Fault in Side Impact (T-Bone) Car Accidents

After a traffic accident in which one vehicle "t-bones" another, it's not always obvious who was at fault for the crash.

Side impact collisions -- more commonly called "t-bone" traffic accidents -- can occur in a number of different traffic situations. And, depending on the circumstances, either driver might be deemed at fault for the accident -- the driver who was broadsided or the driver who did the broadsiding.

For example, maybe you were driving through an intersection on a green light and the other driver blew through a red and hit your vehicle on the driver's side. Or you could be driving through a different intersection and the other driver cuts right in front of you on a left turn, causing you to hit the other vehicle on the passenger side. In either situation, the other driver is probably at fault, but proving it isn't always easy. Read on to learn more.

Side Impact Collisions Aren't Unique, But They Can Be Uniquely Dangerous

When a vehicle hits the front or back of your car (in a rear-end accident, for example) there are several feet of steel, bumper, engine, trunk, and seats protecting you. But when your car is t-boned, there’s only a door and a window (and the passenger seat, depending on which side of your car is struck) between you and the other vehicle. That can lead to significant car accident injuries, or even the death of a driver or passenger.

It’s no wonder that side impact collisions kill between 8,500 and 10,000 Americans a year. While all cars sold in the United States must meet certain federal side-impact safety standards, the age of these standards and the ever- increasing weight of the average vehicle have led some to question whether these standards are really that safe.

Proving Fault in Side Impact Accidents

Sometimes driver error (and therefore accident liability) is pretty obvious just based on how a side-impact accident happened, and the other driver may even admit fault. But in either of the most common t-bone situations -- where the other car hit your car, or cut in front of you so that you were almost forced to hit the other car -- the other driver will often claim that he or she had the right of way, and that you were at fault.

It Starts At the Scene

You may be at the scene of a car accident, wondering what to do. The rules for a side impact collision are largely the same as for other car accidents. Call the police (who, in a police report, may make preliminary determinations on who was responsible), get contact information from anybody who witnessed the accident, do not admit liability to the other driver, and take pictures of the scene and damage if you are able.

Traffic Signals

If there could be a question regarding the traffic light (you had a protected green but the other driver claims he had the right of way), try to take special note of the time of the accident. While not a surefire tool, it can be possible in some circumstances to compare this time against the traffic light’s automated programming. For instance, if the accident occurred at 10:15:35 (35 seconds after 10:15 AM), that time could be compared against the programming to show that oncoming traffic always has a red light at that time. Again, this is not a perfect solution, but it can give your attorney another tool to help show that you were not at fault.

Vehicle Defects

A common complication in side impact collision cases comes in the various manifestations of defective parts. The other driver may have run the red light because her brakes failed -- but is that a problem with the manufacturer, with the driver for failing to get routine maintenance, or the shop that inspected and declined to replace them? Perhaps the injuries were so bad because the collision broke somebody’s seatbelt or damaged the side impact airbags and prevented them from deploying. In this case, you may want to get the manufacturer or repair shop involved as parties that potentially share some liability for the accident or for the severity of the injury.

Getting Legal Help

If you’ve been involved in a side impact collision, even if law enforcement comes to the scene, the responding officer may not make a determination of fault in the accident report -- or they could even make what (to you anyway) is an incorrect fault determination. And in the absence of any definitive word, if different witnesses say different things, it won’t take much for the other driver to claim that the accident was your fault. It may make sense to put your car accident case in the capable hands of an experienced personal injury attorney, who will build your strongest case and put you in position for the best outcome.

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