Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Self-driving, or semi-autonomous, cars are becoming a reality in some states. Although proponents tout the technology as safe, recent incidents have raised concerns and brought up new questions concerning liability in the event of a California car accident. One question that often arises is who is at fault in a semi-autonomous car crash if, for example, the car fails to stop? Is it the driver who failed to stop or the designer or manufacturer whose system failed to stop? These cases present complicated issues, as crashes involving self-driving cars continue to occur in California and nationwide.

TeslaInvestigation Finds Tesla Model X Sped Up Before California Crash

An investigation conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found a Tesla Model X sped up just before it crashed earlier this year in Mountain View, California, according to a news report. The semi-autonomous car crashed into a barrier on U.S. Highway 101 back in March, killing the 38-year-old driver.

The report raises questions about the cars’ ability to operate safety, as well as the driver’s role in the crash. According to the report, the car sped up from 62 miles per hour to 70.8 miles per hour in the last three seconds before the crash. The driver was using the autopilot system for almost 19 minutes before the crash. His hands were only on the steering wheel for 34 seconds of the last sixty seconds before the crash, and he had programmed the car to drive at 75 miles per hour. However, according to the NTSB, the car’s system did not recognize his hands on the steering wheel for six seconds before the crash. The NTSB report was a preliminary report and did not come to a conclusion about what caused the crash.

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In many California car accident cases, the causes of the accident are readily apparent. It may be that a drunk driver crossed over the median into oncoming traffic, causing a head-on collision. Or a truck driver tried to push his physical limits by driving more hours per day than the federal requirement allows, falling asleep behind the wheel.

White VanOther accidents, however, present many unanswered questions that require an in-depth investigation to uncover the true facts. While a police-led investigation is a good start, often law enforcement lawyers are trying to answer different questions. For example, law enforcement is typically looking for evidence of criminal misconduct. If the investigation reveals that there was no wrongdoing, an investigation is often concluded without a determination as to what the real cause of the accident was.

Investigations in personal injury cases, however, require a deeper analysis as to why the accident occurred. Accidents can be caused by a number of factors, including negligent drivers, poorly maintained roadways, and defective vehicles. Each of these causes may result in a different party being responsible for the victim’s injuries, so it is important for an attorney to determine what caused an accident.

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Southern California has long been known for some of the worst traffic in the country. In fact, according to most studies, Los Angeles and the surrounding area ranks worst in the entire world for the amount of time spent in traffic. However, according to a recent news report, Southern California roadways are not just among the most congested; they are also among the most dangerous.

L.A. FreewayAccording to a local news report discussing the results of the most recent National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, about 10% of all fatal traffic accidents occur in California. What’s more, all five of the California counties with the most accidents are in Southern California:  Los Angeles County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, San Diego County, and Orange County. Los Angeles County saw approximately 800 fatal traffic accidents in 2016, which was about three times as many accidents as Riverside County, which was the second-place county with about 260 fatal accidents.

Motorists and researchers alike place most of the blame for these high numbers on speeding, which accounts for just under a third of all fatal California car accidents. Drunk driving, distracted driving, and aggressive driving also rank high among the causes of fatal traffic accidents.

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Earlier this month, the Foundation for Traffic Safety released the findings of a study regarding the frequency of hit-and-run collisions in the United States. The Foundation compiled crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) reporting systems. The study shines a light on the unpleasant fact that California hit-and-run accidents occur much more frequently than most people believe.

Wrecked CarThe Methodology and Results of the Study

The Foundation analyzed the NHTSA’s systems, containing data about all reported motor vehicle accidents occurring on public roadways and resulting in a death within 30 days of the accident.

The study revealed that in 2016 alone, there were 1,980 hit-and-run accidents across the country. These accidents resulted in over 2,000 fatalities. It was noted that this was the highest number of hit-and-run fatalities since the NHSTA began keeping records on fatalities in 1975.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California car accident case discussing the element of causation. Specifically, the court was tasked with determining if a party responsible for an accident that occurred several years earlier could be held liable for a subsequent accident that was caused in part by the accident victim’s inability to avoid the accident, due to the injuries they sustained in the initial accident years before.

Motorized ScooterNot surprisingly, the court determined that the plaintiff’s theory of causation was too attenuated to hold the party that was allegedly at fault for the initial accident responsible for the later accident.

