Three Common Car Accident Scenarios – Who’s at Fault and Who Pays?

HutzlerLaw November 22, 2022

Driving down the road can be scary. It can sometimes feel like everybody’s in a hurry or that nobody’s paying attention. And that’s in normal traffic. Add in some congestion or road work, and it’s enough to make you grip a little tighter on the steering wheel. The sad reality is that every time we get in the car, there is a chance we will be involved in a collision.

As a driver, one of the most important things you can do is know the law and your rights. If an accident does happen, you’ll know what steps to take and where to go when you need help. If you or someone you care about is suffering after a motor vehicle accident, you may be able to recover financial compensation. For more information, contact an experienced car accident attorney.

When an accident happens, do you know who’s at fault?

The Arizona Department of Transportation annually releases an annual motor vehicle crash facts analysis. The report outlines the total number of accidents and the number of deaths, along with various contributing factors.

In the most recent report, there were 98,778 total motor vehicle accidents. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of these accidents occurred in Maricopa County. This is why it’s so important to understand why accidents happen, where they happen, and who’s at fault. Let’s look at three common car accident scenarios.

Rear-end accidents

Rear-end accidents are one of the most common types of accidents. These accidents happen when one vehicle’s front end collides with another’s rear end.

The most common causes of these types of accidents include:

  • Following too closely
  • Driver inattention
  • Speeding
  • Aggressive driving
  • Poor weather conditions or poor visibility

Most states have guidelines regarding the following proper distance between vehicles. Arizona statute does not specifically outline an exact following distance but rather states that all drivers should allow reasonable space, considering relative circumstances, including speed, traffic, and weather conditions. In essence, there should be enough space between you and the vehicle in front of you so that you have enough time to react if that vehicle comes to a sudden stop.

So, who’s at fault? In nearly all cases, the rear driver is presumed at fault. You should have enough time to avoid a collision when you allow ample following distance.

With that said, there are some exceptions:

  1. The lead driver came to a stop for no reason.
  2. The front driver was brake checking the trailing driver.
  3. The front vehicle’s brake lights were not functioning.
  4. The lead driver was traveling in reverse.

Head-on collisions

Head-on collisions can have devastating consequences. The problem with these types of accidents is, often, both vehicles are traveling at full speed. When they collide, the force exerted on the two vehicles is double what it would be in a side-impact collision. This force is often too great to survive even with standard safety equipment.

What makes these types of accidents harder to comprehend is that most of them result from gross negligence.

Common causes of head-on collision include:

  1. Distracted driving
  2. Driving under the influence
  3. Illegal passing
  4. Poor visibility
  5. Driver fatigue
  6. Unfamiliarity with the area

So, who’s at fault? Head-on collisions are almost always clear-cut. When a driver enters a lane against the flow of traffic, that driver is at fault. It doesn’t matter if the driver didn’t realize they were turning onto a one-way street or they couldn’t see the lane markers; drivers have a responsibility to stay in their lane or get off the road if they cannot safely do so.

T-bone collisions

There are many names for t-bone collisions. You may hear these types of accidents referred to as side-impact collisions or broadside collisions. A t-bone collision occurs when the front of one vehicle hits the side of another, forming a T. These types of accidents can be very dangerous, depending on the speed and point of impact.

Due to their nature, t-bone accidents typically happen at intersections. Hot spots include:

  • Four-way stops
  • Traffic signals
  • Parking lots
  • Unmarked intersections

So, who’s at fault? The answer is not always straightforward when it comes to t-bone collisions. The person responsible may be the driver of the vehicle forming the top of the t, or it could be the other way around.

To determine liability, the insurance company will typically look at who had the right of way.

Here are a few examples:

  • Collision at a traffic light: When a collision happens at a traffic signal, the driver who has a solid green light has the right of way. In this case, if the other driver ran a red light or failed to yield while making a turn, that driver is at fault.
  • Collision at a four-way stop: Drivers can get confused when it comes to who has the right of way at a four-way stop. The law does not give a driver the right of way. Instead, it outlines who must yield. In Arizona, as in most states, a driver approaching a four-way stop must yield to any drivers already at the intersection. If two vehicles arrive at the intersection at the same time, the driver must yield to their right.

How to prove fault following an accident

Who's at fault?Proving fault is everything following a motor vehicle collision. Arizona is an at-fault state. That means the person responsible for the accident has to pay for the accident. In most cases, this will be through their insurance.

