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When Is Someone Other Than the Driver at Fault for a Single-Car Accident?

As the name suggests, a single-car accident is a crash involving one vehicle. Single car accidents are less common than multiple-car crashes. Still, that doesn’t mean they cause any less damage or suffering for their victims.

Many people assume that the driver in a single-car accident must be at fault for what happened. Insurance companies, in particular, are quick to blame drivers in single-vehicle crashes. Although many of these accidents do result from driver error, fault can lie with others. Even drivers in single-car accidents may have the right to receive significant financial compensation for their injuries and losses.

Types of Single-Car Accidents

Single car accidents involve a variety of scenarios. Most are preventable, and all hold the potential to result in serious injuries or tragic losses of life.

In one common scenario, a vehicle leaves the road and collides with a fixed object, such as a bridge abutment, a traffic barrier, a tree, or a telephone pole. Fixed-object collisions can cause significant damage to a vehicle, especially if the object is immovable and the car absorbs the bulk of the collision’s force.

Vehicles can also strike non-fixed objects, such as road debris, fallen cargo from a vehicle, or a tree limb that has fallen into the road. These collisions can also result in serious accidents because, while the initial impact might not do significant damage to a vehicle, it can cause a loss of control that ends in a collision with another vehicle or a fixed object.

Single car collisions with animals constitute a common subset of non-fixed object accidents. Typically, an animal runs into the path of a moving vehicle and the driver does not have time to stop. Cars often strike deer and other wildlife, especially at night, but can also collide with cattle, horses, and domestic animals. As with other types of non-fixed object collisions, the impact can cause damage and a dangerous loss of control.

Finally, one especially dangerous single-car accident involves a collision with a pedestrian. These accidents often happen at intersections, but may also occur anywhere pedestrians walk along or try to cross the street. A single-car accident involving a collision with a pedestrian often causes the most harm to the pedestrian.

Causes of Single Car Crashes

Every single-car accident is unique, and may have multiple underlying causes.

Some common contributing factors to single-car crashes include:

  • Distracted driving. Many single-car accidents result from a driver getting distracted and losing focus on the road ahead. Common distractions include using a smartphone or GPS, tuning a radio, eating and drinking, and turning to talk to passengers.
  • Hazardous driving conditions. Bad weather, wildfires, sun glare, and other environmental factors can make driving hazardous. Many single-car accidents happen because a driver loses control or visibility because of hazardous conditions.
  • Speed. Drivers who exceed the speed limit or drive too fast for road conditions risk getting into a single-car accident. Speed reduces driver reaction times, increases the risk of losing control, and makes collisions more damaging to vehicles.
  • Other motorists. Single car accidents can happen when other motorists engage in dangerous driving behaviors that force drivers to make emergency maneuvers to avoid a collision.
  • Poor road design or maintenance. Un-mended potholes, malfunctioning traffic lights, blind curves, missing road signs or guardrails, and other preventable, dangerous road features can increase risks for a single-car accident.
  • Vehicle defects. A car that fails to operate as intended because of a defective design or part can crash through no fault of the driver. Sudden mechanical or electrical failures can lead to a loss of control and a deadly collision.

These are not the only causes of single-car crashes, of course. But this sampling illustrates the varied contributing factors in a single-car accident, and the importance of a careful investigation to pinpoint exactly how and why it happened.

Single Car Accident Statistics

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 20 percent of vehicle accident fatalities involve single-car, fixed-object collisions. Forty-eight percent of those fatal crashes involved collisions with trees, 11 percent with utility poles, and 9 percent with traffic barriers. In 80 percent of fixed-object accidents, the drivers were male, and more than one-quarter of them were under the age of 30.

Seventy-seven percent of single-car accidents involving collisions with animals involved deer. These accidents are most common on rural roads from July to September.

High speeds increase the risk of a single-car accident with a pedestrian. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), around 137,000 pedestrians sustain non-fatal injuries in collisions with cars every year. Many of them need emergency medical care. Victims over the age of 65 make up an estimated 20 percent of fatalities.

Common Injuries in a Single Vehicle Collision

Single car accidents can cause serious injuries to drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bystanders.

Common injuries include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries, which occur when an individual sustains a blow or jolt to the head or body. Drivers and passengers in cars that strike a fixed object, as well as pedestrians and others thrown to the ground in a collision involving a single car, routinely suffer brain injuries. A traumatic brain injury can cause death, permanent loss of consciousness, or long-lasting physical, emotional, and cognitive impairments.
  • Spinal cord injuries, which are most often caused by car accidents in which drivers and passengers get thrown around or sustain violent trauma to their spines. A spinal cord injury will commonly paralyze a victim’s, changing their life permanently and saddling them with millions of dollars of lifetime costs.
  • Severe fractures and crushed limbs, which may result in permanent disabilities. In extreme cases, doctors cannot save a limb and must amputate it. Even if these injuries heal in time, they cause significant disruption in the victim’s life and may result in chronic pain and limited mobility.
  • Soft tissue injuries, especially to the neck, shoulder, and back, are common anytime a car strikes an object and stops suddenly. These painful injuries may require months to heal properly and cost victims thousands in medical expenses and lost time from work.

