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Determining Liability in a Car Accident

  • Published: December 1, 2012

In order to “win” a personal injury case, your legal team must prove that the other driver was at fault, or liable, for your injuries.

Common law recognizes four basic levels of fault:

  • Negligence
  • Reckless or wanton conduct
  • Intentional misconduct
  • Strict liability

Negligence generally means careless or inadvertent conduct that results in harm or damage. It is a recurring theme in the majority of automobile accidents and encompasses both active and passive forms of fault. For example, failing or omitting to do something (e.g., yielding a right-of-way) may result in liability just as much as actively doing something wrong (e.g., running a red light).

Reckless or wanton conduct generally refers to a willful disregard for whether or not harm may result and/or a disregard for the safety and welfare of others.

Strict liability may be imposed, even in the absence of fault, for accidents involving certain defective products or extra hazardous activities (such as the transportation of explosive chemicals).

Under most state laws, people who have caused an automobile accident have committed a “tort,” a private wrong against another, which generally does not constitute a crime. Those who have committed torts are referred to as “tortfeasors” under the law. Many automobile insurance policies continue to use the word “tortfeasor” to refer to people who are at least partly “at fault” or responsible for an accident.