Liability in Motor Vehicle Collisions—Who Is Responsible for Compensating the Victim? – Personal injury

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All motor vehicle injury lawsuits require careful analysis of two important concepts: 1) liability and 2) damages.

Liability is the state of legal liability for which a wrongdoer is liable to a victim of injury. Damages are the losses that a victim has suffered or will suffer as a result of the collision. This article focuses exclusively on liability, or faultin traffic accidents.

It can be easy to determine fault when, for example, a driver causes a collision by running a red light or driving at excessive speeds. If such conduct injures someone, the offending driver will be responsible for restoring the injured party to the position they would have been in had the collision not occurred (as far as this can be accomplished with money) . This may include payment of lost wages and the cost of medical treatment required by the injured party.

If the injured party is not responsible for the collision, he will be entitled to claim compensation from the offending party for all of his losses.1 In the event of multiple culprits, the obligation to compensate the victim is shared between them. For example, if two cars injure an innocent third party during a street race, there would be at least two offending parties from which the victim can recover.

Where more than one party is at fault, a judge or jury will determine at trial the appropriate apportionment of fault. The cases held the at-fault parties to a 50/50 apportionment of fault, where each is consequently liable for 50% of the victim’s damages. Other cases divided the fault unevenly: 10:90; 60:40; etc There have also been cases involving numerous at-fault drivers – the same analysis applies to all at-fault drivers involved.2

This principle, however, is one that works both ways. If an injury victim’s driving caused part of a collision, a judge or jury can find them at fault. In such cases, damages awarded to a victim will be reduced proportionately. As in the example above, if the injured driver was 10% at fault, he would be entitled to compensation for 90% of his damages. The victim can also be blamed when their driving resulted in more serious injuries (for example, not wearing a seat belt in a car or a helmet on a bicycle).

Establishing fault in motor vehicle accidents is a fundamental part of litigation, but can be complex and vary depending on the specific details of a collision.


1 Subject to limitations beyond the scope of this article.

2 The concept of joint and several liability is beyond the scope of this article.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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