What Is Negligence in a Car Accident Case?

Car crashes remain one of the leading causes of death and injury in the United States. Sadly, many of these accidents are entirely preventable. They are often the result of negligent driving, in which motorists fail to follow the basic rules of the road.

The concept of negligence can be difficult to grasp and even more challenging to prove. Below, we delve into this topic in hopes of providing a greater understanding – and encouraging drivers to remain attentive while on the road.

What Does Negligence Actually Mean?

Most people are aware that negligence can play a huge role in car crashes and ensuing legal cases – but few know what it means in the eyes of the law. Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute defines this term as the failure to behave with “the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised in the same situation.” Cornell’s definition also takes into account that negligence can involve both actions and omissions when a duty to act exists.

When determining whether a particular action is negligent, legal authorities attempt to ascertain whether any foreseeable likelihood existed that such an action (or inaction) could cause harm. While this can be difficult to determine in some personal injury cases, it’s nearly always evident with car accidents.

Common Types of Negligence That Occur Behind the Wheel

Negligence can take many forms on the road, and drivers often engage in multiple types at once, placing fellow motorists at even more risk. The following are among the most common negligent behaviors that occur behind the wheel:

Texting While Driving

In the last decade, texting has become one of the most common and devastating forms of road-based negligence. According to experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it takes the average driver five seconds to send or read a text. During this time, distracted drivers may span the entire length of a football field. It’s no wonder, then, that experts estimate that texting is involved in one out of every four crashes that occur today.

Today, smartphone use behind the wheel takes many additional forms. Negligent motorists may browse Instagram or even record and send Snapchat videos while driving. These behaviors could prove even more distracting than texting.


Drivers who fail to abide by posted speed limits are less capable of responding promptly to hazards as they emerge. Speeding can also occur when drivers fail to take current road conditions into account. For example, while 60 miles per hour may be perfectly acceptable on a sunny day, driving that speed could prove negligent if snow and ice take over.

Drug or Alcohol Use

NHTSA data suggests that nearly thirty people in the United States are killed in drunk driving accidents every day. Even seemingly small amounts of alcohol can dull reaction time while also making drivers more reckless or aggressive.

Drunk driving is unique in that it can prompt criminal, civil, and traffic cases. Civil suits provide the opportunity for justice when drunk drivers are able to avoid criminal repercussions, perhaps because their blood alcohol content (BAC) was slightly below the legal limit at the time of the accident.

Alcohol used to be the primary substance to prompt negligence behind the wheel, but cannabis is quickly catching up in some regions. Like alcohol, cannabis dulls reaction times, rendering drivers incapable of properly responding to road hazards.


Sleep deprivation is among the most controversial forms of motorist negligence, as authorities often disagree as to the extent to which it is actually responsible for accidents – and how it can be measured or proven. Allegations of sleep deprivation are most likely to succeed in truck accidents, where more evidence may be available regarding the length of the driver’s shifts and how many miles were logged within a given period of time.

Other Causes

The examples of negligence cited above are among the most common, but they’re only the beginning. Other forms of negligence seen behind the wheel include:

  • Applying makeup while driving
  • Eating while driving
  • Rolling through stop signs
  • Not clearing ice or snow off of windshields
  • Driving with a broken headlight
  • Changing lanes without signaling

Virtually any behavior can be deemed negligent if it breaches the driver’s duty of care and increases the likelihood of an accident.

What Types of Injuries Does Negligence Behind the Wheel Cause?

Negligence on the road can cause a variety of injuries, many of which can prompt years or even decades of suffering. The nature of the injury depends largely on the type of negligence at play and other extenuating circumstances – but the following are especially common:

Beyond these physical injuries, negligence-related car accidents can cause considerable emotional suffering. Many victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder, while others suffer depression, anxiety, or other forms of trauma. Such distress can occur even when the victim’s physical injuries seem minor.

How Do You Prove Negligence in a Car Accident?

Plaintiffs in car accident lawsuits must achieve several tough objectives. First, they must prove that negligence actually occurred immediately preceding or at the time of the crash. This is often easier said than done. Extensive evidence is nearly always needed to demonstrate that negligence occurred. This element of the case is commonly referred to as “breach of duty” or “duty of care,” as the plaintiff must prove that the defendant did not abide by their obligation to drive responsibly.

The mere presence of negligence may not be sufficient to secure damages in the aftermath of a car accident. It’s not enough to simply demonstrate that carelessness occurred. Rather, negligent behavior must be proven to have contributed directly to the crash. Also known as causation, this is often the most complicated aspect of personal injury cases. It is sometimes easy to prove that drivers behaved negligently – particularly if drugs, alcohol, or cell phones were involved – but it can be surprisingly difficult to tie such behaviors to ensuing crashes.

Differences Between Comparative Negligence and Contributory Negligence

In court, negligence is often divided into two categories: comparative and contributory. These terms address the degree of fault in a car accident or other personal injury case.

Contributory negligence refers to conduct that prompts unreasonable risks, both for the negligent individual and others. If that person’s behavior is deemed negligent, he or she could be held responsible for the ensuing injury – regardless of the other party’s involvement.

Under the increasingly popular doctrine of comparative negligence, breaches of duty from multiple parties are weighed when determining fault and related damages. This approach attempts to compensate for the often harsh reality of contributory negligence, in which any form of negligence whatsoever can bar plaintiffs from securing compensation. For example, with contributory negligence, someone driving ten miles per hour above the speed limit may struggle to obtain damages, even if the other driver was drunk at the time of the accident.

McCoy & McCoy: Car Accident Lawyers in Hartford and New Haven, Serving All of CT

Given the legal complications highlighted above, there really is no substitute for proactive representation in the aftermath of a negligence-related car crash. Without proper legal support, plaintiffs may struggle to prove that the other driver’s behavior caused their current suffering. Strong advocacy, however, can pave the path to significant compensation.

If you believe that negligence played a role in your recent car accident, it’s important to seek support from an experienced personal injury lawyer. Luckily, the expert team at McCoy & McCoy is here to help. Not only do we provide free consultations, but you can also enjoy the assurance of knowing that no fees will be charged unless we win. Feel free to call us at (203) 404-3186 or contact us online to get started. You’ll never regret having a top car accident lawyer in CT on your side.

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3 Responses
  1. Thanks for mentioning that civil lawsuits offer the chance for justice when drunk drivers are able to evade criminal penalties, maybe because their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was just a little bit below the legal limit when the accident occurred. My companion was hurt in an accident caused by the other driver’s inebriation. I’ll advise her to hire a drunk driving accident attorney to assist her in obtaining legal representation.

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