Determining Fault in a Side-Impact Collision: Who is Liable for Damages?

Proving fault for side-impact collisions can be tricky. Learn about the evidence you’ll need to establish the at-fault party’s liability for your damages.

Whether you call it getting broadsided or T-boned, there’s no magic formula for determining fault for a side-impact vehicle accident.

Unless the at-fault driver admits to police they caused the crash, proving fault often comes down to gathering strong evidence, like witness statements or surveillance camera footage.

Unlike rear-end collisions, where the driver of the back car is typically liable for hitting the car in front, the driver of the striking car may not be at fault for a side-impact collision.

Experts can examine the damage pattern at the point of impact to determine if the other car hit you first, and maybe estimate how fast each car was moving when the crash occurred. But damage patterns will not reveal which driver had the right-of-way.

Evidence You’ll Need to Prove Fault

After the crash, it may be clear to you that the other driver caused the accident, but you’ll have to prove it to the driver’s insurance company before they’ll pay your claim. To prove the other driver’s negligence requires solid evidence.

The evidence must show:

  1. The at-fault driver had a legal duty of care to drive safely.
  2. The at-fault driver violated their duty of care.
  3. The driver’s breach of their duty of care was the direct cause of your injuries.

A driver’s failure to drive safely is negligent behavior and a breach of their duty of care. When the breach of duty is the direct cause of a side-impact accident, the at-fault driver becomes liable for your injuries.

Gather Multiple Types of Evidence

With or without an attorney, your injury claim will go a lot smoother and have a better outcome if you have well-organized evidence and paperwork.

Evidence to support your claim includes:

  • Police Report: The investigating officer will prepare an official police accident report. The police report includes valuable information for your claim, including witness statements and contact information, a diagram of the collision, and a list of traffic citations issued to the other driver.
  • Photographs: Pictures and videos taken after the crash are compelling evidence. The police typically take pictures while investigating fatal car accidents. If you are physically able, photograph the cars from as many different angles as you safely can. Take pictures of the intersection, including traffic signals and any stop or yield signs, and skid marks.
  • Videos: Taking videos with sound can capture admissions of fault from the other driver, and could also be evidence of intoxication. Video might likewise capture images of beer bottles, drug paraphernalia, or open containers of liquor in or near the other driver’s car.
  • Surveillance Camera Footage: Pictures taken by red light cameras or security camera footage from nearby businesses can remove any doubt about who had the right of way.
  • Witness Statements: Write down witnesses’ names and contact information. Witness statements can be powerful indicators of fault. If a witness saw the other driver run a red light or roll through an intersection, make sure you write it down.
  • Your Notes: If you or the witnesses heard the other driver say anything like “I didn’t see him coming,” or “I’m sorry, it’s my fault” be sure to write it down. Statements admitting fault for the crash are strong evidence of liability. After the accident, keep detailed notes and records. Write down everything you remember from the day of the crash, the events surrounding the t-bone accident, and what happened immediately after you were hit.
  • Medical Records: Never refuse medical attention at the scene. You’ll need a thorough medical exam as soon as possible after the accident. Request copies of all your medical bills and records from the paramedics, hospital doctors, and any other medical and rehab specialists who treat you.

When They Blame You For the Crash

Most side-impact collisions are clearly the fault of one negligent driver, often the one who blew past a red light or stop sign. But what if the other driver’s insurance company blames you?

Did their insured fail to yield because he couldn’t see you? Were you driving in the rain or after dusk without headlights? Whatever the insurance company comes up with, they will use it as an excuse to limit your compensation or flatly deny your claim.

Don’t give up. If the insurance company denies your claim or wants to cut your compensation for the accident, immediately contact a personal injury attorney to protect your interests. The insurance adjuster doesn’t have the last word on your alleged share of blame.

Most states have modified comparative negligence laws, meaning you can win 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.

Depending on the facts, your attorney may help you prove the other driver was totally at fault for the collision.

Errors That Cause Side-Impact Collisions

Proving who’s responsible for a side-impact crash is the basis of any successful personal injury claim. To establish liability, you must prove the other driver was negligent, meaning they did something wrong or failed to act responsibly.

