6 Myths About Who is At Fault in a Car Accident & What To Do About It
Car accidents can be devastating, and in the aftermath, those involved often grapple with confusion and uncertainty about their rights. At The Law Offices of Kenneth G. Egan, we strive to shed light on the intricacies of car accidents. As a premier Las Cruces car accident attorney firm, our goal is to help you understand your rights and options after a car accident. This article aims to debunk some prevalent misconceptions about car accident liabilities.
1. Misconception: If I’m in a No-fault State, I Can’t Be Held Responsible for a Car Accident
Many individuals mistakenly believe that living in a no-fault state absolves them from any responsibility in the event of a car accident. They assume that no-fault insurance entirely removes the concept of blame or accountability from the equation.
This misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. The term “no-fault” when referring to insurance doesn’t mean blame isn’t assigned in an accident. Instead, it means that regardless of who is at fault, drivers can claim against their insurance policies for medical expenses. Typically, drivers in these no-fault states are required to have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance as part of their auto insurance coverage. This ensures that, regardless of fault, injured parties have a mechanism to recover medical expenses quickly.
However, the key point to remember is that “no-fault” doesn’t translate to “no responsibility.” Both parties in an accident remain legally responsible for damages and injuries. Furthermore, not all states operate under no-fault regulations. For example, New Mexico is an “at-fault” or “tort” state. In such states, the individual found to be at fault in a car accident is liable for covering the injured party’s medical expenses and property damage. It’s crucial to understand the specifics of your state’s insurance regulations and how fault is determined after an accident.
2. Misconception: Only One Driver Can Be Found Negligent in an Accident
Many people believe that in any given car accident, only one driver can be determined as negligent and therefore held responsible for the incident. This notion stems from the simplified view that accidents are typically a black-and-white matter, with one party being right and the other wrong.
The truth is that fault determination isn’t always so straightforward. Courts assess multiple factors, such as speed, distraction, and intoxication levels of all involved parties. It’s entirely possible, and not uncommon, for multiple drivers to share negligence in a single accident. This means that responsibility for the accident’s repercussions might be divided among several individuals, not just pinned on one driver. Determining degrees of fault can be complex and underscores the importance of thorough accident investigations and expert legal consultations.
3. Misconception: The Driver is Always at Fault in a Car Accident
A prevalent belief is that car accidents are always a direct result of driver error or negligence. Many individuals overlook the possibility that vehicles, despite being state-of-the-art machines, can have defects or malfunction.
Not all accidents stem from the actions or negligence of a driver. There are instances where defective automobile parts are the actual culprits behind a mishap. For example, brake failures, tire blowouts, or steering system malfunctions can lead to accidents. In such cases, if it’s proven that a faulty product caused the accident and not the driver’s behavior, the manufacturer of that defective automobile part can be held legally responsible for any damages or injuries that ensue. Accident investigators and legal professionals need to consider all potential causes of a crash, including potential product defects.
4. Misconception: The Trailing Car is Always to Blame in a Rear-End Collision
Many people believe that if a car is rear-ended, the driver of the car in the back is automatically at fault. This notion has become widely accepted, perhaps due to the idea that the car behind should always maintain a safe following distance.
While it’s true that the trailing car is frequently found at fault in rear-end collisions because of reasons like tailgating or not paying attention, there are scenarios where the leading vehicle can be at fault. Examples include when the front car suddenly reverses or if its brake lights are not functioning, making it hard or impossible for the trailing driver to anticipate a stop. Each accident is unique, and fault should be determined after considering all circumstances surrounding the collision.
5. Misconception: The Vehicle Making a Left Turn is Always to Blame
It’s a commonly held belief that when there’s an accident involving a left turn, the fault always lies with the vehicle making the turn. Many assume this because, typically, the left-turning vehicle is expected to wait and yield to oncoming traffic.
While the left-turning vehicle does have a responsibility to ensure the way is clear before making the turn, there are circumstances where the oncoming vehicle might share or even bear all the fault. Examples include if the oncoming car was significantly over the speed limit, making it challenging for the left-turning driver to judge their speed accurately, or if they ran a red light or stop sign. Determining fault always requires a comprehensive look at the specifics of the incident.
6. Misconception: Minor Car Accidents Don’t Require a Police Report
A prevalent idea among many drivers is that if they’re involved in a minor accident or a “fender-bender”, there’s no need to involve the police or file a report.
Even in seemingly minor accidents, it’s a good idea to have a police report on record. This document serves as an impartial account of the accident’s details and can prove invaluable in situations where the cause of the accident comes into dispute or if injuries that weren’t immediately apparent at the scene manifest later on. Furthermore, some insurance companies may require a police report to process claims, regardless of the accident’s severity.
