We all have the right to navigate the roadways without fearing an accident, but unfortunately accidents can happen. When the worst happens, it may be some comfort to know that we are covered by auto insurance. If you have the misfortune to be involved in an accident, you may hear or read the word "liability" and wonder what it means for your insurance claim. Liability is an important legal concept that could determine how much compensation you could be entitled to receive from an accident. To get a better understanding of liability, read on.
The meaning of liability
Liability, legally speaking, means culpability and that translates to "blameworthy, but without evil intent". In other words, accidental. Most auto crashes are simply accidents, due to carelessness, human error, or other relatively innocent reasons. Another way of viewing liability is to use the word "blame". It's important to understand that blame can be shared by more than one party to the accident.
Three facets of liability
Who gets the blame in an accident can be determined using the 3 factors below:
1. Duty of care. This means that you and every driver on the road owe each other a duty of care, meaning that you will do your best to drive with care at all times, obey the rules of the road and stay alert and focused.
2. Breach of duty of care. When a gap occurs in the duty of care, the driver has breached that duty. For example, a driver falls asleep and hits another driver's car; that driver breached their duty of care by not staying alert and focused.
3. Proximate cause. This is the cause of the accident, and there can be more than one proximate cause. An action of crossing the center line and causing a collision is the proximate cause--the specific action that led to the collision.
The above definitions will come in handy when you understand how insurance companies go about assigning liability or blame for an accident. At first glance, being rear-ended is a clear case of the driver behind you not paying close enough attention and crashing into you. One closer investigation, however, it may be determined that the other driver was actually also hit from behind and had no choice but to rear-end you. Or the driver behind you hit black ice and was unable to stop in time. The mitigating factors can be many.
To assign liability, there must be a clear and compelling direct link between the proximate cause and the accident. Mitigating factors cause the direct link to become, in essence, less direct. If a direct link cannot be established, the other driver may have less, or even no, liability.
Clearly, even minor accidents involving only two vehicles can be incredibly complex and the issue of liability is often confusing to understand. If you have been in a car accident, be sure to contact a personal injury attorney to assist you during this troubling time.
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