Automobile accidents are one of the leading causes of accidental injury in this country. Each year, thousands of people are killed in motor vehicle crashes and millions are injured. These crashes are frequently caused by the negligence of other drivers, leading to their own death or injury as well as those of innocent victims. Motor vehicle accidents can have many causes, but they can usually be divided into negligence, intentional misconduct, or product liability. While it is true that accidents can be caused by a so-called “act of nature” such as earthquakes, these are rare.
Negligence is one of the primary causes of automobile accidents. Negligent acts occur when a driver causing an accident does not exercise reasonable care. For example, he was driving too fast or too slowly for the conditions. Perhaps he allowed himself to be distracted. Perhaps he carelessly ignored traffic signals or conditions. There are many areas in which negligence can occur but negligence is a failure to be careful rather than an act intended to cause harm. A person who is distracted and rear-ends another vehicle at a red light is negligent.
Intentional misconduct, on the other hand, is an action committed when the person knew that his actions could cause harm and did not care, or actively desired to harm others. A driver who drives at a high rate of speed, cutting in and out of traffic, may be intentionally putting himself and others at risk.
The law of strict liability could apply in some circumstances and neither negligence nor intent would need to be shown. Another cause of auto accidents is product failure. The Firestone tire litigation is a prime example of product failure. In that case, a defect in the tire caused accidents beyond the control of drivers. The defects were not intentional but in law the manufacturer was responsible. A similar situation could exist if a repair to the car was done improperly and resulted in a crash. In some states, in the case of auto accidents caused by drunk drivers, the business or host who supplied the alcohol and allowed the driver to drive in an intoxicated condition could be found to have a liability in addition to the drunk driver.