Drivers Aren’t Always at Fault in Car Accidents. Here’s Why.

The majority of car accidents can be prevented. They occur because one (or more) drivers makes a mistake or otherwise fails to follow the rules of the road. For example, distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents; one driver tries to type a text message or stares too long at a peculiarity outside, and they end up failing to stop in time to react to the driver in front of them.

Most car accident cases are resolved by finding one or more drivers at fault for the accident; though states vary in how they handle fault, most states distribute fiscal responsibility for the accident according to who was at fault, as well as how much they were at fault. But are there any cases where no driver is found to be at fault?

The short answer is yes.

When Drivers Aren’t at Fault

Let’s look at a handful of cases where no driver may not be at fault in a vehicular collision:

  • Vehicle manufacturing issues. In some cases, a fault in the design or manufacture of the vehicle may be the reason for the accident occurring. For example, let’s say there was an improperly installed braking system, which at some point fails to grant the driver the stopping power they would reasonably expect. In this case, the manufacturer would likely be held liable for the resulting accident; however, there may be exceptions even here. For example, if the manufacturer issues a vehicle recall in plenty of time for you to get the vehicle repaired for free, the case could get more complicated.
  • Vehicle repairers. In other cases, the person or organization responsible for repairing or maintaining your vehicle could be held liable for an accident that resulted from their shoddy work. For example, if they neglected to replace a key component of your engine, and that missing component leads to you losing control on the road, the driver may not be held responsible for the resulting damages.
  • Hazardous road conditions. Hazardous road conditions are questionable territory. In most cases, drivers are still responsible for observing these conditions and accommodating them. For example, if there is a road construction zone with adequate signage and pylons to guide drivers around the dangerous territory, but you ignore these and cause a collision, you can still be held liable. However, if the road is in serious disrepair, with no signage alerting you, and this disrepair results in a collision, drivers may not be held liable.
  • Pedestrians. Though a bit of a technicality, a pedestrian is not considered a driver, but may be responsible for causing a collision. The common saying, “pedestrians always have the right of way,” isn’t entirely accurate. Though as a driver, you should always avoid hitting a pedestrian when possible, if a pedestrian knowingly jaywalks or intentionally jumps in front of a moving vehicle, they could be considered responsible for any accident that results from this. Any pedestrian who breaks the law in a way that interferes with drivers could conceivably be held liable. 
  • Acts of God. Certain unexpected weather events and freak accidents may also make it so no driver is directly responsible for the resulting accident. Of course, most weather conditions still have responsibility that fall on the driver; if it’s raining heavily or snowing, it’s your obligation to take extra precautions to ensure your safety when driving. However, if a meteor falls from the sky and strikes your vehicle, causing you to lose control, most lawyers and insurance companies would have trouble assigning fault to you. The same is true if a piece of a bridge falls onto your vehicle as you drive under it.

Minimizing Fault Risk

Even though these fringe cases exist, most car accidents still involve at least one at-fault driver. If you want to stay safe and keep your insurance rates low, it’s in your best interest to engage in habits that reduce your likelihood of causing an accident—directly or indirectly. Fortunately, these are simple to follow. Learn and obey all traffic laws as they exist in your city and state, stay under the speed limit at all times, keep a comfortable and conservative following distance, drive defensively, and stay aware of your surroundings at all times. This way, you’ll have a much higher likelihood of safely reacting to the errant behavior of other drivers, and you can’t be assigned blame just because you broke the law.

Car accidents range from simple to complex, sometimes resulting from a single driver’s bad decision, and sometimes only occurring because of the complicated interactions of dozens of variables. It helps to understand these scenarios, even the fringe cases, but the only way to keep yourself safer and minimize your potential liability is to perfect your driving habits for all situations.

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