Have you ever heard you were at fault in a car accident just for being there? While this is a myth, many drivers find that they were partially at fault in an accident because they violated one of the rules of the road. The rules of the road create a minimum standard of conduct for drivers. The rules of the road tell drivers how to drive, where to drive, and what the requirements are for driving various types of vehicles.
At Murphy & Prachthauser, we pride ourselves on being good lawyers who help people, and believe in promoting educational resources to help improve safety on the road, at work and at home.
What Is Negligence?
Violations of the rules of the road constitute negligence as a matter of law. Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care. By breaking the law and violating a rule of the road, a driver is presumed to be negligent because he or she was not using reasonable care to abide by the rules.
A Sample Case Study – Running A Red Light
To better understand how the rules of the road apply in a car accident, it is easiest to use an example. Envision the intersection of Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue in Downtown Milwaukee. The traffic at the intersection is controlled by traffic lights. Driver A is travelling east on Wisconsin Avenue, runs a red light, and crashes into a vehicle traveling north on Water Street. Driver B, the driver of the vehicle travelling north on Water Street, was injured as a result of the accident and wants to recover for the injuries he sustained from Driver A, who ran the red light.
When an accident happens and a person is injured, Wisconsin law requires a balancing of fault before the person can recover for his or her injury. In this example, Driver A violated a rule of the road because Wisconsin Statute section 346.37(1)(c) requires vehicles facing a red signal to stop before entering the intersection and to remain stopped until a green signal permits movement through the intersection. As a result of Driver A’s violation of this rule of the road, his conduct fell below the minimum standard of conduct and his actions were negligent as a matter of law. However, the inquiry does not end here.
Understanding Contributory Negligence
Contributory negligence can be understood as actions that create an unreasonable risk to one’s self. In our sample case study, this is where the common misperception comes in that Driver B was at fault just for being there comes in. While Driver B is not negligent for being there, Wisconsin law requires an assessment of whether Driver B was contributorily negligent. In other words, we must assess whether Driver B’s conduct also fell below the standard of care and his actions also contributed to the collision, which caused his injuries. Therefore, in any accident more than one driver can be at fault. Some examples of conduct that would be considered contributory negligence by Driver B would be if Driver B was not keeping a good lookout for other vehicles in the intersection or if Driver B was speeding through the intersection. Driver B would then be somewhat at fault for the accident as well. On the other hand, since the office buildings in that intersection are close to the intersection itself, there would be little opportunity for Driver B to see the other driver before the crash.
Balancing The Fault In A Personal Injury Case
The next step is to balance the fault of both Driver A for his negligence as a matter of law and Driver B for his contributory negligence. If Driver A was more at fault for causing the accident and resulting injuries to Driver B, Driver B can still recover from Driver A for his injuries. However, if Driver B was contributorily negligent, the percentage of his negligence is deducted from the amount he can recover from Driver A.
On the surface of the example, it seems like Driver B did nothing wrong and was hit by a vehicle that ran a red light. When his recovery is diminished by a percentage of his own fault it seems as though he was at fault just for being in the accident. However, with the additional information that Driver B was looking down at his phone when the accident happened, his conduct also contributed to the accident. He was not at fault for being there but because his conduct fell below the minimum standard of conduct and he did not act as carefully as he should have when entering the intersection.
Therefore, the rules of the road play a big part in how fault is assessed during a car accident. Breaking a rule of the road not only means breaking the law but also that the driver’s conduct fell below the standard of care and constitutes negligence.
Are you going to be more cautious on the road now that you know about contributory negligence?
At Murphy & Prachthauser we practice personal injury law the way it should be practiced – motivated and equipped to do our best for you. We take pride in being good lawyers who help people.