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Fender bender responsibility?
November 18, 2009 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Who is at fault in the following scenario (USA, Colorado)? "Person A" in a pickup stopped in the left lane of a 4 lane road waiting for a car in front to turn left. "Person B" in a car stopped behind "person A". "A" and "B" get tired of waiting and seeing no traffic in the right hand lane pull into it to pass the stopped car. "B" hits the right rear quarter panel of "A"'s truck. "A"'s truck is large, "B"'s car is small. "A" asserts (s)he never saw "B".

Note I'm interested in both the legal and ethical answer!
posted by cosmac to Law & Government (29 answers total)
 
As I read it, my gut reaction is that B is at fault, unless A failed to signal or otherwise moved erratically. A was in front of B, and could not have realistically been expected to avoid B unless A was moving backwards.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:44 PM on November 18, 2009


It sounds like A swerved out to the right but that B swerved out a little faster. A would be at fault for not making sure the space was clear before moving into it.

IMHO.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:46 PM on November 18, 2009


I think that proper use of a turn signal would make a big difference. I don't see how this accident would be possible unless one or both drivers did not use their turn signals.
posted by AtomicBee at 1:51 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


You say "B hits the right real quarter panel of A's truck." What does "hits" mean there? I think I was thinking of the left rear quarter panel. Feel free to disregard my earlier answer.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:51 PM on November 18, 2009


It sounds like B was in A's blind spot and A didn't check it before moving off. I'd say A was at fault
posted by IanMorr at 1:57 PM on November 18, 2009


You say "B hits the right real quarter panel of A's truck." What does "hits" mean there? I think I was thinking of the left rear quarter panel. Feel free to disregard my earlier answer.

A's left front bumper contacted B's truck just behind the right rear wheel.

As I read it, my gut reaction is that B is at fault, unless A failed to signal or otherwise moved erratically.

Don't know about the turn signal.
posted by cosmac at 1:58 PM on November 18, 2009


A's left front bumper contacted B's truck just behind the right rear wheel.

Now I am really confused.
posted by Jairus at 2:01 PM on November 18, 2009


Assuming A didn't indicate - A's fault for not indicating or checking blind spot.

If A DID indicate, A is at fault for not checking blind spot, but B is also at fault for not seeing indication and leaving sufficient room for A moving out (even if B assumes A has seen them, they should be prepared to avoid a collision).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:03 PM on November 18, 2009


From a common sense perspective, you know that if you're thinking of pulling out and around, so is everyone else in the same situation. So A has a duty to check that it's clear before pulling out.

OTOH, whether or not B in A's blind spot means "A didn't check for B" or "A actually couldn't see B because his truck is huge and B's car is small" would determine it. If B was too close to A, parked, and was literally not visible, I don't see how A can be at fault.

Did A claim to check his blind spot and not see, or did A fail to check?
posted by fatbird at 2:03 PM on November 18, 2009


If B is behind A, and B runs into A, all other things being equal, why wouldn't B be at fault? Aren't we usually responsible for not running into the person in front of us?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 2:04 PM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Jairus - There are three cars: Front Car is stopped trying to turn left. Middle Car is behind, Back Car is in back. Both Middle and Back try to merge into the right lane at the same time, and the left-front side of Back Car hits the right-back side of Middle Car.

I think cosmac's last post mixed up A and B.

I've been in this situation and in my opinion both Middle and Back car are at fault for not having a clear path of travel before proceeding. But i'm not an insurance agent or a cop or a lawyer.
posted by muddgirl at 2:06 PM on November 18, 2009


It sounds like B was in A's blind spot and A didn't check it before moving off. I'd say A was at fault

This is an interesting point. I was been taught to be aware of other vehicle's blind spots and drive accordingly. I see trucks with signs on the back pointing out that if you cannot see their mirrors, they cannot see you. Assume in this case A truly could not see B due to the size of A's vehicle. Indeed, A was not even aware until impact B was there.

Also, assume A did signal, I think that not signaling would put the responsibility on A.

I think cosmac's last post mixed up A and B.

