediately stop your vehicle
  • Give the other party your identifying information  (your name and current address) 
  • If other parties are on the scene, provide your driver’s license and vehicle registration upon request. 
  • If you are not the owner of the car you were driving, you must provide the name and address of the car’s registered owner.


Criminal charges

Failure to do the above could result in a misdemeanor hit and run charge. Misdemeanor hit and run charges carry steep penalties. If you are convicted you could face up to a $1,000 fine, or six months in a county jail. Even if the accident was not your fault!

Beyond that, if you injure or kill someone in an auto accident and flee the scene, you could be charged with a felony hit and run. A felony hit and run carries penalties including a fine of between $1000 and $10,000 dollars, and 16 months to 3 years in state prison. If someone was killed or suffered a permanent serious injury in the accident, the state prison sentence increases to two to four years.

Dangerous circumstances

In some circumstances, it might not be safe to remain at the scene. For example, if you need medical attention yourself, you absolutely should make sure that your injuries are treated; even if that means heading for the hospital. Additionally, exigent circumstances might make staying on the scene dangerous. At times, upset relatives or other witnesses may pose a threat or traffic or weather conditions might be unsafe. However, before you leave the scene of an accident, make sure that you have a concrete reason for doing so.


It’s the right thing to do

Regardless of who is at fault in an accident, all parties involved should stay on the scene and do whatever is necessary to help resolve the situation. Injured parties should be attended to, the police should be called, insurance and contact information should be exchanged, and efforts should be taken to clear the way for other traffic to avoid additional collisions. Even without a legal duty, these things help to make the roads safer for everyone and remember; if you were the injured person, you’d want someone to stay and help you.