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The role of negligence in a California car accident case

If you suffered an injury in a car crash, you may be considering various options. If you want to obtain compensation through a lawsuit, a major component of success is showing the other driver caused the accident by acting negligently.

Many words have a rather different meaning in a legal context than they do in day-to-day conversation. Negligence is no exception. Understanding the basic principles involved can help; however, avoid making assumptions about the strength of your case without consulting a knowledgeable car accident lawyer.

Defining duty of care

In short, acting negligently means failing to perform a duty one owed to the person who received an injury as a result. Thus, determining negligence starts with defining the duty the defendant owed to the plaintiff. In a car accident case, the governing principle is often that motorists owe other drivers a duty to drive with reasonable safety, including compliance with traffic laws. In some cases, one also needs to consider the duty of a state or municipality to maintain safe road surfaces or the duty of an automobile manufacturer to prevent defective parts from entering the market.

Negligence does not always mean violating a particular law

A driver can be negligent even without breaking a specific law. The general rule is that people should conduct any activity with reasonable regard for safety under the circumstances. This typically means watching out for and avoiding foreseeable dangers. For a driver, this can mean staying alert and using common sense on the road.

Drivers must use ordinary sense and precautions

For example, exceeding the posted speed limit is likely negligence. However, weather conditions may necessitate a far lower speed in order to stay safe. The law will not necessarily tell you a specific miles-per-hour number for rainy, icy or foggy weather. A driver who uses ordinary care is likely to understand how fast he or she can go without creating the risk of a crash.

Common types of negligent driving

As you can see, figuring out whether someone acted negligently or used ordinary care can be fact-intensive and quite subjective. On the other hand, some behaviors are commonly known to be dangerous while driving, and state and federal safety agencies post information about avoiding them. Some examples include drowsy driving, distraction, using a cell phone and engaging in aggressive behavior.

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