Whoops, backup! swap A and B! B hit A.
posted by cosmac at 2:07 PM on November 18, 2009


I know here in Canada, that often unless it is a straight-on rear-end collision, it is often ruled both at fault, simply because it's tough to know without independent witness whether one car moved into the other's space without enough warning. Legally, this might be a grey area where both are at fault: A didn't check blind spots or mirrors thoroughly enough, but B likely moved too quickly into the space. I've seen this happen and lots of times cars are pulling out quickly/recklessly in order to get ahead.

Ethically, I also think it's a grey zone, but in an ideal situation, both would put on their signals, B would yield to A since A was ahead, and then B follows behind into the right lane.

That's my take on it, at least.
posted by dnesan at 2:13 PM on November 18, 2009


Let me be a little more verbose. Middle Car has the responsibility to check their blind spot before making a lane change - which they clearly didn't do as they "never saw" Back Car. Back Car has the responsibility to, you know, not hit cars that are in front of them.

I think examination of the physical evidence would show the real order of events and perhaps indicate which of these errors took more precedence. For example, did MC pull out and give BC no time to stop or swerve? Alternately, did MC signal and then start to pull around first and BC accelerated into MC?

Without physical evidence, I can only state that ethically, both parties have a responsibility to prevent an accident.
posted by muddgirl at 2:15 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


This happened to me (in car A's position) in NY about 5 years ago; I had signaled. Car B's insurance company said I was at fault, mine said he was at fault; I sued in small claims court and the judge found he (car B) was 80% at fault. However, it was a 2 lane road with wide shoulders, and I believe there are rules in NY about who has the right to pass on the right (w/out a lane).
posted by melissasaurus at 2:15 PM on November 18, 2009


In general it is the passer's responsibility to pass only when safe to do so.

It was not safe for B to pass A since A was already trying to pass the turning vehicle.
posted by Gridlock Joe at 2:19 PM on November 18, 2009


Generally I think that the car with the damage on the front of the car is responsible, and not the car with the damage on the back. This is the default position for most insurance companies, as it saves having to figure out who looked, could they see, etc. They just look at the damage, and say "B is at fault." Especially in a fender bender, this saves a lot of effort.

As far as ethically, they're both responsible for not being aware of what the other one is doing, but B is more responsible because B has a better view of A than vice versa, regardless of vehicle size.
posted by Capri at 3:04 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hate situations like these, I prefer to let the cars behind pull out (because they can see what is coming) before I pull out (me being in Middle Car position)
posted by titanium_geek at 3:11 PM on November 18, 2009


I agree with Capri's answer, and also have to add that I hate it when I'm car A (middle car) and car B accelerates quickly and swerves around me to try to get ahead. They are trying to cut off the car in front of them. It may not always be the case, but I do think the car behind should wait a beat and make sure the car ahead isn't making a move at the same time, and pull into the other lane cautiously.
posted by JenMarie at 3:15 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


There isn't enough information to answer the question. It depends on whether the rear car was visible in the front car's mirrors when the front car started moving. I could easily see this being a case of the rear car accelerating too quickly, not anticipating that the front car would make the same move, and not leaving enough space to brake. It really depends. We can't answer the question with the level of detail provided here.
posted by Dasein at 3:39 PM on November 18, 2009


B hit the back of A's car with the front of their car. B is at fault. Generally, the onus is on the cars driving behind not to smash into cars in front of them, even if the cars in front do something erratic. (see Capri's explanation)

Ethically, I think it's sort of dickish not to let the person in front of you get around an obstacle (in this case, the turning car) first. You're behind them. Wait your turn.
posted by emd3737 at 3:53 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Exactly. Job one while driving is not to hit things. For that scenario to happen (as I visualize it), it sounds like car B was a little heavy on the accelerator and cut it too closely. And A didn't look in his right hand mirror.

