Dan Murphy of the Massachusetts-based Murphy Law Group speaks with John Maher about the causes of auto accidents—which can range from speeding to drinking to texting to even looking down to change the radio station. Murphy explains how these behaviors relate to negligence and how that could change your compensation claims and liability.
John Maher: Hi I’m John Maher, I’m here today with Dan Murphy of the Murphy Law Group in North Andover and Boston, Massachusetts. Today we’re talking about the most common causes of auto accidents. Welcome, Dan.
Dan Murphy: Thank you, John, for having me.
Behavioral Causes of Accidents
John Maher: Sure. So, Dan, what types of behavior generally cause auto accidents?
Dan Murphy: Well the types of behavior on the part of the driver could be anything from distracted driving, to speeding, to tailgating, to defective breaks or other defects with the car itself. It could be alcohol or drugs having a part in it. There are number of things in terms of the behavior of the driver that may come into effect.
John Maher: What about the road conditions and maybe not taking appropriate actions to kind of drive with the road condition–say it’s icy, or snowy, or something like that.
Dan Murphy: That’s clearly a duty that’s imposed upon a driver. A driver has a duty of care to take reasonable steps to ensure that they are driving safely, and that they’re not causing a dangerous condition to occur for another vehicle on the road or another person on the road. And, so, they clearly have an obligation to be aware of what the road conditions are and to take appropriate measures.
John Maher: Is that a sort of unwritten rule–of that duty that a driver has whenever they get behind the wheel? Sort of the ultimate cause of negligence and being considered negligent?
Dan Murphy: Sure. I mean ultimately negligence is simply the failure to honor the duty to take reasonable care. And that can be anything from driving at an excessive speed during icy conditions, which excessive speed could still be within the speed limit.
But, not taking appropriate measures to slow down when the conditions are clearly icy or if, for example, there was a severe thunderstorm and your vision was impaired by the thunderstorm and you didn’t take measures to slow down your vehicle during the thunderstorm, or any number of things that could occur–including defects in the road itself. If the road itself beyond being impaired by the weather, it could also be impaired by its condition.
It could be potholes in the road. You need to be aware and to take as much precautions as you can to avoid those type of things. It may mean if you see that the road is in a particularly bad condition that you should be slowing down.
Texting and Driving Accidents
John Maher: Texting and driving, you know, using your cellphone is kind of hot in the news. Now it’s because it seems to be causing more accidents, especially with younger people and there [are] rules and laws being enacted all over the country that to try to cut down on that.
Do you have to have a law against cellphone use or texting use in a car in order to be considered negligent for texting while driving? Or is it just a matter of if that’s what caused you to be distracted you could still be considered negligent?
Dan Murphy: If that is what caused you to be distracted you’d absolutely be considered negligent. It does not — You do not need to be criminally responsible to be negligent, and texting or answering a phone, or simply not watching the road — It could be looking down, or changing the station on the radio instead of paying attention to what’s in front of you.
There’re any number of things under the guise of distracted driving that may not necessarily be illegal, but can still cause an [auto] accident to occur and can still cause you to be negligent.
How the Causes of an Auto Accident Affect Your Claim
John Maher: So how does the cause of the accident play a role in a car accident claim when it comes time to file a lawsuit?
Dan Murphy: Well, ultimately it is the party who was responsible for the accident occurring that will be liable for the incident if there are damages as a result of the accident.
John Maher: What are some ways that fault can be determined in a car accident claim? Is it obvious in most cases who is at fault?
Dan Murphy: It can vary. The most simple, straightforward example would be a rear end collision where the driver in the vehicle who stopped at a stop sign or stoplight gets rear-ended by another vehicle. Clearly, the person who is stopped at the stop sign or at the stop light is acting according to the way in which they’re supposed to be acting and obeying the laws in stopping, and a car plows into them from behind.
The car that plowed into them from behind is very likely to be liable for the incident because they’re one that caused the incident, it was their negligence that caused the incident to occur.
So that might be the most straightforward, but there are all kinds of ways in which you can determine whether or not one party was more responsible than the other party. Whether it’d be someone applying their breaks as their going through an intersection and then the intersection is very icy, they’re going too fast as they’re going through the intersection and they run into another car. Those types of factors would be considered to determine whether or not that person was negligent.
John Maher: You could have a case where both parties is involved in an accident are engaged in some kind of negligent behavior. One party is texting while they’re driving but the other party is speeding or something like that. Can you have a sort of co-fault in an accident. How is that determined?
Dan Murphy: Ultimately, it’s a simple determination as to who had the opportunity to avoid the accident. Who had the best opportunity to avoid the accident, and who was most responsible for the accident occurring?
And, sure, there are situations in which both parties may be engaged in negligent behavior, but again using the person stopped at a stop sign as an example, if that person stopped at a stop sign or stop light may be looking down at their telephone or doing something that may be considered negligent, and they’re still hit from behind by a driver who was not paying attention, and runs into them from behind, the person on the front car’s negligence really has nothing to do with the causation of the accident.
John Maher: Alright, thanks for speaking with me today, Dan. I appreciate it.
Dan Murphy: Thank you, John.
John Maher: And for more information about the Murphy Law Group, visit the firm’s website at mlgllc.com or call 978-686-3200.