Most car accidents occur with little warning, leaving all parties a bit stunned as their brains struggle to catch up to the events that took place over a very short period of time. Once the scene has been cleared and any medical needs are attended to, you might find your thoughts turning to which party bears the brunt of responsibility for the accident.
Determining who is at fault in an accident is not always a simple or straightforward process. However, it is a critical step that must be taken in order to determine who should be held liable for damages resulting from a Mississippi accident.
When the time comes to determine who is at fault for a serious car accident, working with a highly skilled and experienced personal injury attorney is the best course of action. Your attorney will work on your behalf to sort out exactly what led to the accident, the role each party played in the series of events, and how responsibility for the outcome should be allocated.
What is fault in a personal injury case?
Negligence plays a central role in determining which part is at fault in a car accident. Proving negligence begins with determining if a party to an accident had an obligation or duty to prevent harm to others. In car accident cases, this step is relatively easy, as all drivers have a responsibility to operate their vehicles in a safe manner to prevent accidents.
Next, to find a party at fault for an accident it is necessary to prove they willfully chose to act (or to fail to take action) that any reasonable person would assume might prevent an accident. This essentially boils down to determining if a party should have known that their choices could lead to harm to another person or to property.
Finding a party at fault for an accident also requires a clear demonstration that the party caused the accident. This requires establishing a clear series of events that led up to an accident, which is not always as easy as it sounds.
Finally, in order for a party to be found negligent and at fault in a legal proceeding, there must be clear damages that resulted from the individual’s choices and actions. In short, you can’t be held at fault for something that did not harm anyone else.
Can both parties share the fault in a car accident?
In the state of Mississippi, the law allows for something called “pure comparative negligence.” This means that not only can two or more parties share the fault in a car accident, the person awarded damages could have the amount of damaged decreased in proportion to their own fault in the matter.
To clarify, let’s assume that another driver struck you from behind as you slowed to make a turn into a parking lot. In most cases, a driver who strikes a vehicle from the rear is usually held responsible for the accident. In this example, let’s say the court determines that the total cost of your medical bills and damage to your vehicle comes in at $20,000.
But what if your brake lights were out at the time of the collision? Should the other driver take full responsibility for the accident if they couldn’t tell that you were slowing in preparation for a turn? The court might decide that your failure to fix your brake lights was 20% of the reason for the collision. That means your mages in the case could be reduced by 20%, in order to make up for your own fault in the matter.
Shared fault isn’t a concept limited to the courtroom. Many insurance companies will try to incorporate the concept of shared fault in their settlement negotiations. Knowing how to respond and how to prove negligence can make a big difference in how the matter is eventually resolved.
What can I do to protect my interests in the immediate aftermath of a car accident?
It may be challenging to think about gathering evidence in the immediate aftermath of an accident, but knowing how to respond can help you make the right decisions if you find yourself in an accident. Begin by calling the police and insisting they file a report on the accident. When they arrive, be sure to provide a clear and detailed overview of your version of events. If there were witnesses to the accident, direct the police to those individuals and ask that they provide a statement.
Next, try to take as many photos of the scene as possible. Be sure to get photos from different angles, and include a mix of close-in shots and wider shots that offer a different perspective. Try to capture photos of both vehicles, as well as any tire marks or other conditions in the road or with any object struck during the crash.
If possible, make contact with witnesses yourself and ask for their contact information. There are times when a witness will leave the scene before they have a chance to talk with first responders, and being able to reach them afterward can be an important element of the case.
What will an attorney do to prove fault in my accident case?
Your attorney begins by gathering all of the details you can provide about the accident and the events that led up to it. They will look at any photos or other documentation you were able to gather at the scene, and compare your notes with the official police report filed in the matter.
Attorneys often try to gain access to surveillance cameras in the area that might have captured video of the accident. Dash cameras can also be a great source of evidence in a case, so your attorney will be sure to ask any witnesses if they have photos or video of the accident or scene. Your attorney will also review witness statements to see if any additional details are available.
In some cases an accident reconstruction professional can help build your case by working to recreate the scene of the accident. This doesn’t always take place at the actual physical site of the crash. Advanced computer modeling software can piece together a detailed overview of the scene using various data points.
