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What is common law fault in car accident claims?

There are two ways that motor vehicle drivers could be at fault for a car accident. We have fault related to the breaking of a law -- like a driver who speeds, drinks and drives, or drives through a red light and causes an accident.

We also have common law fault, based on legal precedence and how other car crash cases were decided by courts in the past. This article will discuss some categories of common law fault following a California motor vehicle accident.

How does common law recognize fault in a car crash?

There are four primary kinds of common law fault in a crash:

  • Negligence: Negligence generally means that a party was inadvertent or careless in committing an action that resulted in damage or harm. At its most basic level, a driver might have negligently failed to do something by accident, like failing to slow down or failing to yield to another vehicle to prevent a collision.
  • Reckless or wanton conduct: The negligence becomes wanton or reckless when the conduct was willful in that the party knowingly committed an action that placed others in danger, like swerving in and out of traffic or speeding.
  • Intentional misconduct: The act of drunk driving would usually be considered intentional misconduct -- an act that the party committed with full knowledge that it was against the law, highly illegal and potentially deadly to others.
  • Strict liability: Strict liability applies to negligence that indirectly causes harm to a driver. For example, maybe an auto manufacturer created a defective axle that broke and caused a fatal accident.

Common law fault may not be entirely clear

There could be a question about whether a particular driver was at fault when it comes to general negligence. Perhaps a driver lost control of one's vehicle and caused a crash. The driver was speeding ten miles over the speed limit at the time, but it was an unrepaired pothole that actually caused him or her to lose control of the car. In this case, perhaps both the municipality and the driver were partly to blame.

It's in fuzzy cases like this that plaintiffs will need to present their claims in an intelligent, well-organized fashion that takes into consideration state law, common law and all the facts and information surrounding the car crash and injuries.

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