If you have been involved in a single-vehicle accident recently, you may be confused about who is responsible and even assume you are at fault. However, these types of car crashes are not always so straightforward.
You may not deserve a ticket, fines, or criminal charges, and you may not be responsible for paying for damage, including to your own vehicle, or for paying medical expenses if you were injured. In fact, another party may be liable for the accident and for expenses that resulted from it.
Our legal team at Breakstone, White & Gluck put together this post to give you more information about single-vehicle and liability. We want you to know how to protect your rights and understand your options after a one-car accident.
What Is a Single-Vehicle Accident?
Most of the time, car crashes involve two or more vehicles that collide with each other, and all vehicles become damaged. However, a single-vehicle accident is a crash with damage to only one car, truck, van, or motorcycle. A single-vehicle collision is less common, but this type of crash happens every day.
One-car accidents can occur pretty easily, when you think about it. Some common causes include:
- Exceeding the speed limit
- Driving too fast for weather conditions
- Operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI)
- Distracted driving, such as talking on a cell phone
- Medical emergency, like a seizure or diabetic episode
- Poor visibility or excessively bright sunlight
- Obstruction, animal, or pedestrian in the road
- Poor road maintenance
- Another vehicle veering into your lane
- Hitting the accelerator by accident instead of the brake
- Mechanical failure of the vehicle
A single-vehicle accident can involve more than one car or truck, but only one is damaged. Say another car moves unexpectedly into your lane and you veer onto the sidewalk to avoid a car crash, hitting a mailbox. The other car is fine but yours is damaged; this is a classic single-vehicle crash.
As you might guess, private and municipal property damage often occurs with single-vehicle crashes. Typically, fences, light posts, utility poles, street signs, fire hydrants, guardrails, and landscaping, including trees, are involved. A single-vehicle accident could also entail you spinning out and winding up facing the wrong way on a busy road, or you could flip your vehicle in a roll-over crash.
Generally speaking, one-car accidents are categorized differently than if a single vehicle hits a bystander or pedestrian. Another criterion for this type of accident is that only the driver of the vehicle or their passengers are injured in the crash, not people outside the car or truck.
Determining Liability in a Single-Car Crash
If your actions are found to be the proximate cause of a car crash, you are considered liable. Proximate cause means something you did started the chain of events that led to the crash. Let’s look at some of the accident causes listed above as examples.
Imagine you’re driving in slippery snow. Even if you’re going the speed limit, you may be doing what’s called driving too fast for conditions, and you should slow down to accommodate the weather. If you slide off the road into a traffic light, you are liable for the crash.
What if someone calls you on your mobile phone while you are driving? Even if you only pick up the phone to see who’s calling, without actually answering the call, you could be considered liable if you are distracted and run off the road into a fire hydrant. Carelessness and failure to obey the rules of the road often result in single-vehicle accidents.
Never assume, though, that you are at fault simply because you were in a single-vehicle accident. There are times when another party or conditions beyond your control are the cause of a crash. It’s very important to know your rights when it comes to these types of accidents, which we discuss below.
Potential Outcomes When Found Guilty
If you are found guilty of causing a one-car accident, there can be multiple outcomes for you, and some of them may occur together. Just because you get a traffic ticket, for example, doesn’t mean you can’t also face legal charges. And even if you are not charged criminally, you may still be financially responsible for property damaged in the crash.
One of the most common consequences of single-vehicle accidents is receiving a traffic ticket. You can even be given more than one citation for multiple violations. You may have called 911 from the scene of the accident, or someone nearby may have called, which brought law enforcement to the site.
When you are given a traffic citation, you have a couple of options. You can pay the ticket and be done with it, although it may add points to your license. If you rack up too many points on your driver’s license, it can be taken away for a long period of time.
If you think the ticket was given unfairly, you also have the choice to go to court and present your side of the case to a judge. You might be able to reduce the fine or have the penalty erased from your record, if you are successful. It all depends on the unique circumstances of your incident.
If you are found to be at fault in a single-vehicle accident, if it’s serious enough, you may be charged criminally. This usually occurs in cases of drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs, as well as reckless driving. Reckless driving is considered operating a motor vehicle with wanton or willful disregard for the safety of others nearby and for the property of others.
There are various penalties for both driving under the influence and reckless driving, and you can be charged with both. These penalties include:
- Loss of driving privileges
- Stiff fines
- Jail time
The fines and time spent in jail depend upon the charges and the driver’s past record. For instance, if you are charged with reckless driving and it’s your second or third offense, you will pay more and serve more time in jail.