Examining how the crash happened is the first step in identifying what the other driver did wrong.

Common Causes of T-Bone Collisions

  • Failing to halt at stop signs: “Rolling” through a stop sign is illegal. Failing to come to a complete stop at an intersection violates traffic laws. If the collision happens while you’re legally in the intersection, the traffic law violation is automatic proof of the other driver’s negligence.
  • Running a red light: Running a red light is illegal, and clear evidence of negligence. Because most drivers pick up speed to get through a light just before it turns red, these broadside collisions can turn deadly.
  • Turning across traffic lanes: Drivers in a turning lane must wait until it’s safe to cross lanes of traffic. Most drivers who make a left turn across traffic are at fault for the resulting crash.
  • Making a right turn into oncoming traffic: Drivers are legally required to wait until it’s safe to join the flow of traffic before attempting a right turn at a red light or stop sign. Sometimes that’s not enough. All too often, drivers can’t see speeding cars coming from the side until it’s too late. While the driver already in the lane of traffic can be held partially to blame for speeding, the most blame usually falls to the driver who failed to yield to the oncoming vehicle.
  • Recklessness and aggressive driving: Reckless behavior and aggressive driving often go hand in hand. Many drivers use their cars as “equalizers.” When they’re intent on making a point, they ignore other drivers who are legally in an intersection as a scare tactic. When aggressive driving results in a collision, the reckless and aggressive driver is liable.
  • Cell phones: Talking on cell phones and texting while driving is dangerous and illegal. Cell phones take the driver’s eyes, concentration, and focus off driving. While talking or texting, the driver is distracted, and the resulting wrecks are often lethal.
  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI): Intoxication impairs a driver’s reflexes, sight, and thinking abilities. Intoxicated drivers often fail to look for traffic coming from the side. If they do see other vehicles, their intoxication causes them to misjudge the oncoming driver’s speed and location. DUI is another example of unquestionable negligence.

Some causes may not be solely the other driver’s fault:

  • Mechanical failure: Equipment failure is less frequent, but an equally dangerous cause of side-impact collisions. When a driver can’t stop because of brake or steering failure, traveling into oncoming traffic may be unavoidable. The driver may still be negligent if the car was not properly maintained, or if the driver knew the car had problems but didn’t fix them.
  • Weather and road conditions: Severe weather, like unexpected freezing rain, can make it impossible for a driver to stop safely. Sliding past a stop sign or traffic signal into an intersection is an invitation to a side-impact accident.

When There’s More Than One At-Fault Party

There may be more than one party who is liable for your injuries, lost wages, and pain and suffering. It’s important to identify all responsible parties to ensure all sources of compensation are pursued to resolve your accident claim or personal injury lawsuit.

In addition to the at-fault driver, other potentially liable parties may include:

  • The vehicle owner, if other than the driver
  • Parents of teen drivers
  • Business owners, if the at-fault driver was operating a company vehicle
  • Vehicle manufacturer or dealer, if mechanical failure caused the crash
  • Municipal or state governments, if neglected road conditions led to the crash

Accident Attorneys Will Prove Liability

If you’re one of the lucky few who walk away from a side-impact accident without serious injuries, you can probably gather evidence and handle your own claim with the insurance company.

You may have two separate claims to manage, for your property damage and your personal injuries. You have the right to seek legal advice at any point in the insurance claim process.

Severe injury claims should be handled by an experienced personal injury lawyer from the start. You may have been so badly injured in the car crash that you woke up in the hospital days later with no recollection of what happened. Or your loved one may not have survived the collision.

A car accident attorney can find evidence you can’t get on your own:

  • Surveillance video footage
  • Cell phone records
  • Vehicle maintenance records
  • Driver BAC and drug test results
  • Witness affidavits and depositions

Further, your attorney will protect your interests by handling:

  • Allegations of shared blame
  • Wrongful death lawsuits
  • Product liability claims
  • Settlements for minor child accident victims

Most car accident lawyers offer a free consultation to injury victims and work on a contingency fee basis. The legal fees are paid out of your settlement or jury award. There’s no cost for a professional evaluation of your side-impact accident case.

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 >>