Determining Fault

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Chapter 2 explains the general concept of negligence. That discussion is fully applicable to motor vehicle cases. Negligence can also be determined by showing that the other driver caused the accident (in whole or in part) as a result of safety-related violations of driving laws. For instance, if Tommy runs a red light (prohibited by driving laws) and hits a car crossing the intersection, Tommy is presumed to be negligent unless he can offer a sufficient excuse for his action. On the other hand, if Tommy is driving without his seatbelt (also prohibited) and has an accident, the seatbelt violation cannot be said to have caused the accident and therefore can't be used to presume negligence.

If there is a police report, the reporting officer will have noted any driving law violations that occurred during the accident. The report may even conclude that a driving violation caused the accident. Obviously, if the police cited the other driver, this is terrific evidence that you'll want to show to the judge. If there is no police report, you may wish to do a little research on your own. Your state's vehicle code is available online on Nolo's website (at www.nolo.com/legal-research/state-law.html), in most large public libraries, and in all law libraries. You can use its index to review dozens of driving rules that may have been violated by the other driver. If you discover any violations that can fairly be said to have contributed to the accident, call them to the attention of the judge. (For more tips on legal research, see Chapter 25.)

Beware! Professional drivers have an incentive to bend the truth. Be particularly on your guard when you are opposing a bus or truck driver. Many of these people risk job-related consequences if they are found to be at fault in an accident. As a result, they often deny fault automatically. Judges usually know this and are often unsympathetic when a bus driver says that there has never been a time when he didn't "look both ways twice and count to ten" before pulling out from a bus stop. Still, it never hurts to ask the driver in court whether there is any demerit system or other penalty at his or her work for being at fault in an accident.

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