What is Duty of Care in a Car Accident Case?

The legal concept of duty of care in a car accident is directly connected to liability. Every driver has a duty of care to not cause harm to others on the roadway. Regrettably, not every driver upholds this duty, which leads to about 6 million car accidents every year nationwide. If you suffered serious personal injuries in a Virginia car accident because another driver breached the duty of care they owed you, you have the right to hold them accountable. The experienced Hampton car accident lawyers at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp understand the challenges faced by car accident victims and have the resources and skills necessary to protect your rights and ensure you receive the financial compensation you deserve for your damages. Call us to schedule a free case evaluation. 

What Does Duty of Care Mean?

A duty of care under personal injury negligence law is the singular measure of caution and prudence required of a person. The provisions of the duty are determined by the circumstances of a given situation. Whether or not the duty has been violated is decided by the trier of fact, which is usually a jury and typically expressed with reference to “the reasonable person” standard defined long ago in England, in the case of Vaughn v. Menlove as a person who “proceed[s] with such reasonable caution as a prudent man would have exercised under such circumstances.”

As such, Virginia drivers have a duty to:

Act in a Reasonable Manner

This is the most fundamental standard of care that drivers owe to one another as society seeks to avoid injuries and needless deaths. They are required to consider all reasonable precautions and behave in a manner that will not cause injury to another person. In other words, they must consider how a prudent and conscientious driver would act in a similar situation and operate their vehicle accordingly. This is the essence of negligence law.

For instance, following all driving laws is considered reasonable. Examples of a driver acting reasonably include:

  • Avoiding distractions 
  • Maintaining a safe following distance
  • Checking blind spots before making a lane change
  • Proper use of turn signals

Even in an emergency situation, Virginia drivers must respond in a way that is least likely to cause injury to another party. For example, if unexpected debris in the road forces a driver to swerve, they should do so to the side of the roadway rather than into oncoming traffic to avoid serious injury to a driver of an oncoming car.   

Refrain From Reckless Behavior

Virginia defines reckless driving as “driv[ing] a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.”  Simply put, any driver who is aware that their actions pose a considerable and unwarranted risk of injury or death to others, but intentionally disregards those risks, is committing reckless driving.

Some forms of reckless driving commonly seen in Virginia are:

  • Drugged or drunk driving
  • Unsafe or unlawful lane changes
  • Excessive speeding

Refrain From Intentional Injury

In Virginia, drivers also have a duty to avoid deliberately causing harm to others. Examples include an aggressive driver slamming into other vehicles and brake-checking other drivers.  

As a rule, insurance carriers do not cover intentional acts. Consequently, they might try to attribute a reckless indifference for your safety, such as driving under the influence, to an intentional action that is not covered by a liability policy. If the insurance company tries to deny your claim by arguing that the at-fault driver committed an intentional act, you should strongly consider speaking to an experienced Hampton Virginia car accident lawyer who can make sure you understand your rights and do not fall prey to any such tactics employed by the insurer.  

Is Everyone Owed the Same Duty of Care?

Although all drivers owe a duty to all other drivers to avoid causing injury by exercising reasonable care, a higher duty is owed to certain road users, such as motorcyclists, pedestrians, and cyclists. This is due to the fact that they have little to no physical protection should they be involved in an accident. Generally speaking, drivers should yield to pedestrians. When sharing the roadway with a bicyclist, drivers should, when possible, move over a lane to give the rider more space. With motorcyclists, drivers have a duty to check at least twice before merging or changing lanes. The standard of care might also vary if a mentally disabled person or a child is involved. No matter the circumstances, determining the applicable duty of care must take place before a violation of that duty can be proven.  

All We Do Is Injury Law

Establishing a duty of care is just one element of a successful car accident case. In order to amount to actionable negligence, a legal duty, violation thereof, and injury caused by the violation must all be proven. If you were injured in a car accident and are considering pursuing a personal injury or wrongful death claim in Virginia, it is crucial to work with a law firm that has a well-established track record of successful Virginia case results, such as the $3.5 million jury award we secured for our client who suffered tremendous personal injuries all over her body after she was struck head-on by a drunk driver. A skilled Hampton car accident lawyer from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp can help you prove negligence, calculate the value of your claim, and negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf. To schedule a free case review, call (833) 997-1774 or fill out our easy online contact form. We have offices in Hampton, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake.