By definition, single-vehicle traffic accidents involve just one vehicle. Single-vehicle accident scenarios include hitting an object along the side of the road (like a guardrail or a tree), spinning out without hitting anything, running off the road, and flipping over. Because only one car is involved in a single-vehicle accident, the driver is almost always considered to be at fault for the accident. But there are a few exceptions. Read on to learn more.
All drivers have a legal duty to obey traffic laws and to be reasonably aware of everything around them, including other vehicles, road hazards, weather conditions, and so on. The failure to drive with reasonable care can amount to negligence, which forms the basis of fault in most car accident situations. With this in mind, let’s look at a couple of examples of when a driver in a single-vehicle accident might not be negligent in connection with the crash, and therefore might avoid liability.
First, let’s say Driver A is proceeding north on a two-lane highway. Driver B is headed south. Driver A is texting, and drifts into the southbound lane. Driver B swerves to avoid a collision and ends up crashing. In this case, there was no collision, so Driver B was technically involved in a single-vehicle accident. But the accident was not Driver B's fault. Driver A's distracted driving was the cause of the crash.
Let’s take another example. Let’s say Driver A hits a tree just off the highway, and that no other vehicles are involved. This is a true one-car accident. In this situation, there would certainly be a presumption that Driver A was at fault. But what if Driver A lost control and hit the tree due to the unreasonably dangerous condition of the highway? In that situation, the driver might be able to make a claim against the governmental agency responsible for maintaining the road.
But keep in mind that claiming that bad road conditions caused a car accident is usually an uphill battle. If the road conditions were truly that bad, then a sound counter-argument will usually be made: the driver should have been driving more slowly or carefully, given the conditions. But if the driver can make a credible argument -- a huge pothole appeared out of nowhere -- there might be a chance to avoid liability for a single-car accident.
A third example of a situation where a driver might be able to escape liability for a single-vehicle accident is where the driver believes that the accident was caused by a vehicle defect or equipment failure. The key here is that the defect or failure must be sudden and unexpected. If the vehicle was subject to a recall notice, or if a known mechanical issue was allowed to get worse, then a reasonable (non-negligent) driver would have gotten the car fixed instead of driving it around (or so the manufacturer's argument will go).
If you're involved in a single-vehicle accident, but you're confident that the crash was not your fault, you must gather evidence as soon as possible. Report the accident to your car insurance carrier. If there were any witnesses to what happened, get their contact information. If you crashed due to bad road conditions, take pictures of the scene as soon as possible. Promptly report the problem to the governmental authority in charge of the road, and perhaps even make a claim against that entity.
If you think you crashed due to a vehicle defect or mechanical failure, get the car checked out immediately. Do not drive the car away from the accident scene. Have the vehicle towed to a qualified mechanic as soon as possible, and have a thorough inspection done.