With millions of cars, motorcycles, trucks, bicyclists, and pedestrians sharing the highways and roads every day, accidents are common and, in some cases, unavoidable. Many accidents, of course, are avoidable and happen because someone was not exercising the necessary duty of care owed to others sharing the roads with them.
The duty of care is a legal term that refers to the responsibility of individuals, businesses, and other entities to avoid causing harm to those who we can reasonably assume will be affected by our actions. Whether the duty of care has been met is the first step in determining whether an action for damages against someone is possible.
WHO OWES A DUTY OF CARE ON THE ROAD?
Drivers of vehicles, of course, owe a duty of care to other drivers, as well as to other people who may be injured in an accident. Manufacturers of vehicles owe a duty to their customers to provide vehicles that meet required minimum safety standards. Mechanics, loaders, and, in some cases, vehicle inspectors, have a duty to make sure the vehicles they work on are safe. A mechanic who fails to properly tighten a wheel may be responsible if the wheel comes off and causes a crash.
TO WHOM IS A DUTY OF CARE OWED?
This depends on the relationship between the parties involved, and the context of the situation. In general, a person owes a duty of care to anyone who he knows, or should know, will be affected by her actions. In the context of an automobile accident, as the driver of a vehicle, you can reasonably expect that your actions might affect other drivers around you, passengers in those vehicles, pedestrians, and possibly even people on surrounding properties. For example, if you are distracted and your car leaves the road, you can reasonably assume that the car might hit someone outside in their yard or on a sidewalk.
An example of someone to whom a duty of care might not be owed would be a family member of a person involved in an accident. Suppose you are involved in an accident that might be your fault. The other driver goes home and because he is still shaken up over the accident, drinks a little too much. You do not owe a duty of care to anyone he might injure, as you could not have reasonably expected that your actions would affect him.
Automobile manufacturers owe a duty of care to their customers, but also to anyone else who they might reasonably expect to be injured by a defective vehicle. It is reasonable to assume, for example, that a vehicle with defective brakes could cause an accident and cause injuries to people other than the owner of the defective vehicle.
Colorado law creates a duty of care for businesses that serve alcohol. A business that knowingly or negligently serves alcohol to a minor may be held responsible if the minor causes a car accident. Even social hosts may have a duty of care to people injured in an accident caused by an obviously intoxicated guest.
WHAT IS YOUR DUTY OF CARE AS A COLORADO DRIVER?
When you drive a vehicle, your first duty is to obey traffic laws and regulations. Failure to obey laws against speeding or impaired driving, for example, is a breach of your duty, and you will be responsible for any damages caused by your failure to obey. Failure of a driver to properly maintain safety equipment is also a breach of the duty of care.
If no laws or regulations have been broken, the standard for determining the duty of care is that of a reasonable person. What would a reasonable person do in a situation? Even though there is no law against carrying on a conversation with passengers in your car, if you cause an accident because your attention was on your conversation instead of on the road, you have breached your duty of care. Even passengers in automobiles have a duty of care, to the driver, and to others who might be injured if they deliberately distract the driver, throw things out of a vehicle, or perhaps even open a door without looking first. In many cases, a judge or jury ends up deciding what a reasonable person should have done.
When someone is injured or killed in a car accident, identifying the person or persons responsible is an essential first step in getting compensation for the injured party or surviving family members. Determining who is actually responsible for an accident is not always an easy task. It is often necessary to look beyond the driver of a vehicle for answers, especially if the driver was underage or uninsured. One of the jobs of a Colorado car accident attorney is to help identify all possible responsible parties. Suing the wrong person will waste time and money, and will ultimately be unsuccessful.
You or a loved one may have been injured as a passenger or driver in a car accident. You may have been the driver of a vehicle that caused an accident. You may have been injured as a pedestrian, cyclist, or highway worker. The personal injury lawyers at Springs Law Group will meet with you in a free consultation to help determine your rights.