It’s a known fact that car accidents can happen at any time. And, in most cases, it’s clear why an accident occurred. It may be that a driver was drunk, distracted, or driving aggressively, which caused them to lose control of their vehicle and hit a cyclist, pedestrian or another vehicle. While these “causes” are present in many accidents, for other accidents, it can be much harder to determine the “cause.” And, according to a recent report from The Atlantic, there is an important distinction between the cause of an accident and the critical reasons behind an accident.
Cause Versus Critical Reason: What’s the Difference?
According to a 2015 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of all car accidents are attributable to human error. However, upon looking a little deeper, one discovers that the NHTSA only lists one “critical reason for each accident. The NHTSA defines a critical reason as “the immediate reason for the critical pre-crash event and is often the last failure in the causal chain of events leading up to the crash.”
The NHTSA breaks down all crashes caused by driver error into various categories, as follows:
- 41 percent of crashes involve recognition error, including distracted driving, daydreaming and not paying attention;
- 33 percent of crashes involve decision error, including failure to yield, improper turns, and making incorrect assumptions about other drivers’ behaviors;
- 11 percent of crashes involve performance error, including overcorrection or loss of control;
- 7 percent of crashes involve non-performance errors, including drowsy driving.
The NHTSA goes on to note that just two percent of car accidents are caused by vehicle-related factors and two percent by environment-related factors.
However, under a common-sense approach, there can be more than one reason for a car accident. The distinction between the “cause” and “critical reasons” acknowledges a car accident occurs as the result of a confluence of many factors. For example, consider the following car accident, as provided by The Atlantic in its recent piece, “The Deadly Myth That Human Error Causes Most Car Accident”:
It’s a foggy day, and the driver of an SUV is traveling along a road at the posted speed limit of 40 miles per hour. The limit then drops to 25 as the road approaches a town—but the road’s lanes do not narrow (which would naturally compel a driver to apply the brakes), and the lone sign announcing the lower speed limit is partially obstructed. Oblivious to the change, the driver keeps traveling at 40. As he enters the town, a pedestrian crosses the road at an intersection without a stoplight. The driver strikes the pedestrian.
What is the cause of this car accident? Most would say that the driver’s failure to slow down and pay attention to their surroundings. And indeed, absent the driver’s failure to slow down, chances are the accident would not have occurred. However, there are other factors in play that also led up to the accident. For example:
- The road did not narrow to indicate that the driver was approaching a town;
- It was foggy at the time of the accident; and
- There was only one speed limit sign, which was partially obscured.
To be clear, the presence of these factors doesn’t necessarily excuse the driver’s negligence. However, it does lend support to the argument that car accidents are not always the result only of a driver’s negligence but of a perfect storm of factors.
How does this play into an accident victim’s ability to recover for their injuries following a serious Chicago car accident?
What Can Cause a Chicago Car Accident Other Than Driver Error?
In terms of the potential causes of car accidents, there are many. Of course, the American traffic enforcement system is entirely focused on placing the blame on individual drivers or, occasionally, their employers. However, there are other parties that also could have avoided an accident.
For example, if a driver’s car suffers a mechanical defect, it’s easy to connect potential liability to the manufacturer of the vehicle or the defective parts. Additionally, if a pharmacist misfiled a patient’s prescription and they went on to cause an accident after passing out behind the wheel, most would say the pharmacy bears some responsibility. However, upon a deeper inspection of the common causes of accidents, other potentially liable parties emerge.
For example, even accidents that are “caused” by a negligent driver may have resulted in less serious injuries had the maker of the struck vehicle manufactured it to withstand greater forces. This begs the question, why don’t auto manufacturers make vehicles as safe as possible. The answer: because they don’t have to.
Under the current system of pinning the blame on individual motorists, all blame is shifted away from the vehicle manufacturers. Unless a vehicle is of a proven defective design, as long as the vehicle meets the bare minimum safety standards released by the United States government, the manufacturer isn’t on the hook for damages because, in the eyes of the law, it met its duty.
However, if the government focused on all the potential causes of car accidents, rather than solely on driver error, it would shift the burden back onto vehicle manufacturers to create safer vehicles.
What Are a Motorist’s Responsibilities to Ensure Their Vehicle Is Safe?
Despite the relatively lax regulations surrounding vehicle safety measures, motorists are still required to ensure that their car or truck is safe for the road. The extent of this duty, however, is not crystal clear.
For example, if the owner of a vehicle receives a recall notice that their car contains some defect, they are officially put on notice. Thus, if the owner doesn’t take their car in to the dealership to address the recall, should that defect result in an accident, it bears on whether they were negligent. Similarly, if a motorist knows their tires are bald but doesn’t replace them, they may be found to have been negligent in the event of an accident following a tire blowout.
Again, however, this focus places the sole burden on the motorist—and not on the other businesses or government agencies that may have been able to intervene to avoid the accident.
Who Else May Be Liable for Chicago Car Accidents?
After a Chicago car accident, one of the most important determinations is who was at fault. In the majority of crashes, fingers get pointed between motorists, usually at one another. However, there may be other parties who also share responsibility for an accident. It is imperative to identify all potentially liable parties at the outset of a personal injury case. This is because you only get one chance to bring a claim and, if you fail to name a potentially liable party, the named defendants may be able to evade liability by showing that there was another party who was at fault.
Some of the parties who may be liable in the event of an accident include:
- The manufacturer of a vehicle;
- The manufacturer of a component part;
- Creators of certain technology that played a role in the accident;
- A state or local government entity; and
- The employer of a negligent driver.
An example of a situation in which there may be more than one responsible party includes an accident involving a self-driving car. Self-driving cars are in high demand based on newly available technology that allows drivers to essentially sit back while the car does all the work. At least, that’s what the manufacturers of these vehicles lead consumers to believe. However, in reality, autonomous driving technology is not intended as a substitute for human supervision. In the event of an accident involving a self-driving car, the at-fault driver will likely claim that they were merely using the features of the vehicle. Meanwhile, the vehicle manufacturer will point to the fine print in the owner’s manual that indicates the operator of the vehicle should always remain attentive to the road. In reality, it would seem that both parties bear some responsibility for the accident.
Of course, proving a case against non-motorists is more challenging, as the legal system is trained to assign blame to drivers. That said, an experienced personal injury attorney can help individuals who were injured in an accident identify all potentially liable parties and develop a compelling claim, explaining why the named defendant could have prevented the accident but failed to do so.
Have You Been Injured in a Chicago Car Accident?
If you’ve been injured in a Chicago car accident, the knowledgeable attorneys at Briskman & Greenberg can help you understand your rights and how to pursue them. We recognize that the road to recovery is a long—and stressful—one, and we do everything we can to make the process as easy on you as possible. Our attorneys think critically about every case we handle, conducting thorough investigations into all potentially liable parties so you can rest assured that you have the best chances for success. To learn more about the services we provide and to schedule a free consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers, give us a call at 877-595-4878 today. You can also reach us through our online contact form.