Who’s at Fault in a Head-On Collision? Determining Liability for Damages

It’s not always easy to prove fault in a head-on collision. See what it takes to establish liability, even when more than one party is negligent.

When you’re suffering through the aftermath of a head-on collision, it’s hard to think about dealing with the at-fault driver’s car insurance company.

Unfortunately, even when you’ve been seriously injured or lost a loved one, the burden is on you to prove fault for the crash.

If you only suffered minor injuries, you may be able to pursue a settlement on your own. For severe or fatal injury claims, you’ll definitely need an attorney to pursue key evidence that can only be obtained by legal action.

Here we list the types of evidence needed to establish the other driver’s fault for the accident and your damages. We’ll also go over common driver errors that result in head-on collisions, and discuss examples of accidents with more than one at-fault party.

Finding Fault in Head-On Collisions

If you’ve been in a head-on accident with another vehicle, it means one of the drivers was on the wrong side of the road. The person driving on the wrong side is usually to blame for crashing into a vehicle headed in the opposite direction.

When you’re injured, you have the right to expect compensation from the driver who caused the crash. Usually, the compensation will come from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

The insurance company won’t simply hand out checks for personal injury claims or wrongful death settlements. It’s up to you or your attorney to prove the other driver caused the crash, and the crash caused your injuries.

Driver Negligence and Liability

The courts have long held that drivers have a legal “duty of care” to other drivers. When a driver neglects to follow local traffic laws, drives recklessly, or endangers others, that negligence is a violation of their duty. When that violation causes an accident, the driver is liable.

If you were injured in a head-on crash, you must prove the driver’s negligence was the direct cause of the collision. When you prove the other driver caused the collision, then he or she is legally responsible for your accident injuries, property damage, and pain and suffering.

When the Other Driver Blames You

Your contribution to the crash can offset the at-fault driver’s liability. If you had some fault in the crash, the at-fault driver’s liability might lessen by the percentage of your contribution. For example, the other driver might say you were speeding so they didn’t have time to get back in their own lane before the crash.

If you live in one of the many states with modified comparative negligence laws, you can pursue compensation from the other driver even if you were partly to blame for the accident.

If you are partly to blame, your compensation will be reduced according to your portion of liability. But don’t let the insurance adjuster have the final say in how much you were liable. Your car accident lawyer may be able to prove the other driver was the only one to blame.

Getting Evidence to Support Your Claim

Always call 911 to report an accident and ask for help. If your physical condition and circumstances allow, try to collect some evidence before the accident scene changes. Don’t try to gather evidence if it will worsen your injuries, cause you to delay medical attention, or keep you from helping others who are injured.

Evidence From the Scene

Photographs: Use your phone to take pictures of everything in view. Photograph the cars as they sit and the point of impact. You can never take too many photos of the scene. Include traffic signals, overhanging trees, lane dividers, skid marks, road debris, and any bottles of alcohol in or near the other driver’s car.

Witness statements: Write down the names and contact information of all witnesses. Make sure you ask them what they saw, especially if they believe the other driver was at fault.

Maybe they saw the driver talking or texting on a cell phone. They may have heard the other driver making admissions against interest, like “I was looking down at the radio,” or “I was on the phone with my daughter.” Driver admissions are strong evidence of negligence and liability.

Additional Types of Evidence

Police report:  Emergency responders, including police, are always sent to injury accidents. Police officers are specially trained to investigate traffic accidents. Most importantly, the official police report will indicate an opinion on whom they believe caused the collision. The report will also detail any traffic tickets issued, and if they arrested the other driver for DUI.

You can obtain a report several days after the collision by contacting the law enforcement agency that responded to the scene.

Medical records: Copies of your medical bills and records are crucial. It’s important that your records make crystal clear the collision directly caused your serious injuries – to the exclusion of any previous injury you may have.

Ask your doctors to document the medical care you need now, and the type of medical treatment, therapy, and follow-up testing you will need into the foreseeable future.

Accident diary: As soon as possible after the crash, write out a detailed explanation of what you were doing the day of the accident, how the collision occurred, and your daily life as you deal with your injuries. Also, keep copies of correspondence with the insurance company.

Attorneys Can Obtain Evidence You Can’t Get On Your Own

Head-on collisions cause more severe injuries and fatalities than any other type of motor vehicle accident. If you or a loved one were in a head-on collision, chances are you won’t be in any condition to collect evidence and fight with insurance companies.

Severe injury claims and wrongful death suits should always be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney. One good reason to hire an attorney is to collect critical evidence of other parties’ liability that you can’t get without filing a personal injury lawsuit.

An experienced car accident lawyer can request driver information, such as:

  • Cell phone records
  • Driving records
  • Drug and alcohol test results
  • Criminal history

Your attorney can also pursue footage from traffic cameras and security cameras near the crash site, depose witnesses, and hire expert accident reconstructionist.

Common Causes of Frontal Collisions

Head-on auto accidents, also called frontal crashes, happen when the front of one vehicle collides with the front of another vehicle, or a stationary object like a tree.

Causes of head-on collisions:

  • Drunk driving: By far, the highest number of head-on crashes involve intoxication. An intoxicated driver’s reflexes and judgment are affected. The impaired driver may nod off at the wheel or get easily distracted.
  • Unsafe passing: On two-lane roads, the passing vehicle must move into the oncoming lane of traffic to get around the slower car. If the driver of the passing vehicle doesn’t see an oncoming car or miscalculates the speed or distance of oncoming traffic, they may not have the time or clearance to move back into the proper lane before crashing.
  • Wrong-way driving: Many fatal accidents occur because of confused or intoxicated drivers heading the wrong way on a one-way street, or entering a highway on an exit ramp, heading straight into fast oncoming traffic.
  • Cell phones: Dialing, texting, and speaking on cell phones distracts a driver’s attention. It only takes a couple of seconds of inattention for a car to veer into oncoming traffic.
  • Drowsy driving: Driver fatigue often affects long-haul truckers, night shift employees, and other sleep-deprived individuals. It’s easy for a drowsy driver to doze off at the wheel, letting the vehicle meander into the opposing lane of traffic.
  • Road conditions: Cars may slide or hydroplane due to weather conditions. Drivers often swerve to avoid debris in the road, large potholes, or animals.

Multiple At-Fault Parties

There are times when it’s not easy to prove the other driver was solely responsible. Sometimes, outside circumstances beyond a driver’s control contribute to a crash. When outside factors like icy roads play a role in the crash, the law mitigates, meaning lessens or offsets, the at-fault driver’s liability.

Sometimes outside factors are caused by other negligent parties. Let’s say the county failed to treat that section of icy road in a timely manner, and the resulting head-on collision left you paralyzed from the waist down. Your car accident lawyer may pursue compensation from the other driver and the county government.

Your head-on collision may have been secondary to another car crash that spun a car into your lane. Or the driver who hit you swerved into your lane to avoid a loose horse in the road. Or one lane was closed for construction and the flaggers waved drivers through from both ends of one lane. These are real-life examples of outside parties contributing to head-on collisions.

Get the legal help you need to establish fault for complicated accidents. Most car accident attorneys offer a free consultation to victims and their family members.

Head-On Collision Fault Questions

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>