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.

Updated by , J.D. | Updated by David Goguen, J.D.
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  • Side impact collisions (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.

    Here are a few things to know right off the bat:

    • T-bone accidents often result in serious injuries, due to the nature of these kinds of collisions: two cars impacting one another at (or close to) a 90-degree angle.
    • Proving who was at fault for a side-impact car accident is rarely easy, and gathering the right evidence is crucial.
    • Having a lawyer on your side can make a big difference in the outcome of a car accident injury claim stemming from a side-impact crash.

    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, especially if the vehicle isn't equipped with side-impact air bags, or when those don't properly deploy.

    It's no wonder that side impact collisions cause around one-quarter of all motor vehicle accident deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. And while all cars sold in the U.S. must meet certain federal side-impact safety standards, the ever-increasing weight of the average vehicle has led some to questions as to whether these standards are really that adequate.

    Proving Fault in Side-Impact Accidents

    Maybe you were driving through an intersection on a green light, and another driver blew through a red and hit your vehicle on the driver's side. Or another driver cut right in front of you on a left turn, causing you to hit the other vehicle on the passenger side. Another driver may even have collided with the side of your vehicle in a parking lot. In all of those situations, the other driver is probably at fault, but proving it isn't always easy.

    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

    At the scene of a car accident, 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), exchange information with anyone involved in the accident, do not admit liability to the other driver

    Gather Evidence

    Talk to anyone who may have witnessed the accident: other drivers who stopped, pedestrians, and anyone else. Ask them if they might be willing to give any kind of statement, and get their contact information.

    Take pictures of the accident scene, including the location of the vehicles on the road, any skid marks, vehicle debris, and damage to the vehicles. Any visual evidence of the accident and how it might have happened may come in handy.

    Learn more about gathering evidence to help your car accident claim.

    Vehicle Defects

    A possible complication in side impact collision cases comes when a defective part might have caused or contributed to the accident.

    The other driver may have run the red light because her brakes failed. But is that the fault of:

    • the manufacturer, for producing a defective vehicle component
    • the driver, for failing to get routine maintenance, and/or
    • the shop that inspected the brakes and recommended no action?

    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 resulting injuries.

    Getting a Lawyer's Help

    If you've been involved in a side impact collision, even if law enforcement comes to the scene, the responding officer might 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 work toward the best outcome. You can use the tools on this page to connect with a car accident lawyer near you right now, or take a few minutes to learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident case.

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