What to Do If You’ve Been in a Car Accident Near Las Cruces, New Mexico
Car accidents, no matter their severity, are distressing experiences. If you find yourself in an unfortunate event of a car crash around Las Cruces, New Mexico, follow these steps to ensure your safety and protect your rights:
- Stay Calm and Check for Injuries: The immediate aftermath of an accident can be overwhelming. Take a moment to breathe, and then check yourself and other passengers for injuries. If anyone is injured, call 911 right away.
- Move to a Safe Location: If your vehicle is creating a safety hazard or obstructing traffic and it’s safe to do so, move it to the side of the road. Otherwise, stay inside your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened until help arrives.
- Contact the Authorities: Even if it’s a minor accident, always call the police. They will provide an objective account of the incident, which can be beneficial when dealing with insurance companies or potential legal proceedings.
- Gather Information: Exchange details with the other driver, including names, contact information, driver’s license numbers, insurance details, and license plate numbers. If there are any witnesses, ask for their contact information as well.
- Document the Scene: Using your smartphone or a camera, take pictures of the accident scene, vehicle damage, any injuries, and any other relevant details. This can be crucial evidence for insurance claims and potential legal matters.
- Avoid Speculating About Fault: Be careful about admitting fault or blaming others at the accident scene. Statements made can be used against you later on. Instead, let the investigators determine the cause of the accident.
- Seek Medical Attention: Sometimes, injuries from car accidents might not be immediately apparent. It’s a good idea to see a doctor after the accident, even if you feel okay. This can also serve as documentation of any injuries you might have sustained.
- Notify Your Insurance Company: Inform your insurance company about the accident as soon as possible. They will guide you on the next steps for filing a claim.
- Consult with a Local Attorney: Especially if there are injuries or significant damages, it’s wise to speak with a Las Cruces car accident attorney. They can offer guidance, ensure your rights are protected, and help navigate any complexities that might arise.
- Keep All Documents: From medical bills to repair estimates and correspondence with insurance companies, keep all paperwork related to the accident. This will be essential for any legal actions or claims you might pursue.
Remember, every car accident is unique, and while these steps offer a general guideline, always prioritize safety and use your best judgment based on the situation.
What to Expect from a Car Accident Attorney Following an Accident
- Independent Investigation
The attorney will carry out a thorough and independent investigation. They will gather all necessary evidence to build a strong case and establish fault.
Your attorney will handle negotiations with the insurance company and, if necessary, the defendant’s lawyers. Their goal will be to reach a settlement or present a robust personal injury case before a judge and jury.
- Financial Protection
Once you’ve engaged their services, they will send out letters of representation to creditors and insurance companies. This informs these entities that they must communicate through the attorney. If anyone tries to contact you directly, you can simply redirect them to your attorney.
- Regular Updates
Throughout your case, your attorney will provide you with regular updates on its progress.
Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents in Las Cruces, New Mexico
In legal terms, the “statute of limitations” refers to the time frame within which an individual can file a lawsuit related to a particular event. For car accidents in New Mexico, including Las Cruces, it’s crucial to be aware of these time limits to preserve your right to legal recourse.
- Personal Injury Claims: If you’ve suffered injuries in a car accident due to someone else’s negligence, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. This time frame applies to drivers, passengers, pedestrians, or cyclists injured in the collision.
- Property Damage Claims: Similarly, if your vehicle or other personal property was damaged in the accident, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for the repairs or the value of the damaged property.
- Wrongful Death Claims: In the unfortunate event that someone dies as a result of the car accident, the deceased person’s family or representatives have three years from the date of the death, not the date of the accident, to file a wrongful death claim.
- Exceptions to the Rule: While the three-year limit is standard, there might be specific circumstances or exceptions that could shorten or extend this time limit. For instance, if the injured party was a minor or mentally incompetent at the time of the accident, the statute of limitations might be paused or “tolled” until the individual turns 18 or regains competency.
- Consequences of Missing the Deadline: If you fail to file your lawsuit within the three-year window, the New Mexico courts will likely refuse to hear your case, and you will lose the opportunity to seek compensation for any damages or injuries stemming from the accident.
- Start Early: While three years might seem like a long time, building a robust car accident case can be time-consuming. It involves gathering evidence, consulting with experts, and negotiating with insurance companies. Starting your claim process early allows ample time for thorough preparation, increasing the chances of a favorable outcome.
If you believe you have a car accident claim, it is best to consult with a Las Cruces car accident attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney will be able to guide you through the legal process, ensure you adhere to the statute of limitations, and advocate for your rights and interests.
Find an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer near Las Cruces, New Mexico
At The Law Offices of Kenneth G. Egan, we’re dedicated to guiding you through your rights and legal avenues with empathy and proficiency. As seasoned Las Cruces car accident attorneys, we recognize the significance of understanding the nuances of your accident and identifying the responsible parties for any damages or losses. Contact us today or give us a call at 575-532-2222 for insights on navigating the aftermath of a car accident.