10 Common Auto Accident Scenarios: The Rule of the Thumb for Who is At Fault

Determining liability in a car accident is an essential step in filing claims and receiving compensation for damages. Whether they pursue the damages through a property damage or personal injury lawsuit, or an insurance company claim process, the injured person will only receive compensation if they can prove who was at fault.. At times the blame is evident and the guilty party is clearly at-fault, but often there may be more than one individual at fault or it is difficult to place the blame. 

If you suffered accident damages, a car accident lawyer will help determine who is at fault and help you identify insurance resources available for settling your claim.

Let’s look at some common car accident scenarios and the evaluation process for determining who bears liability for the damages at hand.


Rear-End Car Collisions

According to the Washington Post report, there are about 1.7 million rear-end collisions on U.S. roads each year.  Out of the 1.7 million collisions, 17,000 people die and 500,000 are injured. Back-end collisions are the most common form of auto accidents, and it’s widely accepted that the rear car driver is almost always liable for the accident. 

The logic behind this is the rear car driver must always pay attention to the roadway ahead and maintain a reasonable distance from the vehicle in front. Paying attention to the road ahead provides sufficient time to stop. Sadly, this often means that even if the front car stops abruptly, making it difficult for the rear vehicle to avoid a collision, the rear car driver will likely still be determined at fault for the accident. 

Furthermore, there are cases where other individuals may take responsibility, or the front car driver and rear car driver may share liability. For example, a driver suddenly pulls up in front of another driver at a time when the rear driver was distracted by a text message or a phone call. The drivers will both share responsibility because the front driver failed to yield the right-of-way, and the rear driver was driving while distracted, both of which account for negligent driving.


Side-Impact Car Collision

Side-impact car accidents or T-bone collisions, occur when one car crashes into another car’s side at roughly a 90-degree angle to form a “T” shape.” T-bone accidents often involve passengers struck on the side of the vehicle. The injuries resulting from T-bone accidents can be pretty severe. The side of a car lacks significant structural barriers, compared to the back or front, to absorb the force of the crash. The side impact accident often occurs due to one party failing to yield the right-of-way, drunk driving, running a red light, or distracted driving.

The liability for this kind of accident often falls with the negligent driver who failed to yield the right-of-way, ran a red light, was distracted, or drunk. If the T-bone accident happened due to a brake failure, the vehicle’s manufacturer or mechanic who recently serviced the car might take the blame upon investigation. In some cases, if the driver was underage and drunk, the bar that sold the alcohol to an underage may be liable. All in all, side-impact collisions are mostly caused by the negligence of one party, despite whatever their excuse may be, and therefore they are usually at fault. 


Sideswipe Car Collision

Sideswipe accidents often occur when two drivers headed in a similar direction make contact or brush into each other while moving. Sideswipes that occur on the freeway can be pretty fatal because of speed. Liability for a sideswipe accident is determined by accessing who had the right of way and the drivers’ behavior. Some example sideswipe collision scenarios are:

  • While driving down the highway, Driver A realizes that the exit is fast approaching and fails to check the blindspot while quickly changing lanes. Driver A collides with a vehicle that was already in the lane he was attempting to join. In this case, Driver A is liable for the damages as he didn’t check the blindspot.
  • Driver A loses control due to either fast driving during a storm, drunk driving, or distracted driving. His vehicle sideswipes Driver B’s vehicle. In this scenario, Driver A is liable for damages due to negligence.
  • While driving on the freeway, Driver A signals to change lanes from the left-hand lane to the center. He then waits for the car in the center lane to pass. As soon as it passes, Driver A begins changing lanes. He then collides with a vehicle that is also moving to the center lane from the right-hand lane. The liability in this scenario is unclear, as neither driver knew that the other driver would be switching lanes simultaneously. Driver A and Driver B will be liable as basic traffic rules state that you may only switch lanes when entirely sure it is safe to do so.


