Need opinions on liability in collision

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Latest post Wed, Jun 22 2016 8:45 AM by ca19lawyer2. 4 replies.
  • Tue, Jun 21 2016 5:45 PM

    Need opinions on liability in collision

    I was in a car accident a couple weeks ago which involved two other cars and I'm currently in a disagreement with my insurance company regarding my liability in the accident. Hoping to get some advice from this forum. 

    To set the scene, it was about 2am so traffic was pretty non-existent. I was traveling on an arterial behind a minivan and we were both going 30mph. I was following at what I believed to be a safe distance, about 2.5-3 car lengths behind when an SUV crossed over the middle turn lane from the oncoming lane as it was about to pass by the minivan. The SUV hit the minivan not quite head on, but at more of a diagonal, right between the driver door and driver-side headlight. Both cars obviously came to an immediate stop due to the impact and I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting the minivan from behind, but didn't quite have enough time/space so I did hit their rear bumper at a relatively slow speed. The impact between the SUV and minivan was strong enough to have their airbags deploy, but the damage to my car and the rear of the minivan is pretty much a fender bender.

    The police came and took statements and the officer who took mine indicated that rear-end collisions are almost always the fault of rear car (which I'm fully aware of), but he told me that I would likely not be liable for the rear-end collision in this case due to "unusual circumstances".

    After finally getting the police report, I've discovered that the SUV driver was arrested for a DUI and admitted at the scene that he had been looking at his phone just prior to the impact. Unfortunately, it doesn't say anything regarding fault for any part of the accident, including mine. I was hoping the statement of "unusual circumstances" which the officer told me at the scene would make it in there, but it didn't.

    Now for my insurance's position: they are saying that I'm at fault for the damage caused to the rear of the minivan since I was clearly was following too closely/ going too fast and should have been able to avoid the accident if I wasn't. Their rationale is this is no different than if an animal had run out in the road and the minivan had to slam on their brakes and I didn't have time to fully stop my car before hitting them. I'm arguing that this is a false equivalence since the minivan's "braking" distance in the actual accident was 0ft, and if they had slammed on their their bakes to stop for an animal, it would take them (or any average car) about 45ft to completely stop from 30mph.

    Since the damage to my car and the rear of the minivan is so minimal, especially compared to the minivan's impact with the SUV, I'm arguing that no reasonable person would have been able to stop in my situation. The minimal damage from my impact suggests I was almost able to avoid the collision in spite of the minivan's immediate stop and that I, hypothetically, would have been able to avoid it completely had the minivan applied its brakes in an emergency response to an obstruction in the road. 

    Sorry for the wall of text, but I'd like any input on whether I'm being reasonable or not and if I am, how to proceed with my insurance company.

    Thanks!

    96 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE

     

  • Tue, Jun 21 2016 8:31 PM In reply to

    Re: Need opinions on liability in collision

    AccidentInSeattle:
    Now for my insurance's position: they are saying that I'm at fault for the damage caused to the rear of the minivan since I was clearly was following too closely/ going too fast and should have been able to avoid the accident if I wasn't.

    You're not going to like this but your insurance company is right.

    Check out the stopping distance chart. At 30 mph it takes 109' feet to stop.

    http://www.csgnetwork.com/stopdistinfo.html

    Even calling it 3 car lengths at 20' per car = 60' you were way too close by almost half.

    AccidentInSeattle:
    Since the damage to my car and the rear of the minivan is so minimal, especially compared to the minivan's impact with the SUV, I'm arguing that no reasonable person would have been able to stop in my situation. The minimal damage from my impact suggests I was almost able to avoid the collision in spite of the minivan's immediate stop and that I, hypothetically, would have been able to avoid it completely had the minivan applied its brakes in an emergency response to an obstruction in the road.

    You defeat your own argument by saying the damage was minimal. It means that you were so close to avoiding that accident that keeping the proper distance would have allowed you to avoid hitting the car in front of you.

    There's nothing more you can do with your insurance company.

    But there is something you can do with the drunk driver. You can sue him in small claims court and prove to a judge that he was 100% responsible for all the damage to all the vehicles. If you win on that basis then your insurance company will have to accept the verdict.

     

    • The right of the people 
    • to keep and bear arms,
    • shall not be infringed.
  • Tue, Jun 21 2016 9:43 PM In reply to

    Re: Need opinions on liability in collision

    AccidentInSeattle:
    Sorry for the wall of text, but I'd like any input on whether I'm being reasonable or not and if I am, how to proceed with my insurance company.

