Proving A Car Accident Case
Not long after the cars are towed away after an accident, the drivers and their insurance companies start pointing fingers at each other. In a traditional fault-based car insurance state like Arizona, an injured party cannot seek compensation against the other driver’s insurance coverage unless that driver is determined to be at “fault.” Fault in the car accident context means that the driver committed some kind of negligent or careless act (texting while driving, not stopping at a red light) which is usually – but not always — a violation of state traffic laws.
Since a car accident case is a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that his allegations (his version of the facts) are true “by a preponderance of the evidence” or “more likely than not.” If the plaintiff meets that burden, the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s damages.
In some cases the circumstances of the accident will make it readily apparent that the other driver acted negligently (and was therefore at fault) but if the facts of an accident are more ambiguous, these are some of the ways to prove fault:
A written accident report from the police can be powerful evidence of which driver was at fault. If the police came to the scene of the accident and were aware that someone was injured, they probably prepared a fairly detailed report containing their account of the accident. (If the police thought there was only damage to the vehicles at the scene, their report may be less detailed and not as helpful.)
Payment of a small fee to the municipality may be required to obtain a copy of the report.
Sometimes the police report clearly contains an opinion from the officer that one of the drivers violated a specific traffic law and that the violation caused the accident. The report may even mention that the officer issued a citation. A report may also just include a statement that a driver was negligent or careless without citing a specific legal violation.
Any reference in the police report – no matter how specific or general — to careless driving or a legal violation by the other driver can be very helpful in your accident case.
Evidence Gathered At The Accident Scene
Direct evidence that you gather at the accident scene to document the facts can also be helpful in proving negligence. That evidence can include:
- Cell phone photos you take of damage to the vehicles, skid marks, the intersection, weather conditions, your injuries, and the location of stop signs and traffic
- Info you obtain from accident witnesses (their names, contact information, proximity to the accident, summaries of their statements)
State Driving Laws
State driving laws can also bolster your argument that the other driver was at fault. Arizona’s rules of the road are contained in Chapter 3 (Traffic and Vehicle Regulation) of the Transportation section of the Arizona statutes.
If there is an Arizona traffic law that the other driver has clearly violated, the legal noncompliance can be persuasive evidence of negligence and fault. The titles of the specific statutory provisions will assist you in figuring out which laws are relevant to your accident. For example, there are listings for “right of way”, “speed limits”, “stop signs” and “traffic signal.” Provide the relevant Arizona statute numbers to the insurance company considering your claim.
Inherently Negligent Accidents
There are certain types of vehicle accidents where the other driver is almost always at fault. Even the insurance companies won’t put up much of a fight in these cases:
If a driver collides with your car from behind, it is almost never your fault no matter why you stopped.
It’s a basic driving rule that you should operate your vehicle so that you can stop quickly if the traffic ahead of you is stopped. If a driver crashes into stopped cars, he is presumed not to be driving safely.
The damage to the vehicles in a rear-end accident claim also proves how it happened: the front of one car is damaged while the rear of the other car is. The other driver will have a hard time arguing about which car did the colliding.
There can be exceptions to the presumed fault rule if your own negligence contributed to the rear-end accident. For example, if your brake and tail lights were broken and the crash happened at night, the other driver may not be negligent.
When a car making a left turn collides with a car coming straight in the other direction, the driver of the turning vehicle is almost always at fault. There are exceptions but they difficult to prove:
- Car going straight was significantly exceeding the speed limit
- Car going straight did not stop at a red light
- Left-turning car began the turn safely but something happened that forced the driver to slow down or stop
As with rear-end accidents, the vehicle damage in left-turn accidents makes it very difficult to argue that the incident happened in another way.
Contact a Lawyer
Proving negligence or fault in a car accident case can be difficult. An experienced Phoenix personal injury attorney at Hirsch & Lyon can help you marshal the evidence to win your case and get the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Call any of our offices to schedule a free consultation.