We have all experienced it. Sitting in your car, waiting patiently in the left-turn lane for a seemingly never-ending line of traffic to pass or the for the light to change so you can make your turn. Maybe you have waited through many different light changes before finally being able to get to the front of the lane. Then, you have your opening, and you make the move.
We have also all been on the other side of the equation, the driver, traveling straight, who sees that the light has changed. Without even thinking to hit the brakes, you continue on, maybe even pressing the gas to ensure that you make the light. Sadly, this is the type of scenario that causes one of the most common traffic accidents that often end in serious injury. So, who is at fault if a crash takes place? Is it the driver who is making the left-hand turn or the driver that is traveling through the intersection? The answer depends on the circumstances and facts of each case.
Personal Injury Law & Car Crashes
The driver of the car that is making the left-hand turn is going to have a greater burden of proof. The driver that is traveling straight will be considered to be in the “dominant” position with the driver taking the turn being in the “servient” position. The law mandates that the vehicle making the left-hand turn “yield the right of way to traffic approaching from the opposite direction that is in the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.” However, once the driver of the vehicle making the turn has yielded, “the driver may turn the vehicle left, and traffic approaching the intersection from the opposite direction must yield the right of way to the vehicle making the left turn.” Simply put, in the case that there is ample room for the driver making the left-hand turn to safely proceed and the other driver continues, the driver heading straight has a duty of care to yield to the driver making the left-hand turn.
In cases where the light has changed to yellow, the court is also required to reference regulations regarding yellow lights. Contrary to the understanding of most motorists, a yellow light does not necessarily mean that the driver must slow down, and it definitely does not mean that you should try your best to run through it before it turns red. In actuality, a yellow light means to stop, unless the stop cannot be completed safely. So, when the light has turned yellow, the court is required to determine if the light changed before the driver traveling straight entered the intersection and if after this change that driver was able to stop his or her vehicle safely.
The Driver’s Duty of Care
There are some other laws that are often referenced in cases involving left-hand turns, including the obligation of each driver to be aware of hazards, to operate a vehicle with reasonable care and attention, not to exceed the posted speed limit, driving as required for roadway or weather conditions, and not entering an intersection at a red light. In certain cases, the court could find one party 100 percent liable, and in other cases, both parties could be found to be responsible. The court would then assign a percentage of liability to each involved driver under comparative negligence.
In a case where the traffic signal had changed to yellow and the driver traveling straight was at least 140 feet from the intersection when the light changed, the motorist turning left saw the oncoming car but reasonably thought the vehicle had adequate time to come to a stop. The court would find the driver continuing straight to be 100 percent liability for the collision. In another case, where the driver turning left was found liable for not yielding the right of way to the driver heading straight, the court also found the other driver to be responsible due to traveling at an excessive speed. In this case, the court could assign 65 percent fault to the driver making the turn and 35 percent to the driver traveling straight.
At Trial, Who’s at Fault?
In another case, the court found the driver making the left-turn to be 80 percent liable and the driver traveling straight, but somewhat above the speed limit at a yellow light, to be 20 percent liable. In another situation, where evidence showed that the traffic light had changed to red before the driver traveling straight came into the intersection, this driver was found to be 100 percent liable. In yet another case, where a crash happened at the same time the traffic light turned red, the court assigned equal liability to both drivers.
Left-Hand Turn Accidents in Salt Lake City
Studies have shown that left-hand turns are a critical pre-collision event in the United States. In fact, left-hand turns are involved in around 22.2 percent of all traffic accidents each year. Intersections are hazardous locations that are prone to collisions, and left-hand turns are involved in nearly 61 percent of accidents that take place at an intersection. These statistics show that left-hand turns can be dangerous if not properly executed, and it is important that everyone practices safe driving practices while behind the wheel.
Victims of these accidents are likely to be seriously injured, as the vehicle they are in enters the path of an oncoming vehicle, resulting in a head-on crash. Spinal cord injuries, head trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common side effects of these accidents. Victims will likely require expensive medical treatments as a result of their injuries.
The experienced team of Salt Lake City car crash attorneys at Siegfried & Jensen understands the law, and we have helped countless victims win settlements worthy of their damages after an accident. Our firm has a proven track record with a 97 percent success rate on a total of 35,000 cases. We have recovered over $850 million for our clients. Call us today at 801-845-9000 if you or a loved one has been injured by a negligent driver.