    I'm no expert, but my feeling is, good luck with that.  On page 4-26 of the Washington Driver Guide, it recommends a two- to three-second following distance at driving speeds of 30 mph or less.  Then on page 4-27 it includes "when it is hard for you to see because of darkness" in a list of circumstances when you should increase your following distance to more than 2 or 3 seconds.

    There are 5280 feet in a mile, and 3600 seconds in an hour.  So 30 mph = 30*5280/3600 = 44 feet per second.  The bare-minimum 2-second rule would have had you leaving 88 feet between you and the minivan, which is 5 or more car lengths, and the 3-second rule would of course be that much more.

    During times of heavy traffic, it can be impossible to maintain the recommended following distances because other drivers will see your following distance as an invitation to slot their cars into that space.  But you yourself say that traffic was pretty much nonexistent, so that excuse doesn't apply.

    I'd guess that your insurance policy fine print says the company has the right to choose between paying for others' damage or providing you with legal defense in court.  You can't force them to defend you, so your only practical choice if they refuse is to hire your own lawyer to defend against the other driver's claim if and when he/she sues you.  NOT likely to be worth it, IMHO.

  • Wed, Jun 22 2016 6:48 AM In reply to

    Re: Need opinions on liability in collision

    karen2222:
    I'd guess that your insurance policy fine print says the company has the right to choose between paying for others' damage or providing you with legal defense in court.  You can't force them to defend you, so your only practical choice if they refuse is to hire your own lawyer to defend against the other driver's claim if and when he/she sues you.

    Actually, an insurance company cannot deny it's insured a defense in the event of a lawsuit although there are rare exceptions when there are serious coverage issues. But that doesn't appear to be the case here.

    All auto policies share similar insuring agreements in the liability section. Looks something like this:

    • We will pay damages for "bodily injury" or "property damage" for which any "insured" becomes legally responsible because of an auto accident. Damages include prejudgment interest awarded against the "insured". We will settle or defend, as we consider appropriate, any claim or suit asking for these damages. In addition to our limit of liability, we will pay all defense costs we incur. Our duty to settle or defend ends when our limit of liability for this coverage has been exhausted by payment of judgments or settlements. We have no duty to defend any suit or settle any claim for "bodily injury" or "property damage" not covered under this policy.


    In the event of a lawsuit the insurance company must defend. However, anywhere along the way it has the option to settle and it doesn't need the consent of the insured to do so.

    • The right of the people 
    • to keep and bear arms,
    • shall not be infringed.
  • Wed, Jun 22 2016 8:45 AM In reply to

    Re: Need opinions on liability in collision

    AccidentInSeattle:
    it was about 2am so traffic was pretty non-existent. I was traveling on an arterial behind a minivan and we were both going 30mph. I was following at what I believed to be a safe distance, about 2.5-3 car lengths behind

    For starters, you have no way of accurately judging how many "car lengths" separate you and the vehicle in front of you (to say nothing of the fact that a "car length" is not a fixed unit of distance).  At night, you ought to be at least four seconds behind the car in front of you.

     

    AccidentInSeattle:
    the officer who took mine indicated that rear-end collisions are almost always the fault of rear car (which I'm fully aware of), but he told me that I would likely not be liable for the rear-end collision in this case due to "unusual circumstances".

    Unless this was merely his way of telling you he wasn't going to cite you for following too closely, I really wish cops would stop saying dumb things like this.  Unless he has expreience as an insurance claims adjuster or civil litigation attorney, he has no concept of whether you are or aren't likely to be "liable."  Moreover, "unusual circumstances" are what you're supposed to plan for when determining a safe following distance.  You're supposed to follow at a distance that allows you to stop or otherwise avoid a collision even if the car in front of you stops instantaneously.

     

    AccidentInSeattle:
    Unfortunately, it doesn't say anything regarding fault for any part of the accident, including mine.

    That's good because a cop who didn't witness an accident is in no position to judge "fault."

     

    AccidentInSeattle:
    Now for my insurance's position: they are saying that I'm at fault for the damage caused to the rear of the minivan since I was clearly was following too closely/ going too fast and should have been able to avoid the accident if I wasn't.

    Based on what you've told us here, I absolutely agree.

     

    AccidentInSeattle:
    Since the damage to my car and the rear of the minivan is so minimal, especially compared to the minivan's impact with the SUV, I'm arguing that no reasonable person would have been able to stop in my situation.

    There's no logical connection between the amount of damage resulting from the SUV/minivan collision and the reasonableness or unreasonableness of you stopping/not stopping in time.  That said, any REASONABLE person, by definition, would have been following at a distance that would have allowed him/her to avoid impact.

     

    AccidentInSeattle:
    The minimal damage from my impact suggests I was almost able to avoid the collision in spite of the minivan's immediate stop

    I agree, but "almost" doesn't count.

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