These consequences are obviously quite serious and potentially life altering. That’s why it’s essential that you contact a lawyer who specializes in car accidents right away if you are criminally charged following a single-vehicle accident.
Paying for damage
Paying for damage after a one-car accident is not always a clear-cut situation. In cases where you are at fault in an accident, your insurance pays for damage to another party’s property, like their car. However, when your own car is damaged, you may have to pay for repairs yourself, as well as your own medical bills.
Your insurance may cover your own expenses after a single-vehicle accident if you have personal injury protection (PIP) as part of your policy, which you should. Massachusetts law requires you to carry at least $8,000 of personal injury protection coverage. Also, your required minimum liability insurance of $5,000 for property damage should cover signs, fences, landscaping, and the like.
Anything that exceeds your insurance coverage will have to be paid out of pocket if you are liable in a one-car accident. That’s another great reason to contact a car accident attorney after a single-vehicle crash. You want to make certain you are truly responsible for those costs before you pay them.
When Can a Driver Be Found Not Liable?
As you probably guessed when reading the list of accident causes at the start of this post, there are cases when a driver is not considered liable. Not every one-car crash is the driver’s fault. In instances like this, usually, another party is responsible—it might even be someone who wasn’t anywhere near the accident scene when it happened.
Possible liable parties include:
- Another driver
- A negligent road worker
- A municipality
- State or federal government
- Your vehicle manufacturer or dealer
- Your auto mechanic
In many scenarios, not only are you not responsible, but you can bring a claim against the liable party to pay for property damage, damage to your vehicle, and medical expenses incurred by you and/or your passengers. This is yet another reason it’s smart to talk to an attorney after a single-vehicle crash.
Let’s look at a few examples of when another party may be liable for a single-auto crash. Imagine you’re driving down the road and another car starts to pull into your lane without looking first. You don’t want the other car to hit you, especially because there are children inside, so you perform a quick evasive maneuver that avoids the crash but sends you into someone’s flower bed.
Another situation might be if someone working on the road fails to secure the pavement at the end of the workday by not putting up traffic cones where appropriate or leaving slick oil on the asphalt. This causes you to spin out of control and hit an electric pole. The construction company or government entity doing the work may be liable.
There have been many cases where automobile manufacturers were liable in single-vehicle accidents. A manufacturing error or failure to recall a vehicle model can cause accidents. For example, there have been scenarios lately where the accelerator is stuck in certain types of cars or SUVs, leaving the driver vulnerable to speeding out of control.
Of course, there are times when no one is found at fault. Perhaps you swerved to avoid hitting a deer in the road and struck a stop sign instead. You need to discuss your liability with an experienced attorney if you are issued a citation or charged criminally following an incident like this.
Preparing a Claim for a One-Car Accident
Remember, another party can be at fault in your single-vehicle accident, even if their vehicle is not damaged or if they were not there at the scene the moment the accident happened. Never admit you were at fault in a one-car crash without first talking to a lawyer.
It’s imperative to meet with a seasoned car accident attorney if:
- You have been found at fault in a single-vehicle accident and you believe another party is actually liable or that no one should be found at fault.
- You don’t believe you should have to pay for damage following a one-car accident.
- You believe you should be compensated for vehicle damage or medical expenses for you and/or your passengers because another party was at fault in the accident.
What’s important to know is that time is of the essence when it comes to car accidents. The longer you wait to pursue justice, the foggier memories become. There are statutes of limitations too, after which you can no longer bring a claim.
Therefore, we urge you to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after a single-vehicle accident. It’s ideal if you have the contact information for any parties you feel may be at fault, such as another driver. But if not, don’t worry about it—we can still work on your behalf.
Also, any documentation you made immediately following the accident can be immensely helpful. This includes photos or videos made with your mobile device documenting faulty traffic signals, poor road conditions, and the like that may have played a role in the accident.
Our process at Breakstone, White & Gluck is to meet with you to go over the case in detail. If we take your case, we can follow up on information and interact with other parties on your behalf, so you can work on getting your life back to normal as quickly as possible. If it seems like the vehicle itself was at fault, we can investigate that as well.
Breakstone, White & Gluck has a terrific track record helping clients get what they deserve after single-vehicle accidents. We offer a free consultation, so you can weigh all your options. Call us today at 800-379-1244, or reach out online and let us know how we can help.