Car accidents are unpleasant and upsetting. In fact, experts note that personal injuries are one of life’s most stressful events. (Only events involving death and divorce rank higher.)
One of the most stressful things about a car crash is the aftermath. Motor vehicle accidents raise lots of medical and legal issues. One of the biggest legal issues is fault. Read on to learn more about proving fault in Alabama car accidents.
What does “fault” mean?
Let’s start with a quick overview of Alabama personal injury law.
The person who files a personal injury claim – the injured person – is called the plaintiff. The person who the plaintiff believes harmed them is called the defendant. A lawsuit begins when the plaintiff files an official document called a complaint with the court.
When Birmingham personal injury lawyers and judges use the word “fault,” they are talking about two things. First, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant behaved negligently. Second, the plaintiff must also prove that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Proving fault in an Alabama car accident requires proof of both of these points.
As stated above, a successful Alabama personal injury claim requires proof of negligence. But what does negligence mean?
Under Alabama personal injury law, a person behaves negligently when they fail to use the level of care that a normal person would have used under the same circumstances. For example, a normal, careful driver knows that drivers must pay attention to the road and avoid distractions behind the wheel. A driver who runs a red light or ignores a traffic sign because they are texting is not using the level of care that a normal, reasonable driver would under the circumstances. Such a driver could be said to be negligent.
But proving fault in an Alabama car accident is not always an open-and-shut issue. To take another example, assume that a driver who was otherwise carefully driving hit a car because they were trying to avoid hitting a small child. Because it’s possible to argue that a reasonable driver would not want to hit a child, the question of negligence is much more difficult.
As you can see, negligence is a complex topic. A Birmingham personal injury attorney can help you with questions.
How different states determine fault in car accidents
Generally, states use two ways of determining fault in car accidents. Both systems rely on percentages. The judge or jury will assign a percentage of fault to each driver in the auto accident. The percentage is a shorthand for how negligent the driver was. Put another way, the percentage tells you how responsible the driver was for causing the car crash. The scale goes from zero percent (completely faultless) to 100 percent (completely at fault).
With these percentages in mind, some states use comparative fault or comparative negligence rules. In these states, plaintiffs who are 51% or more responsible for the accident cannot recover damages. But a plaintiff who is less than 50% responsible for the auto accident can still recover. However, their recovery will be reduced based on their percentage of fault. So, a plaintiff who gets a damages award of $100,000 but was 30% responsible for the accident would only recover $70,000.
In contributory negligence states, the law also looks at each driver’s percentage of fault. However, if the court or jury finds that the plaintiff was even one percent responsible for the car crash, the law will not let the plaintiff recover. There is no reduction in recovery as there is no recovery to be had.
How does Alabama personal injury law determine fault?
Alabama personal injury law makes proving fault in an Alabama car accident particularly important.
Though most states use comparative negligence or comparative fault, Alabama is one of just four states that still use contributory negligence rules. This means that if you are partially responsible for causing an Alabama car accident – even just one percent at fault – it will be very difficult for you to recover damages after your accident. Note that this rule applies even if the other driver was more negligent than you were.
Are there any exceptions to Alabama’s contributory negligence rule?
Alabama’s contributory negligence rule can lead to harsh results. Fortunately, there are a few exceptions to the rule.
One exception to Alabama’s contributory negligence rule applies to those who lack the mental capacity to behave negligently. Usually, this group includes children under 7 and those with mental or intellectual disabilities.
A second exception applies when the other driver engaged in reckless behavior. Negligence occurs when a person should have known their behavior was unsafe. A reckless person knows that their actions are not safe. For example, daydreaming behind the wheel is probably negligent. But deciding to drive 15 miles above the speed limit on the wrong side of the road would likely be seen as reckless. So, under Alabama law, your negligence could be canceled out by the other driver’s recklessness.
Finally, Alabama law uses the “last clear chance doctrine.” This rule allows the plaintiff to argue that even though they were negligent, the defendant had the last opportunity to avoid the accident. The last clear chance doctrine can be very helpful when proving fault in an Alabama car accident.
Alabama’s contributory negligence rules and exceptions are quite complex. An Alabama personal injury lawyer can help you figure out how the rules apply in your auto accident case.
How do I prove fault in an Alabama car accident?
If you are the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident, it will be your responsibility (or rather, your accident attorney’s responsibility) to prove that the defendant was at fault. Lawyers call this the “burden of proof.” The following types of evidence can be helpful in proving fault in an Alabama car accident.
- The other driver’s information
Be sure to get the driver’s name, driver’s license number, address, phone number, and insurance information.
- Pictures of the accident scene
Experts can use pictures of the car crash to explain fault in car accidents. Be sure to take pictures of any traffic signs or traffic lights. Skid marks can be used to prove how fast each car was going at the time of the car accident. Don’t forget to take pictures that can help prove the weather conditions at the time.
- Pictures of the vehicles
Vehicle damage can be used to prove speed, direction of impact, and other factors that are useful in proving fault in an Alabama car accident.
- Witness names and contact information
Witnesses can give statements or testimony regarding what they saw and heard before, during, and after the car accident. Their stories can help paint a picture for the judge or jury as they decide who caused the accident.
- Police reports
A police report is one of the best pieces of evidence to have. A police report that says the defendant is at fault doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically win your personal injury case. But the police officer’s statements will make it easier for you to prove that the defendant was at fault.
Remember, never make any statements at the scene of the accident that could later be used to prove that you were somehow at fault in causing the car accident. Never make a statement about the accident to the insurance company – especially a recorded statement. Insurance companies want to deny your car accident claim at any cost. They will use anything you say about the accident – even a seemingly innocent statement – to prove that you were at fault. Then, they will have a reason to deny your claim. Don’t give them a reason. Don’t speak to the insurance company without the help of an experienced Alabama car accident attorney.
Want to know more about proving fault in an Alabama car accident?
Fault is one of the most hotly contested issues in Alabama personal injury cases. Issues of fault and negligence can be tricky, but Collins Law, LLC can help. Our founder, April H. Collins, is an experienced Birmingham personal injury lawyer who has been named one of the top 10 personal injury attorneys in Alabama. To schedule a free case review, call 205-588-1411 or use the Collins Law online scheduler.