Some accident reconstruction experts will testify in court on your behalf, and charge a fee for that service. Your attorney will determine if that expense is a worthy investment for your case.
Skilled personal injury attorneys will also present a clear picture of the damage caused by a car accident. This can be a tedious process involving gathering medical records and bills. If your injuries are likely to cause you to seek future medical treatment, the cost of that care is also incorporated into the case. Lost time from work and lost earning potential might also be part of the process.
Your attorney will also devote time to assessing the damage to your vehicle and any other personal property involved in the accident. This might include getting repair estimates from various shops, assessing the replacement value for your vehicle, and determining how long you had to find alternative transportation, and at what cost.
There are also the intangible damages to consider. Many car accidents cause significant pain and suffering. Some people experience post-traumatic stress disorder after being involved in a serious car accident. You might have to deal with nightmares, anxiety, fear of driving, and other issues. Some victims of car accidents become depressed and despondent after an accident, and withdraw from their roles at work and within the family.
What are some elements of fault in a car accident?
A skilled personal injury attorney will look for signs of fault in your case, and compile a list of areas where the other party played a causal role in the accident and resulting damages.
Some of the elements of fault in a car accident might include:
- Traveling at an excessive rate of speed
- Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Driving in a reckless manner
- Operating a vehicle with clear maintenance issues
- Failing to alter driving habits to accommodate weather or road conditions
- Driving while distracted by a phone or other device
- Driving aggressively or while experiencing road rage
Each of these elements of fault demand a closer look. Your attorney will gather evidence to support these types of negligent behavior, and present them clearly to the other side.
Most personal injury cases are settled out of court in an agreement reached between the parties. Your attorney will negotiate on your behalf to get the best settlement possible. In the event the case downs eventually go before a court of law, your attorney will represent you in the matter and fight for your rights under the law.
Even more importantly, a highly skilled and experienced attorney will also know how to handle all of the paperwork needed to move forward with a personal injury case. They will be sure to meet all of the rules laid out by the court to give your case the full attention it deserves.
Why not just let law enforcement and the insurance companies determine who was at fault in a car accident?
The process of determining fault in a car accident case can be complicated, and it can feel as though the system is structured to make things even harder than they need to be. It might be tempting to step away and let the authorities and the insurance representatives handle matters and determine fault.
This approach, however, is unlikely to yield positive results. Police departments are often understaffed and overworked, and may lack the resources to spend much time on your case. They might come out and assess the scene, complete some paperwork, and file a report, but they aren’t likely to go beyond those basic steps, as they have more serious matters to focus their time and effort on.
Insurance companies have an interest in limiting the amount of damages paid in a case. They are not in the business of helping you get everything you might be entitled to in an accident. Here again, staffing and other resources are often limited, so taking a closer look at your case is not a likely outcome.
When is the right time to reach out to a personal injury attorney after a Mississippi car accident?
If you are involved in a serious car accident in the state of Mississippi, your first priority is to ensure you get the care you need to address any medical issues resulting from the accident. Once you are in stable condition or have been fully checked over for life-threatening injuries, it’s important to begin thinking about your legal needs.
Many accidents cause injuries that require special care to heal. You may need physical therapy, rehabilitation, or pain management care for many years to come. It isn’t always readily apparent how an auto accident will impact your health and wellness, so avoid assuming that everything is fine in the immediate aftermath of an accident.
The best course of action is to make contact with a Mississippi personal injury attorney as soon as possible after a car accident takes place. Even if you are not ready to come in and provide an overview of your case, an attorney can begin collecting evidence and information on your behalf.
It’s also important to note that Mississippi has a strict statute of limitations when it comes to car accident cases. You must file a personal injury case with the court within three years of the date of the accident in order to move forward in the legal process. Any action taken after that date has a very low chance of a successful outcome.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to a personal injury attorney after a car accident. Your attorney works to determine who is at fault in the matter. Even if your attorney finds that you are not entitled to damages in the case, you can rest assured that you did everything in your power to look after your legal rights.