The key to whether a driver is legally responsible for having caused an accident is usually negligence. When one driver sues another for damages, the court inquires as to whether the defendant driver was careful or careless. The answer depends upon whether the facts show the defendant’s behavior was reasonable or unreasonable under the circumstances.
Consider the driver who travels at 55 mph on the highway at noon. Is that reasonable? On those facts alone, we might conclude that the driver was reasonable. But consider these possibilities:
- There is a driving rainstorm or thick fog.
- Up ahead, traffic is visibly congested and brake lights can be seen.
- Signs indicate a construction zone ahead.
- There is snow and ice on the road, and the car has old, worn tires.
Under any of these conditions, a court could rule that 55 mph is not reasonable. However, the injured party or plaintiff would still have to prove that “but for” the defendant’s unreasonable speed the accident would not have happened.
A driver has a duty to respond reasonably to changes in conditions. But what is reasonable? If you are driving through a mountain pass in winter and a sudden wind produces a white-out, what is a “reasonable” response? If you stop immediately, you could be rear-ended and set off a chain-reaction collision. If you proceed with zero visibility, you could strike another car. You might even stray into the oncoming lane. Following the best advice – to proceed slowly with your car’s lighting system fully illuminated and low-beam headlights on to a safe turnout on the road – cannot guarantee safety. But if a driver acted reasonably under the circumstances, he or she could escape liability for an auto accident.
Sometimes being responsible means preparing for a likely condition. For example, glare can temporarily blind a driver. If you are going to be driving easterly at sunrise or westerly around sundown, you should expect bright light to obscure your vision.
If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, speak to an experienced and knowledgeable injury lawyer. Call Swartz & Lynch LLP at 857-250-0664 to schedule a free consultation or contact our Boston office online.