Getting into a "fender bender" with another vehicle can do more that just trash your car -- it can also damage your finances and your reputation if the other driver hauls you into court. But even if you're the one bringing the case against the other driver, you may find that your case isn't as open-and-shut as you thought. Here are three scenarios that can make your auto accident case a real headache -- along with some silver linings that may help.
You Were Making a Left Turn
It can be very hard to prove that you weren't at fault in an auto accident in which you were making a left turn at the time. Rightly or wrongly, accidents plus left turns tend to equal fault. That's because a car going straight through an intersection is generally considered to have the right of way over a car making a left turn at the same intersection. This is true even if the intersection stoplights aren't functioning correctly or don't include a green left-turn arrow light; a responsible, properly educated driver is assumed to know and follow traffic laws even in the absence of such clear indicators.
But this doesn't mean that you and your car accident attorney must automatically throw in the towel. Suppose, for example, that you started to make your left turn only to see a small child run out into the intersection. If you absolutely had to hit your brakes to avoid injuring or killing the child, then you ultimately did the right thing even if you caused a collision in the process. This could reduce the degree of your liability, even if you still have to pay the other driver partial compensation. If the other driver flagrantly and dangerously disobeyed traffic laws by disregarding a red light and zipping through the intersection, then he is entirely at fault.
You Hit the Other Car from Behind
Hitting another car from behind is not an easily defensible action. The most glaring issue is that you can see clearly that there's another vehicle is in front of you, while the other driver can only view you through his rearview mirror -- so it's your job to avoid him and not vice versa. Nor it is easy to claim that you had insufficient time to stop, even if the car ahead of you slammed its brakes suddenly and illogically. That's because drivers are supposed to maintain a safe distance between vehicles at all times, including longer-than-normal distances in foul weather.
But there are still a few circumstances that your car accident attorney can use to shift at least some the blame off your shoulders. For instance, if the other car's brake lights were completely non-functional and you were driving on an unlit road at night, your own headlights may have been inadequate to bring the other car into view in time for you to avoid it. Similarly, if the other car broke down in that same unlit area at night and the driver simply left the car in the road without setting up flares or other warnings, your collision with it would not be considered entirely your fault.
You Don't Have Any Witnesses
If you're involved in a collision, you may know without a doubt that the other driver was at fault -- but where is the evidence to back up your version of what happened? You may stick around until the police arrive, but the officers can only take their best guess at what happened by examining the angles of the vehicles, the degree of damage and the tire marks on the road. You will tell your story, and the other driver will also be permitted to tell his. If the physical evidence from the crash isn't especially revealing and there were no overhead cameras recording events as they unfolded, you may have insufficient proof to make your charges against the other driver stick -- or to deflect the charges brought against you by that driver.
This unhelpful situation can be sidestepped by collecting other supporting data soon as the incident occurs. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then photographic images can be worth a great deal to your case. Always carry a still camera of some sort in your glove compartment, even if it's only the camera on your cell phone. (Digital cameras are better than film-based cameras because you can see right away whether you got clear images of the accident.) Take pictures of the vehicles in their positions at the time of the accident, tire tracks, damage and any other detailed related to the accident.
One final note: The division of liability and the ability to claim damages in a civil court case depends on your state's adherence to contributory or comparative negligence rules. Talk to your car accident attorney about whether the rules used by your state help or hurt your chances in court, as well as all the little details that might make a big difference in the strength of your case.