As above, these are just some injuries victims of a single-car accident might suffer. A virtually unlimited range of harm can come from a single-car crash, all of it holding the potential to cause significant pain, disruption, and expense.

Who is Legally Liable for a Single-car Accident?

Victims of single-car accidents, even drivers, may take legal action seeking compensation for their injuries and losses. By law, anyone whose unreasonably dangerous decisions or actions cause a car accident, including a single-car accident, may face legal liability to those harmed.

Attorneys for single-car accident victims determine potential legal liability by investigating how the crash happened. By gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and (sometimes) working with accident reconstruction experts, an experienced attorney can figure out who might bear the blame and owe damages.

Those parties could include:

  • The driver or driver’s employer, in cases in which the attorney represents a non-driver victim, such as a passenger or a pedestrian.
  • An automotive manufacturer, if a defect in the car caused a mechanical or electrical failure that led to the crash.
  • A government road agency, if the crash resulted from an unreasonably dangerous and preventable road condition that the agency should have fixed or warned the public about.
  • Another motorist, whose careless or reckless actions on the road directly contributed to the single-car involved in the accident losing control and crashing.
  • A social host who served alcohol to a minor, who then got into a single-car drunk driving crash.

These are, again, just a few examples. The important point to remember is that although the driver oftentimes bears full responsibility for a single-car crash, sometimes other factors come into play that require other parties to share liability with the driver, or even to bear full liability. A skilled car accident attorney can help victims of single-car accidents determine if that was the case in the crash that injured them.

Potential Compensation For Single Car Accidents

If someone faces legal liability for causing the single-car accident that injured you, that party may have an obligation to pay you significant financial compensation. The amount of money the victim of a single-car accident may have a right to receive depends on the specific circumstances of an accident.

However, in general, that compensation may pay for:

  • Medical expenses related to treating single-car accident injuries and any health complications those injuries subsequently cause, including costs of surgeries, hospitalizations, emergency care, rehabilitation, and medication.
  • Other expenses related to addressing the impact of the single-car accident, including costs of repairing or replacing the damaged vehicle or other property, and expenses associated with adapting to disabilities.
  • Lost wages and income resulting from the victim missing work or being unable to return to work because of an injury.
  • The victim’s physical pain, emotional suffering, and diminished enjoyment of life and relationships due to the single-car accident and the injuries it caused.

In addition, an experienced car accident lawyer may also have the ability to secure payment of punitive damages from the at-fault party if that party engaged in extreme or intentional conduct that led to the single-car crash.

What Do You Do If You Were in a Single-Car Collision?

The steps you take after getting hurt in a single-car accident can affect your legal rights and financial interests. Following the tips below can help to protect your ability to seek compensation for your injuries and losses.

Call 911

It’s important to remember that you should report any car accident in which injuries may have occurred to law enforcement, even if only one car is involved. Calling 911 serves several critically important purposes. First, it summons first responders to come to your aid and to provide any needed emergency medical services. Second, it complies with your obligations under local law to report accidents, which (most likely) your auto insurance policy also requires. Third, it ensures that you will have a written report of the accident that serves as a record of when and, to some degree, how it happened.

Seek medical care

Single-vehicle crashes can result in serious injuries to you, your passengers, or others. Always seek medical care as soon as possible afterward, even if you think you avoided injury. Some trauma from a single-car accident is not obvious and does not exhibit symptoms right away, but may require immediate treatment to avoid serious health complications. An EMT and a doctor can examine you for these and other injuries and determine the appropriate course of treatment.

If possible, collect information and preserve evidence

It’s not always possible to do so, but if you can, take photos or video with your phone of the crash scene, the damaged vehicle, and visible injuries you suffered. These images may help an attorney and investigator determine how the crash happened and who might bear the blame.

In the same vein, be sure to save any items—documents, clothing, damaged property, and so on—related in any way to the single-car accident until an attorney has had the chance to review them. It’s not always obvious, but even small items of evidence can provide large amounts of information about who should owe you damages for your injuries and losses.

Contact an experienced car accident lawyer right away

Ben J. Bingham, Car Accident Attorney

Do not wait a day longer than necessary to speak with an experienced car accident attorney about your single-vehicle accident and injuries. Your rights to seek compensation can expire if you do not enforce them, whereas the sooner you talk to a skilled lawyer, the better your chances of receiving the maximum compensation allowed by law.

To learn more about your options after getting hurt in a single-car accident, contact an experienced car accident lawyer today.

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