The Facts of the Case

In 2005, a man was seriously injured when a tire on the vehicle in which he was riding as a passenger blew out, causing the vehicle to collide with a telephone pole. As a result of the injuries he sustained, the man’s mobility was severely limited, and he was forced to get around by using a motorized scooter.

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Any time an individual files a California personal injury lawsuit, they must be able to provide evidence of each element of their claim. In a traditional negligence case, this means establishing that the defendant violated a duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff. While the outcome of a case can vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction, generally, states follow one of four basic theories regarding fault:

  • Parking LotPure Contributory Negligence – a plaintiff cannot recover damages if they are found to be even the slightest bit at fault.
  • Pure Comparative Negligence – a plaintiff can recover damages if they are partially at fault (even 99% at fault).

Late last month, a car accident in Huntington Beach killed three and injured several others. According to a local news source covering the tragic accident, the collision occurred at around 1 a.m. on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Blurry RoadEvidently, the victims’ vehicle had come to a complete stop at a red light when a car crashed into it from behind. Police told reporters that it did not appear that the at-fault motorist attempted to slow down at all. The victims’ car exploded upon impact, and three of those inside died in the blaze. The fourth passenger was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. The driver of the other vehicle was not seriously injured but was taken to the Huntington Beach jail, where she was charged with several DUI-related offenses.

California DUI Accidents

Despite decades of campaigns attempting to inform the public about the dangers of drinking and driving, there are still on average over 1,000 alcohol-related fatalities per year in California alone. This represents approximately one-third of the total number of traffic fatalities in the state.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California car accident case discussing the potential liability of Caltrans in a design defect lawsuit brought by motorists injured in an accident that they claim was caused in part by Caltrans’ decision not to include rumble strips along the shoulder of the highway. The case required the court to determine if the Caltrans official responsible for approving the design exercised discretion when determining not to include the rumble strips.

Foggy HighwayOfficial Immunity

When someone is injured in a car accident, and they believe the accident to have been caused by a dangerous condition of the roadway, they may pursue a claim against the government. The government, however, is afforded immunity from many of these cases. One type of immunity is design immunity.

Design immunity prevents a government from being held liable for the discretionary decisions made by government officials when carrying out their duties. In order for this immunity to attach, the government agency or official must be able to establish that their actions involved the exercise of discretion. If the government’s actions were ministerial, immunity will not attach.

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Recently, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a California car accident case dealing with the issue of whether an arbitration agreement signed by the plaintiff’s employer was enforceable against the plaintiff. Ultimately, the court concluded that since the plaintiff was not a signatory to the agreement, and the defendant could show no other compelling reason to enforce the agreement, the arbitration agreement was not enforceable against the plaintiff.

Rubber TireThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was delivering chairs for his employer in a rented truck. The defendant was the company that rented the truck to the plaintiff’s employer. Prior to renting the truck, the plaintiff’s employer signed an agreement to arbitrate any claims that arose through the use of the rented truck. The plaintiff did not sign the agreement.

As the plaintiff was delivering the chairs, a tire on the truck blew out. The truck spun out of control, and the plaintiff was injured. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the rental company, claiming that the company was negligent in maintaining the truck. In response, the rental company claimed that the plaintiff’s case was not properly before the court because it should have been submitted to an arbitration panel pursuant to the agreement between the rental company and the plaintiff’s employer.

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California highways were not necessarily designed to handle the amount of traffic they see each day. This is especially the case in and around Los Angeles, which is known for having some of the most congested highways in the country. Given the size of existing roads, government planning agencies often opt to open an additional lane of traffic and eliminate or greatly reduce the size of the road’s shoulder.

Emergency VehiclesOver the years, however, the decreased size of road shoulders has resulted in hundreds of California car accidents involving police, paramedics, tow truck operators, and others whose job requires they spend time on the side of the highway. Most often, a distracted driver comes up on a stopped emergency vehicle without seeing that it is blocking the lane. The driver then collides with the stopped vehicle.

In response to these accidents, lawmakers have passed the California Move-Over Law, embodied in California Vehicle Code section 21809. Essentially, the law requires motorists who are approaching certain roadside vehicles to either move into an adjacent lane, if possible, or slow down to a “reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing weather, road, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions.”

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