Unfortunately, fault is often a point of contention between parties after an accident. Even if the evidence seems clear to you, the other party may see it another way. In some cases, a party may deny liability to avoid a hit on their insurance.

Compounding this issue is insurance companies don’t want to pay unless they absolutely have to. Remember, they are for-profit companies. So if there is any chance they can pin the blame on you, they are going to try. This is where it is helpful to work with an experienced car accident attorney.

But don’t get discouraged.

Your attorney can prove who was at fault using:

  • Video surveillance: If your collision happened on a public street, there’s a good chance there was a camera somewhere recording the whole thing. Traffic, security, and dash cams can provide valuable evidence. Following a collision, your attorney can request these records to prove the events leading up to the accident.
  • Witness statements: Did someone stop to help after the accident? Did patrons inside a nearby business see the accident as it occurred? Witness statements can provide tremendous value when there’s an argument over who’s at fault.
  • Physical evidence: Physical evidence is one of the biggest things the insurance company will look at following an accident. Were there skid marks? Where did each vehicle sustain damage? Where did the vehicles end up? In many cases, pictures taken at the scene can help recreate what happened.
  • Official records: You can learn a lot about an accident by doing a little digging. Was the other driver on the phone? If so, their phone records can show this. Did the driver receive a citation for speeding or reckless behavior earlier in the day? What does their driving history look like? All of this information can help your attorney build a case.
  • Expert testimony: In some cases, your attorney may find it prudent to bring in an expert witness who can reconstruct the accident. This person will look at vehicle damage, property damage, and other valuable information. In many cases, they can determine what speeds the vehicles were traveling at and if and when they attempted to stop.

Financial responsibility after a motor vehicle collision

Because Arizona is an at-fault state, the person responsible for the accident will be liable for financial damages. In Arizona, all drivers must maintain liability insurance of at least $25,000 per individual or $50,000 per accident.

In addition to this insurance, you may have access to additional resources to help recoup your costs, including:

  • Your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: $25,000 may seem like a lot, but it may barely make a dent in your expenses for serious car accidents. If the other driver does not have insurance or their insurance is not enough to cover your expenses, you may be able to make a claim against your own insurance.
  • The other driver’s employer: If the accident happened while the other driver was on the job, the employer or the employer’s insurance company might have to pay for your costs.
  • Your employer: In the same regard, if the accident happened while you were on the job, your workers’ compensation coverage may handle any uncovered expenses.
  • A third party: In some cases, there may be more than one party to blame. For example, if a party swerved and hit you to avoid a stalled vehicle, the driver of the disabled vehicle may share or hold all financial responsibility. Additionally, if the accident was because of poor road conditions or damaged directional signs, you may have a case against the state or local government for negligence.

How much is my car accident worth?

It’s a normal response to think about money after a serious car accident. An accident can be a traumatic experience, leaving you with medical bills and causing you to lose time from work. The purpose of a car accident suit is to help you recover costs related to your accident. While there is no way to predict the exact value of your case, we can look at past cases to predict likely and reasonable costs.

Common costs include:

  • Medical bills: Medical care is expensive. When another person’s negligence causes you injury, you shouldn’t have to come out of pocket for these costs. If you file a claim against the negligent party, the goal will be to recover all medical costs. This includes, but is not limited to, office visits, hospital stays, surgical procedures, medication, medical devices, and rehabilitation. You may be eligible for future medical costs if you suffer serious injuries requiring extensive medical treatment.
  • Lost earnings: A serious accident can result in weeks or months out of work. When you have to take time off from work to recover after an accident, it can cause anxiety wondering how you will pay your bills. If you miss time due to an accident, a personal injury case can help you recover all lost wages from the date of the accident until you can return to work. If you cannot return to work, you may have a case for future lost wages or loss of earning capacity.
  • Pain and suffering: Many people fail to realize the physical and emotional toll a traumatic experience can have on the body. Even minor accidents can be unnerving. When you suffer physical or emotional pain following an accident, your case may include additional costs for pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is a variable cost that accounts for the specific circumstances of your case. Common considerations include chronic pain, short-term pain, mental distress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Stand up for your rights today.

Dealing with a car accident’s emotional and physical trauma can be hard. Having to defend yourself against another person’s negligent actions can be overwhelming. When you suffer injuries following a car accident, the last thing you should have to worry about is proving who is at fault. Unfortunately, insurance companies don’t do much to make the process easier.

Don’t let the insurance company take advantage of you. You have rights. If you have questions or concerns or need to discuss your case, don’t be afraid to reach out. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney to learn more about the next steps moving forward.