Head-On Car Collision

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, head-on collision accidents are common and account for 56% of passenger vehicle deaths in 2017. Head-on collisions occur when two cars traveling in opposite directions crash into each other.

Some causes of head-on collisions are heading in the opposite direction of a one-way road, a drunk or distracted driver, a driver who disregards standard driving rules, or when a vehicle rolls into oncoming traffic.

Liability for a head-on crash generally stays with the driver whose car has departed the lane or has joined wrong-way traffic. There may be additional cases of blame in situations where the vehicle left the lane due to another collision.

Some additional scenarios are:

  • A distracted Driver A rear-ends Driver B’s vehicle, and the force of the crash pushes Driver B’s car over the median into oncoming traffic, where it hits another vehicle head-on. In this scenario, the blame likely falls on Driver A, who caused the initial accident.
  • Driver A becomes confused when exiting off the highway and accidentally takes the wrong way down a one-way lane into oncoming traffic, causing an accident. In this case, Driver A is liable for the damages incurred, as he drove in the wrong direction.


Single-Vehicle Car Collision

A single-vehicle accident is a case where only one automobile sustains damage, even if other cars are involved. It is often wrongly assumed that the driver of the single vehicle involved in the accident is at fault — by default. There are multiple cases in which a single-vehicle accident can occur due to negligence and the actions of others. Single-vehicle accident scenario could be:

  • Vehicle A pulls up suddenly in front of Vehicle B. Vehicle B swerves to avoid collision and crashes into a pole. Driver A is likely liable for the accident.

Vehicle Malfunction Collision

While driving on the highway, the vehicle brakes can suddenly malfunction. To avoid a collision, the driver swerves off the road and rams into a utility post. If the brakes were defective, liability for the accident might rest with the manufacturer or mechanic who services the brakes.

Another case is where the front driver takes a sudden turn without indicating the turn signal. The front driver, in this case, will bear some liability for driving without a working turn signal. If the rear driver’s car brakes fail to work correctly, the mechanic, manufacturer, or the car owner may share liability for the collision. Again, all of this depends on what led to the malfunction, subject to investigation.


Drunk Driving Car Collision

Drunk drivers have poor reflexes and make poor judgments on the road. Often, drunk drivers bear responsibility in case of damages caused by drunk driving accidents. There may be an exception if a bar serves alcohol to a minor.


Pedestrian Car Collision

This is an accident involving a pedestrian and a vehicle. In most cases, it’s easy to assume that the driver is liable for the accident damages. However, a pedestrian may step into the road in a way that makes it difficult for the driver to avoid the crash. Consequently, the driver may crash into the pedestrian, veer off into another car, or hit a stationary object. A car accident attorney and a pedestrian attorney can help determine liability.


Multiple Vehicles Rear-End Collision

Getting hit from behind by another car on the road is common and often involves three or more vehicles in a domino effect. It’s common knowledge that if a driver is hit and in turn rams into another car, they’re not liable for the damages. But it’s not always that easy. In some cases, while the primary liability lies with the first driver who triggered the chain reaction, every other driver who hit the car in front of them may also bear some fault in the accident.


Left-Turn Collision

Left-turn accidents happen when a car moves straight through an intersection while another vehicle is making a turn and collides into the side of the car that’s driving straight. Liability is easy to point out because, as a general rule, left-turning vehicles have a lower priority in this scenario. Unless there’s a green arrow, turning cars must yield to oncoming traffic going straight through intersections.

While rare, there are cases where the straight-moving driver is at fault. An example is if the straight-moving driver exceeded the speed limit, making it impossible for the left-turning driver to see the straight-moving driver in good time or react. Another scenario is if the green arrow gives the left-turning driver right-of-way, but the straight-moving driver fails to yield.

Proving negligence is critical to a successful settlement for your injury claim. An experienced car accident attorney will help you identify all liable parties, which will offer you the best possible chance to claim damages in car accidents caused by the negligence of others. Additionally, liability can affect your license status and driving record. An attorney can help determine the circumstances that contributed to the collision and share available options.