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Liability in Unique Motor Vehicle Accidents: FAQ

Most auto accidents involve one or two vehicles. A driver may lose control of their vehicle and hit a barrier or tree. Or one vehicle may crash into another car or SUV. These cases are usually easier to resolve. Things become complicated when your motor vehicle accident involves more than two motorists. They are also difficult to sort out when they involve a bicycle, animal, or other unique party.

It's hard to resolve these cases; insurance doesn't always cover the collision. For example, if someone is driving a rented car and hits another motorist, there's no guarantee that the rental company's insurance carrier will pay the victim's total damages.

The same applies when bicyclists, pedestrians, or the non-insured are the at-fault party.

This article addresses your questions about these unique motor vehicle accidents. It also answers questions about how you determine fault in each situation. Sometimes, the best thing to do is contact an accident lawyer to help you sort things out.

Who pays damages if the at-fault driver was in a rented or leased vehicle?

In most states, an individual's own auto insurance policy will cover any motor vehicle the person drives. This includes a rental car. The coverage limits on your rental car will be the same as those for your private vehicle.

There are a few special rules regarding private auto insurance coverage for rental car accidents. These include:

If you have a liability-only policy, it won't cover damage to the rental car. Before renting, it's a good idea to call your insurance company to determine if your current policy provides adequate coverage for any potential rental liability.

Insurance will only cover the collision if you were driving the rental car for personal use. You must have commercial auto insurance if you're using it for business purposes.

The same exclusions for individual auto coverage apply to your rental car accident. For instance, if your policy limits coverage in cases where you are under the influence or committing a crime, it will also limit coverage in your rental car collision.

You'll have the option of purchasing additional insurance coverage through the car rental agency.

Who do you pursue if the defendant borrowed the vehicle from a third party?

Most of us have borrowed a vehicle from a friend, family member, or neighbor. Many people don't realize that auto insurance follows the car, not the person. This means that the owner of the vehicle's insurance policy should cover any damages suffered in a car wreck.

There are a few exceptions to this rule as well. There's no guarantee that insurance covers an accident if any of the following are true:

  • The driver didn't have permission to use the vehicle
  • The other motorist was driving a stolen car
  • The owner of the vehicle doesn't have car insurance

When seeking legal advice, mention that the other driver was using someone else's vehicle. Your lawyer will contact the insurance carrier and help file your initial claim. You may have to sue the driver personally if the insurance company denies your claim.

What if a pedestrian or bicyclist was partially at fault for their accident?

In some states, there's a presumption of fault if drivers strike pedestrians or bicyclists. This is especially true if the vehicle's driver violated a local traffic law. But you can challenge the presumption if your pedestrian accident attorney can prove the individual or cyclist was at fault.

Most states follow a modified comparative negligence rule. In these jurisdictions, an accident victim can recover compensation if they are less than 50% at fault. But they won't collect a dime if they're more than 50% at fault. Remember, if you're more than 50% at fault, the other party will likely sue you for damages.

There are a handful of states that don't follow this rule. For example, some states follow a pure contributory negligence standard. In these states, if you're even 1% at fault, you won't recover damages from the other driver or their insurance carrier.

The states that apply this rule include:

A handful of states allow you to collect damages even if you're 99% at fault. This is because they follow the pure comparative negligence rule. About a third of the states still apply this standard to accident cases.

How could a pedestrian, bicyclist, or animal be partially at fault for an accident?

It's hard to imagine a situation where a pedestrian, cyclist, or animal is partially at fault for an accident. But sometimes, both parties play a role in the crash. In these cases, your personal injury lawyer must demonstrate that the other party was more at fault than you were.

For example, let's consider how the court would determine fault in a bicycle accident. Imagine a bicyclist was riding their bike late at night without a headlamp. They're also riding outside of a designated bike lane. You hit them while driving through an intersection where you have the right of way.

In this case, your attorney will argue that the person on the bike was responsible for the accident. You would never have hit them if they had used a headlamp or stayed in the bicycle lane. Your lawyer submitted a copy of a video captured from an intersection camera. The judge determined that you were only 30% at fault for the crash. If you live in a comparative negligence state, the court won't order you to pay damages in this scenario.

What happens when someone hits a domesticated animal?

Many don't think about animals when we think of motor vehicle collisions. However, we can imagine how devastating it would be if someone killed our pets or livestock. In these unique personal injury cases, your attorney must prove fault like in any other auto accident.

When someone hurts or kills your domesticated animal or your vehicle sustains damage in a vehicular accident, you may have a claim for damages. In many of these cases, there is a presumption of fault on the part of the animal's owner. If they let their animal run loose, they should be held accountable for any damage it causes, right? Well, it depends.

If the driver was negligent, the animal's owner can sue them. Most states limit damages in these cases to the value of the pet plus any vet bills. The courts don't often allow the animal's owner to demand non-economic damages, such as emotional distress.

Typically, liability insurance will cover any damages to the driver's vehicle if it hits a wild animal (for example, a deer).

How do you determine fault in a multi-vehicle accident?

Multi-vehicle accidents can be very complex. Your attorney will have to determine each motorist's role in the crash. In some cases, proving fault can be tricky. For example, in a multi-vehicle rear-end accident with three cars involved, the rear driver is usually at fault. If the first driver only feels one hit, the rear driver is still at fault. But if the first driver feels two hits, it's also possible for the first driver to have a claim against the middle driver and the rear driver.

But in most multi-car accident claims, it's not so easy to prove liability. Your personal injury lawyer may need to hire experts to help establish fault. You may want to retain an accident deconstructionist who specializes in these cases.

Your attorney may also seek evidence to prove which driver initiated the crash. For instance, they may be able to find a photo or video from an intersection camera, CCTV from a local business, or dash-cam.

How can an accident attorney help navigate your claim?

Contacting a local personal injury attorney is a good idea if you're hurt in a car accident. A lawyer can tell you whether someone was negligent or reckless in causing your injuries. They'll also help determine whether you can collect damages.

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