Car Accident Negligence

In order to have a case against someone for injuries from a car accident (usually called the “third party” or “tortfeasor”), one of the things you have to show is that that person or company was negligent. Your car accident negligence attorney’s job is to analyze the law and facts and make the best argument against the other side being at fault or “negligent”. If your lawyer and you can’t settle your case before a lawsuit is filed, the topic of negligence will undoubtedly be part of the litigation and discovery process. And how well you case of car accident negligence is established against the defendant in litigation will bear largely on whether or not a trial needs to take place. Sometimes, the sides just don’t agree and a trial is the only way to sort out who was at fault, or negligent. If your case is determined pre-suit through a settlement or during litigation prior to trial, the issue of negligence will be a matter of argument, discussion, and possibly motion practice between your lawyer and the other side’s insurance company or attorneys. Your lawyer will argue that your car accident injuries are the result of the other side or defendant’s negligence. And the other side will argue that his or her client or insured was not negligent and was not the cause of your injuries. Now, an accident report where the officer cited the person who caused your accident can help in the argument that the other person was negligent and at fault. But it is not determinative because such a report is not admissible in a jury trial on your case. If your case goes to trial as described above, the jury will decide who was negligent in your car accident. And the Judge will “charge” the 6 jurors with instructions on how to come to that determination. In Florida, the Supreme Court has approved standard Jury Instructions. So, the Judge’s instructions should be the same in most car accident cases. The Florida Supreme Court approved the following Car Accident Negligence instruction (paraphrased and empasised for clarity in some portions), which acts as the jury’s guide in deciding who was negligent:

401.4 NEGLIGENCE

Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care, which is the care that a reasonably careful person would use under like circumstances. Negligence is doing something that a reasonably careful person would not do under like circumstances or failing to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under like circumstances. Now, if you go to trial, you will need to show that the person you are suing was negligent. And, the burden of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt like in criminal cases. And it is not necessary to prove a case by clear and convincing evidence like in licensure or property right cases. Rather, in a car accident negligence personal injury case, you have to show by the Greater Weight of the Evidence that the Defendant was negligent and the legal cause of your injuries. Greater Weight of the Evidence is defined as:

401.3 GREATER WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE

“Greater weight of the evidence” means the more persuasive and convincing force and effect of the entire evidence in the case. The Judge will explain this to the Jury and your lawyer will have to present a case that includes evidence that meets this burden. Then, your lawyer will argue that your car accident negligence case was proven by the Greater Weight of the Evidence. And, you will need to show that the other person’s negligence was the “Legal Cause” of your injuries. Legal cause basically means that the negligence was the reason the injuries happened. Said another way, it means in most cases that if the person wasn’t negligent, you wouldn’t have been hurt. And there is an approved Standard Jury Instruction for Legal Cause too. It is defined as follows:

402.6 LEGAL CAUSE

Negligence is a legal cause of damage, loss or injury if in natural and continuous sequence it directly and produces or contributes substantially to producing such damage, loss or injury, so that it can reasonably be said that, but for the negligence, the loss, injury, or damage, would not have occurred. Again, your lawyer must present evidence that the Defendant’s car accident negligence was the Legal Cause of your loss, injury, or damage. If your lawyer does not, the Judge will likely end the case during what’s called “directed verdict” which is when the Defendant argues during trial that the Plaintiff hasn’t established the case even taking things most favorable to him or her. Legal cause evidence many times is in the form of expert testimony. And usually, you will see a doctor testify that the car accident negligence that the Plaintiff reported to that doctor was the Legal Cause of the injuries that the doctor treated. In the end, your lawyer needs to be aware of how strong your negligence argument is. This part of the case is often called “liability” while your injuries are “damages”.

PROVING NEGLIGENCE

The strength of a car accident negligence case will evolve as investigation is done pre-suit or depositions are taken of witnesses. Many things can affect how easy or hard it is to prove car accident negligence. One is the existence of witnesses. If there are no witnesses, the case becomes a “he said she said”, meaning a battle of the credibility between the two drivers in the accident. For example, if it was an accident where the Defendant took a left turn in front of you and you couldn’t slow down or get out of the way, it is not uncommon for that Defendant to argue that you were speeding. That is, the Defendant would say that you couldn’t slow because you were going too fast. Such a Defendant commonly argues also that the Plaintiff was trying to beat an orange light while that Defendant was trying to clear the intersection. Even another argument made in such a scenario is that the Defendant was in the intersection for a long period of time trying to clear the light and the Plaintiff swerved out of his or her lane and struck the Defendant who did not move from his or her position where he or she was waiting to clear the intersection. In these cases, if you have just two witnesses, the Plaintiff and the Defendant, the strength of the case invariably comes down to the credibility of the witnesses. And, this is usually not able to be analyzed until depositions have been taken and witness demeanor has been analyzed. An experienced lawyer should be able to arrive at a sense of how credible a Defendant driver or Plaintiff driver will be when testifying at trial based on his or her deposition testimony and demeanor during such testimony. The same applies in red light running cases and stop sign cases. If there are just two witnesses who are the Plaintiff and the Defendant, it becomes a swearing contest or a “he said she said” as to who was negligent in the car accident. But, as soon as one side has an independent witness, things can change. That is, if a Plaintiff or Defendant can produce a witness who has no interest in the case and that witness is supportive, it is a major boost to the case. If the witness was a passenger and acquaintance of either the Plaintiff or Defendant, the witness is no longer “independent” and has an interest in the outcome. Nonetheless, such a witness undoubtedly helps prove who was negligent in the car accident. In the end, the determination of who was negligent is up to the jury. For this reason, the same analysis applies as to the credibility of independent witness or witness who was a passenger in one of the vehicles. The jury will actually receive an instruction from the Judge as far as analyzing credibility. And, a jury will normally side with whatever side it feels is most credible when it comes to car accident negligence. The concept of what a jury would do is immensely important because this is how the adjustors and lawyers will analyze your case. If the adjustors and lawyers, at some level, have a common understanding, good or bad, as to the credibility of the witnesses to the accident, it will help to resolve the case without the need for a trial. If not, the Plaintiff and Defendant will need to prepare for trial. It is important to know that not all cases that go to trial end up in the favor of the Plaintiff. You can take a look at a list of a selection of some of our settlements and jury verdicts.


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