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Who's Liable in a Crash When a Vehicle Fails to Brake?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Drivers may worry that if they failed to brake before colliding with another car, they will be responsible for the damages.

But sometimes a vehicle can fail to break for reasons other than driver error -- perhaps it was the result of poor maintenance or even a manufacturing defect. These factors must be considered when determining liability for a crash.

So who is liable in a crash in which one or more vehicles failed to brake?

Driver Error

Often rear-end collisions and plowing into cars stopped at intersections is caused by a driver who isn't paying attention to the road. With distracted driving laws in almost every state, if a driver failed to brake because he or she wasn't paying attention to the road, he or she will likely be held at least partially liable for the damage and injuries that follow.

This is because traffic violations which affect driver safety are typically viewed as evidence of negligence per se. Investigators can even use evidence from a vehicle's "black box" to determine how fast the car was traveling at the time of the crash and whether the brakes were applied.

Mechanical Failure

Sometimes, even when a driver judiciously applies the brakes to avoid an accident, the brakes fail, sending the driver careening into other vehicles, persons, or property. The law in every state requires that drivers keep tires, brakes, and other equipment in functional condition on their vehicles. If it can be proven that the brake failure was due to poor maintenance or lack thereof, then the driver may be held liable for the resulting damages.

However, if the brakes failed because of a defect in the brake system, the vehicle's manufacturer may be held accountable.

If the Other Driver Is Also at Fault

In many car crashes, both drivers are acting unsafely before a collision occurs. For example, one driver may have failed to brake in time to avoid colliding with a driver who was running a red light. In such a scenario, both parties would share fault, but depending on the negligence laws in your state, the degree of fault may bar you from recovery.

Contributory and comparative negligence theories determine whether a driver may collect damages in a case where he or she is also at fault.

Have your case evaluated by a knowledgeable car accident attorney in your area to determine how these legal principles affect your recovery.

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