Car accidents are governed by the law of Torts. Under Tort law, in order to prevail on a claim, a Plaintiff must prove the following four things: 1) Duty; 2) Breach 3) Causation; and 4) Damages.
With respect to duty, there are many ways to establish this. First and foremost, most states have laws that establish various duties for different circumstances. For example, all states have laws against driving in excess of the posted speed limit. However, there is also another source of duty. Common law – or judge made law – holds that all citizens in America have a duty to act as a “reasonably prudent person under the same or similar circumstances.” This duty is purposefully broad, and anticipates that a person’s duty will change based on the unique conditions in any number of different events. A common law duty may exist even though no specific law has been broken.
Once the duty is established, a Plaintiff in a car accident case has the duty to establish that the duty was breached. For example, if the duty in question is to obey posted speed limits, the Plaintiff will have the obligation to show that the Defendant exceeded the speed limit – thus breaching the duty. The exact way in which you prove a breach will depend significantly on the facts at hand.
It’s important to remember that just because somebody breached a duty – they still may not be held legally responsible unless the Plaintiff can show that the breach caused damages. Causation refers to the ability of the Plaintiff to draw a straight line between the breach and the damage caused. In other words, a Plaintiff can only recover damages that occurred directly and proximately because of an accident. For example, a Plaintiff can recover for a broken arm sustained in a car accident, but cannot recover damages for a scar that occurred at an earlier, unrelated time. Just like breach, causation and damages are very fact specific.
In a typical car accident case, damages include things such as lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, and property damage. However, individual car accidents can manifest themselves in very different ways depending on the unique characteristics of weather conditions, past health conditions of the drivers, the speed of impact and several other factors.
It’s also important to understand that the best practice is to seek out agreement on as many of these issues as possible in advance of any lawsuit related to the car accident. This will help focus your investigation, analysis and settlement strategy far more than having to focus on all of these elements at once. Lastly, understanding these basic principles helps to foster a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of any particular case. As a result, a thorough analysis can aid significantly in obtaining fair and adequate resolution to a car accident claim.
Thanks to Dennis E. Sawan of Sawan & Sawan LLC for his insight into car accident lawsuits.