When it comes to the law, the precise definition of legal language is critical to how the law is applied. Cases have been won and lost on minor differences in meaning surrounding otherwise synonymous or innocuous words to the public.
One of the most important distinctions in a personal injury case is the difference between a car “accident” and a car “crash.” They may seem interchangeable—and they generally are in everyday conversation—but there’s an important distinction between the 2, and that difference could make or break a personal injury case.
It’s No Accident
The most significant difference between an accident and a crash is that there is no fault in an accident, while a crash implies one or more parties are at fault—even if there was no intent to cause the crash.
Merriam-Webster provides the legal definition (2a) of “accident” as such (emphasis ours):
An unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured but for which legal relief may be sought.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “accident” similarly:
An unforeseeable and unexpected turn of events that causes loss in value, injury, and increased liabilities. The event is not deliberately caused and is not inevitable.
In both legal definitions, accidents “just happen”; they aren’t caused by any human action.
On the other hand, while there’s no strict legal definition for “crash,” it can safely be described as a crash of at least 2 objects, like between 2 cars, or a car and a bicyclist, or a bicyclist and a pedestrian. In a crash, someone caused the crash.
Why Is the Difference Between a Crash and an Accident Important?
The matter of fault is critical to a personal injury case. Like we said, accidents aren’t anyone’s fault, but crashes are.
If you’re hurt in a car crash and no one’s at fault, your damages for any personal injuries or property damage could be greatly reduced or disappear entirely, depending on the case.
In truth, most car crashes are in fact crashes due to one at least one party’s fault. Accidents that “just happen” are quite rare, but that doesn’t stop insurance companies for trying to frame every crash as an accident.
Insurance companies love accidents
If you’re dealing with an insurance company—and first off, you should only be doing so with an attorney—the adjusters and claims reps will make a point to use the word “accident” instead of “crash.” They do this to avoid any admission of guilt by their insured party.
Even worse, they’ll also try to get you to call the crash an accident, and they’ll use that word against you in every way possible, trying to downplay the crash and shun responsibility. If the insurance company can successfully rule the crash an accident, then they won’t have to pay as much out, if anything at all.
Types of Car Crashes (not Accidents)
While every crash is different with its own factors and variables, they typically fall into one of a few categories, and most of them have pretty clear-cut fault.
- Rear-end crashes: In pretty much any conceivable case, the driver who runs into the back of another car is at fault. In cases of mechanical failure, the driver may still be at fault if they failed to properly maintain their vehicle, or the manufacturer could also share blame.
- Head-on crashes: These crashes are particularly devastating, and they’re often caused by someone driving in the wrong lane or swerving into oncoming traffic—and in many cases, while impaired, sadly. Again, in almost all cases, the fault lies with the driver in the wrong lane.
- Failure to maintain lane crashes: Failing to maintain lane is when a driver merges or swerves into another lane and hits a vehicle already traveling in that lane. Here again, the driver who veered out of their lane is at fault.
- Left-turn crashes: Left turns always yield right-of-way to oncoming traffic, unless otherwise indicated by a traffic signal or stop sign. If a driver turns left and strikes an oncoming car, the driver who made the turn is at fault.
- Cross-traffic and T-bone crashes: A crash involving a hit from the side in a cross-traffic or T-bone crash is often because a driver fails to yield right of way—usually by running a red light or stop sign. No matter who hit whom, the driver who failed to yield is at fault. For example, if you hit a vehicle in an intersection, but they ran a red light and you had a green light, that’s not your fault.
- Parking lot crashes: Low-speed crashes in parking lots or parking garages are fairly common. Running into a parked car, backing out of a parking spot, cutting through empty parking lanes, running stop signs or ignoring right-of-way can all lead to a crash, or worse—a hitting a pedestrian. Even low-speed crashes can have costly and deadly repercussions.
Contributing Factors to the Crash & Determining Fault
All these different types of crashes can have different contributing factors that led to the crash—and will ultimately determine fault in the crash.
- Drunk or Impaired Driving: In 2020, there were nearly 3,000 alcohol- or drug-related crashes across Oklahoma. If a driver is determined to be drunk or otherwise similarly impaired during the crash, they’re likely at least partially at fault.
- Driving while tired: Driving while tired is essentially driving while impaired. Overly tired drivers are less aware, have slower reaction times, and can outright fall asleep behind the wheel—if even for a moment. These are recipes for disaster and are cause for fault.
- Distracted driving: Distracted driver has become a large problem since mobile technology entered our lives and our vehicles. Whether it’s texting or scrolling through a playlist on your phone, fiddling with the entertainment system and dashboard, or even a group of friends, it’s easy for a driver to get distracted. In 2020, Oklahoma had over 7,200 distracted-driving crashes.
- Failure to yield: Failure to yield is when a car goes through an intersection or crosses traffic when they do not have right of way. Failure to yield can occur a few ways:
- Running a red light or stop sign
- Going out of turn at a 4-way-stop intersection
- Turning left across oncoming traffic without right of way
- Merging lanes on highway on- or off-ramps
- Hitting a bicyclist in the road (and bicycles must follow all traffic laws just as cars do)
- Hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk or parking lot
- Mechanical failure: Car mechanical failures like blown tires, broken axles, or busted brakes can lead to serious crashes. If the driver did not properly maintain their vehicle, they could be at fault for the mechanical failure. It’s also possible that the vehicle or part manufacturer could share responsibility, depending on the case.
Lloyd & Lloyd Are the Car Crash Experts and We’re Here to Help
It’s no accident that Lloyd & Lloyd are one of the area’s most-trusted personal injury firm. We’ve helped countless victims of car crashes get the justice they deserve, and we’re here to help you and your family too.
It all starts with a free, no-obligation consultation to assess your case. Contact us on our website here or call us at 918-246-0200.