A driver heading straight into an intersection collides with a left-turning vehicle. Police arrive and give the left-turning driver a ticket for taking the right-of-way. You are hurt and leave by ambulance. Your car is totaled. But at least you can take comfort that the insurance company for the at-fault driver will accept responsibility and take care of everything, right? Open and shut case, right? WRONG! Unfortunately, these are some of the most fact-driven, most contentious and generally most difficult cases to prove without impeccable legal work and investigation done early in the process.
Let's talk about proof for a minute. The insurance company for the at-fault driver will not pay for anything out of generosity. They will only pay you IF they feel, in a court of law, you would win. In a court of law, you would need to convince a jury that the weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that the at-fault driver caused the collision. However, if a jury is so conflicted that they are not certain, one way or the other, then the plaintiff (you) loses.
The problem from a proof standpoint is that people in accidents generally tell wildly different versions of the same story. In this sort of accident, if there are no independent eye witnesses, rarely are these cases winnable. If the driver is making a left turn from a dedicated left turn lane with an arrow, they will simply say their arrow signaled green. If the driver is at a light without an arrow, he can simply say that he was stuck in the intersection when his light went from green to yellow to red. Only after the light turned red did he commence his left turn, right when you ran the red light and caused the accident. The at-fault drivers are often in contact with the insurance company and even lawyers and often start melding their story from fact to fiction within days of the event. Lastly, even if the police give the left-turning driver a ticket, this is immaterial, because in court this information would be hearsay.
So what should you do?
First, never assume that police are going to do a complete investigation. Get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses to the accident. If the at fault driver is making statements at the scene that accept responsibility, make sure that witnesses are present to hear it. On most occasions, left-turning drivers mistakenly claim that they turned on yellow, which means they took your right-of-way as an oncoming vehicle also justifiably proceeding on yellow through the intersection. Once they get "lawyered-up" they often change their version of the story to reflect that they commenced their left turn from the middle of the intersection once the light turned red. Getting the driver to commit to the story they are going to tell is very important. Consider asking at the scene that the driver write out a statement for you. Surprisingly, the police do not always get witness names and often neglect, unless prompted, to get the at-fault driver to write out his version of the events. Do your best to coax the police to do a complete investigation if you can.
In conclusion, these cases can be very complex and they require very early intervention, proper scene investigation and most importantly, smart, proactive thinking at the scene. Lastly, never assume that the at-fault driver is going to do the right thing when it comes to owning up to responsibility for causing the crash.
Please remember that at ANDERSON, HEMMAT & McQUINN, we will always talk to you on the telephone about your matter and you can always count on a free consultation.