Drivers, passengers and pedestrians who are injured in auto accidents in Delaware often want to know whether they can receive financial compensation for their injuries. The answer depends on the facts and circumstances of the case.
Under general tort or injury principles in Delaware which apply to auto accident injury lawsuits, the plaintiff in a legal action must prove the following:
- the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty,
- the defendant breached that duty (i.e., liability/fault),
- the defendant’s actions caused damages, and
- the nature and extent of the damages.
In Delaware, auto accident cases often hinge on the second and fourth elements: liability/fault and damages.
Related: Should You File a Car Accident Lawsuit in Delaware – What is the Value of Your Case?
Liability – Proving that the At-Fault Driver was Negligent
There are many types of auto accident scenarios where fault may be a valid issue, such as intersection accidents, side-swipe accidents, and highway accidents. Of course, not all auto accident scenarios are complex from a liability standpoint. There are some scenarios where fault will not be an issue. For instance, rear-end accidents are usually clear in terms of determining who caused the accident.
The reality is that more often than not, fault will be an issue. Auto accident cases aren’t always slam dunk cases. In fact, quite the opposite. There must be sufficient, credible evidence of fault, i.e., pictures, video, testimony, etc. Many people believe that a police report can demonstrate fault. However, a police report which suggests that the other party caused the accident is not admissible as evidence. Rather, police reports simply provide a starting point for investigation.
Liability – The Role of Comparative Negligence
Delaware courts will apply the comparative negligence principle which basically compares negligence of all parties, including the plaintiff. Under Delaware law, if you’re the plaintiff in an auto accident case and you are partially at fault for having caused the accident, you will be assigned a portion of fault or liability. Your damages will be reduced according to your percentage of liability, but up to a certain point. If you are 51% liable or more, your claim is barred outright.
There are many situations in which the plaintiff in an auto injury case will be assigned a percentage of fault. For instance, in an intersection auto accident case, there is evidence that the plaintiff was speeding to catch a yellow traffic light. The other driver who tried to make a left turn across the plaintiff’s lane of travel failed to see the plaintiff and thus caused the accident. That driver would raise a defense – that the plaintiff contributed to the accident by speeding. Here, the plaintiff could be assigned a percentage of fault, i.e., 20% or 30%. If the fact finder (judge or jury) determines that the plaintiff was at least 51% at fault, the plaintiff loses the case.
Another issue which often arises in Delaware auto accident cases is the issue of damages. In tort or injury lawsuits, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof. This means the plaintiff must prove the damages to a sufficient degree. If there is a lost wage claim, documents must be produced to prove the exact amount of the lost wages.
Common damages claims in Delaware auto injury cases include:
- medical bills (in excess of PIP),
- lost wages (in excess of PIP),
- out of pocket expenses (i.e., home health care, day care, etc.), and
- pain and suffering.
Damages claims vary with every case because the facts and circumstances of every case will differ. In some cases, there may be a significant claim for medical bills, but no claim for lost wages. In other cases, there may be a significant claim for pain and suffering due to serious disfigurement. Read more about damages claims in auto accident injury cases in Delaware.
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