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Who is liable in a single-vehicle accident?

Not all car crashes are between two or more vehicles. Many auto accidents involve a single vehicle and driver, which can raise questions of liability.

The most common example is run-off-road crashes, which occur when a car leaves the roadway and goes into the ditch or collides with inanimate objects, such as trees, buildings, telephone poles, and parked vehicles. Depending on how fast the driver was going when the accident occurred, these crashes can cause property damage, injury, and even death.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) once estimated that run-offs accounted for 31% of all fatal crashes, although only 16% of accidents fell into this category. In a 2015 report, the NHTSA analyzed common reasons for these accidents and identified the following factors as being the most likely to lead to a crash.

  • Human error. Driver behavior was the leading cause of 94% of fatal incidents. Inebriation or inattention topped the list of reasons why drivers failed to recognize a danger in time to prevent an accident.
  • Vehicle malfunction. Steering wheel and tire problems accounted for 35% of fatal crashes, followed by brakes (22%) and steering or suspension issues (3%).
  • Environmental factors. Of all the accidents attributable to environmental factors, slippery roads accounted for 50%, followed by glare from the sun (17%) and view obstruction (11%).

These elements also accounted for rollover accidents, which are less common than run-offs but more catastrophic: a high percentage of these incidents are fatal.

Who is liable for single-vehicle accidents?

Because these accidents involve a single vehicle, the driver is often held liable for any property damage or passenger injuries, especially if evidence suggests that they were speeding, intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, or indulging in reckless behaviors such as texting and driving. However, single-vehicle accidents are also caused by factors that are out of the driver’s control, such as:

  • A child or animal darting out suddenly into traffic.
  • Defective car parts, such as the steering or brakes. In this case, liability may be assigned to the vehicle manufacturer.
  • Poorly maintained roads (e.g., cracks and potholes), which can be the fault of the township, municipality, or other authority responsible for keeping the roads in a safe condition.

If you are hurt in a single-vehicle condition on a New York street, road, or highway, then seek treatment for your injuries first. Then contact a New York personal injury attorney who can review the accident and medical reports and indicate whether or not you have a case.  When conscientious drivers are harmed by third-party negligence, they may be entitled to compensation for their losses, and an attorney will advise them on how the law applies to their situation.

Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx, New York accident lawyer with over 36 years of legal experience. If you or a loved one were injured in a car crash, then your next step after seeking medical attention should be to contact an attorney. Mr. Lutzky offers free in-person consultations and can be reached at 718-329-9500. In the case of serious injury, hospital or home visits may be available.

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