If you really wanted to get technical, if you post pictures of the damage, maybe we can come up with a way to show that A technically hit B. Basically, the damage would have to be completely on the side of the car. Any damage on the front of the car would negate this theory.
posted by gjc at 5:12 PM on November 18, 2009


B is. He hit a car in front of him. There is no way, even if A was a dick and suddenly jumped right out there to avoid being passed, that B is absolved of any responsibility to safely and cautiously operate his vehicle to avoid (and have time to avoid) collisions in front of him.

The only question is how much blame A has also. As pointed out, A didn't check his blind spot, or do so well enough to see another car that was there. Signaling or not would probably be a factor.

I'm a big fan of driver responsibility - you don't get excused from fault when you reasonably could have prevented the accident, even if you didn't do anything else wrong. All traffic laws are secondary to "avoid collision". That may not be the law in Colorado, though.
posted by ctmf at 5:47 PM on November 18, 2009


even if A was a dick and suddenly jumped right out there to avoid being passed, that B is absolved of any responsibility to safely and cautiously operate his vehicle to avoid

This isn't quite true though, when you're dealing with lateral movements. There's a zone in front of your car — speed-dependent, obviously, but there all the time — which even if you are driving safely, is within the space you'll cover just due to reaction time. Someone who moves laterally into this zone won't give you any chance to stop. (Imagine: someone runs a red light right in front of a vehicle passing through the intersection.) I think most traffic courts understand this.

That's one of the only exceptions I'm aware of to the "driver in back is always at fault" rule.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:10 PM on November 18, 2009


1. If B claimed to be driving along in the adjacent lane, rather than sitting behind A, and A claimed to have "never seen" B, and there were no witnesses to contradict these stories, then A is at fault for pulling out of their lane into the path of B. This may be based on a lie (of B's) but A has not refuted the lie. However, if a witness refuted B's lie, B would be at fault.

2. If B and A both admit to pulling out at the same time, the fault most likely lay with B, with A potentially contributing, but not in the majority. That's because B would not have hit A if they were looking forward (unless extremely reckless) so B was most likely looking behind for cars in the adjacent lane, and effectively drove into A without attempting to avoid the accident. B would be in A's blind spot at that point, so the amount of contribution afforded to A would likely have to be negotiated by the insurance companies.

Given those scenarios, the factual fault would lay with B, because the only way B escapes the blame is if B lies. However, by law, assuming nobody lied, the fault would be split between the two, with B getting the majority. Melissasaurus's experience noted above conforms to this expectation.

Oh, and the key takeaway is this: once you have determined that no traffic is approaching, moving your car forward without looking forward likely represents a significant error in judgement.
posted by davejay at 6:23 PM on November 18, 2009


An analogy: say the same situation occurred, but B was driving in the right lane, coming up on the stopped pair of vehicles in the left lane. Car A switches into the right lane just in time to make contact with the front fender of B. Car A is at fault for changing lanes when it was not safe to do so. There's no junk about "B should have only passed a previously-stopped vehicle when it was safe", and the "whoever hits the back is at fault" principle is not in effect.

Car B had to fully pull into the right lane before the collision happened. That's plenty of time for car A to notice that the lane is now occupied, especially since they were both at a stop. At the point where B had reached the rear quarter panel of A (which was safe), there wasn't much B could do to avoid the accident other than swerve off the road.

There's no way for there to be any damage on the rear of A in this scenario, since B would have had to failed to avoid A in it's stopped position, or not notice that B was now moving; both scenarios are extremely unlikely.

Turn signals may have been useful, but they do nothing to change who is at fault in this situation or any other.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:30 PM on November 18, 2009


Hey thanks for all the responses. Sorry about the incomplete information, but sometimes that's the way it is.

For what it is worth, both drivers claimed they were at fault (!!!). They ended up agreeing to sharing responsibility, with B taking a bigger hit (so to speak).
posted by cosmac at 8:41 PM on November 18, 2009


Blind spot does not absolve driver A. If it did, we would drive mostly windowless delivery vans and have near-zero insurance premiums.
posted by zippy at 10:46 PM on November 18, 2009


Cosmac, sounds like the right result.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:07 AM on November 19, 2009


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