Left Turn Accident: Is the Car Making a Left Turn Always at Fault?
Dec 20 2018

Left Turn Accident: Is the Car Making a Left Turn Always at Fault?

About 40% of all car accidents are intersection accidents, and a large number of those are left turn accidents. Most drivers who turn left into oncoming traffic and get into an accident almost always get at least some of the blame, but they’re not always at fault.

If you believe you’re not really at fault for your left turn car accident — or not entirely — you may be right. We can help you clarify that issue. Let’s take a look at the relevant laws and regulations concerning left turns in the state of California.

What Are California’s Right-of-Way Rules?

State law makes it very clear that anyone making a left turn must yield the right-of-way to any oncoming cars deemed to be close enough to be hazardous. According to California Vehicle Code 21801, this applies to everything from intersections and highways to turning into parking lots or private property, to leaving the same — until “the left turn… can be made with reasonable safety.”

What comprises “reasonable safety” is left to your discretion, which leaves you wide open to liability in most situations. The authorities and insurers may assume you didn’t practice reasonable safety if your turn resulted in an accident. But you do have legal recourse if you can convince them the accident was at least partially caused by the other driver or other factors.

When You Are Not at Fault in a Left Turn Car Accident

Assuming you can prove it, you can be cleared of causing a left turn car accident under specific circumstances. For example, you’re not necessarily at fault if:

  • You were turning on a green turn arrow, and the other driver didn’t yield the right-of-way.
  • The traffic signal was malfunctioning in such a way that the other driver was unaware you had the right-of-way. 
  • The other driver:
    • ran a red light or stop sign.
    • was driving while intoxicated. 
    • wasn’t there when you started your turn, because they were speeding. 
    • was texting or otherwise distracted. 
    • was driving without a valid license.
  • Something you didn’t expect, like an animal crossing the road, bad road conditions, or the person turning ahead of you braking suddenly caused you to slow your vehicle as you made the turn.

While the last point may be arguable, don’t discount such contributions to the accident.

Assigning Fault to the Other Driver — or Other Causes

If someone or something else was to blame for your car accident, the burden of proof is on you. You may be able to prove fault by hiring legal experts, including experienced car accident attorneys. When you do, the accident’s police report may be your most valuable piece of evidence, as the officer would have recorded their opinions of fault, as well as the condition or actions of the other driver.

Your legal team can also:

  • Interview the officer(s) who authored the report, as well as other authorities at the scene (e.g., paramedics or firemen). 
  • Interview eyewitnesses from the scene of the accident.
  • Collect photographic evidence showing the geography of the road and intersection, natural hazards, damage to both vehicles, skid marks, etc.
  • Review photo and video evidence if there was a traffic camera at the intersection.
  • Have a professional reconstruct the accident, creating a credible fault scenario.
  • Ask for the other driver’s cell phone records to check whether they were distracted.

What Is Comparative Liability?

In California, drivers can share fault for an accident. This is called comparative liability. Suppose the other driver was found to be 100% at fault, and you received $100,000 in compensatory damages. But if a judge found you 40% at fault, with the other driver 60% at fault, they would reduce the reward by 40% to $60,000, or 60% of $100,000. The other driver can also ask for damages since the judge deemed you 40% at fault, but the reward would be reduced by 60%. So even if you’re found partially at fault, you can still seek damages!

Have You Suffered a Left Turn Accident? Contact Us

At Russell & Lazarus APC, we’re recognized experts in all aspects of California car accident law, including the laws covering left turn car accidents. If you live in the Orange County area and need help dealing with your left turn car accident, call us today.

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