What is Negligence in Car Accidents?

Negligence is conduct that fails to rise to the level of reasonable care, which results in damage or injury to another person. While driving, it might look like a person who isn’t watching the road while driving and collides into another vehicle, or someone who hasn’t maintained their vehicle and it spirals out of control, causing an accident. 

What are the Elements of Negligence?

Element #1: Duty to Act Reasonably While Driving

Motor vehicle drivers owe a legal duty to those around them to drive in a safe and reasonable manner

The defendant must have owed a legal duty to do something to the plaintiff under the circumstances. A legal duty of care can be created by a special relationship between the plaintiff and defendant, such as a doctor owes a legal duty to provide a patient with competent medical care. The defendant may also owe the plaintiff a legal duty to act with reasonable care during normal activities, such as a motor vehicle driver who owes a legal duty to those around them to drive in a safe and reasonable manner. 

One important duty with respect to drivers is the duty that is imposed on a person when they cause a car accident. When a person gets into a car accident, it is expected that they help the situation not get worse—this duty can include calling an ambulance, and assisting someone who was hurt from the accident by providing basic medical help until the ambulance arrives. You have the duty to not make the situation worse than it was before. 

Element #2 Breaching that Duty

Motor vehicle drivers breach their duty of car on the road when they act unreasonable given the situation.

The defendant must have breached that legal duty by acting unreasonably. For example, if a driver rear ends another driver’s vehicle because they were texting, that driver will be said to have breached their legal duty of care to be careful by texting, when their attention should have been on the road. A person can also act unreasonably by not acting when there is a duty to, such as a person who causes a car accident and then runs away. 

“Reasonableness” is judged by how an average and prudent person would act and respond to a similar situation as the defendant. It is a legal standard that must be proven to show that a reasonably prudent person, when standing in the defendant’s place, would have known someone might have been injured as a result of their actions and done (or not done) what the defendant did.  

Element #3 Causation – Causing the Car Accident

Negligence in a car accident requires the party’s action or inaction must have caused the car accident.

The defendant’s actions or inaction must have actually caused the plaintiff’s injuries. If the defendant’s actions did not cause the car accident and resulting injuries to the car accident victim, then the plaintiff, car accident victim, cannot recover. Additionally, the defendant must have been able to reasonably foresee that his or her actions may cause a car accident or an injury. For example, if the defendant was driving while intoxicated, it is reasonably foreseeable that the defendant would get into a car accident, which could cause injury to another driver.

Element #4 Damages in Car Accident Cases

Car Accident victims must suffer economic or non-economic damages in order to receive compensation.

In order to recover compensation for a car accident, there must be damages. A car accident victim must suffer some type of injury in order to recover compensation. The car accident victim can suffer financial damages only, such as vehicle damage. Typically, damages and compensation in car accident cases are based on the extent of the vehicle damage and the resulting injury to the car accident victim. 

The plaintiff must be harmed or injured as a result of the defendant’s actions or in actions on the road. If the defendant is texting and driving, and nearly gets into a collision, then even though they were acting negligently there are likely no damages.

What is Comparative Negligence in Oklahoma?

Oklahoma follows the doctrine of “comparative negligence”, which means you may be partially at fault for a car accident or personal injury and still recover damages. Comparative negligence by a car accident victim does not bar recovery for personal injuries, wrongful death, or injury to property. Basically, blame for a car accident can be split between two or more people, depending on the percentage that a person is to blame for the circumstances that lead to the accident. 

However, Oklahoma is a Fault State, which means you cannot recover damages or compensation for an accident, if you are 50% or more at fault for your accident. Despite being injured, if you are 50% or more negligent than the person causing the damage, that person who was injured may be barred from recovering damages. 

For example, consider the situation where two drivers get into a car accident with the following facts: Person A was texting as they crossed an intersection at a green light and failed to swerve away from or brake for Driver B that was playing with their radio and ran the red light. Driver B is injured but Driver A is not. Both were negligent, but if a court found that Driver B was 51% or more negligent because Driver’s B distraction caused them to run the red light, Driver B could lose their opportunity to recover damages, even though Driver A was negligently texting and driving. Driver A is likely less at fault for this accident, as Driver A had the right-of-way and lawfully entered into the intersection. However, Driver B, or Driver B’s car accident attorney, may advocate that the damage to Driver A was increased based on their failure to see Driver B enter the intersection. 

This example may seem complicated to explain comparative negligence and at fault determinations in car accidents; however, it is simply compared to a large number of fault determinations in motor vehicle accidents. Without an experienced car accident attorney, insurance companies will attempt to place fault on you in your car accident case and thereby reduce the compensation you can be awarded. 

Vicarious Liability in Oklahoma Motor Vehicle Accidents

In a personal injury or wrongful death action, determining who is liable for the car accident is the most important part of the legal process. Liability attributes fault to the driver who causes the accident, and they become liable for the damages that are awarded to the plaintiff. Oklahoma is an “at fault” state, which means the driver who is at fault in a car accident must pay for any damage done to another person or their property.

In Oklahoma, liability can be attributed to multiple people, if more than one person is at fault for the accident. For example, if Person A has been drinking and Person B allows them to drive their car home, Person B could be held to be partially at fault and therefore be vicariously liable for the damage caused by Person A’s negligent driving. This is only one of many fact patterns that car accident attorneys must evaluate for determining fault in car accident cases. Vicarious liability is a complex fact analysis to determine fault in car accident cases. We would be glad to assist you in evaluating fault in your car accident case. 

Contact – Cannon & Associates: Oklahoma Personal Injury Advocates

Experience matters when you or a loved one has been injured or died as a result of the negligence of someone in a motor vehicle accident in Oklahoma. It is important to know the Oklahoma personal injury lawyer you hire is dedicated to your cause and versed in all aspects of car accident law in Oklahoma. Cannon & Associates is dedicated to Fierce Advocacy for accident victims and will fight for you. Founder John Cannon has been recognized as a Super Lawyer and Top 40 under 40. Contact Cannon & Associates to protect your rights and fight for compensation in your car accident case in Oklahoma. Complete the CONTACT FORM ON THIS PAGE NOW or CALL at 405-657-2323 for a free confidential case evaluation.