Does a Traffic Ticket Prove Who Was at Fault in a Maryland Car Accident?
The very short answer is No. The long answer is as follows:
Many motor vehicle crashes occur because one driver carelessly or intentionally violated the law. Data collected by the Insurance Information Institute (III), indicates an estimated 63% of all accidents were directly linked to a traffic violation.
Some of the most common traffic violations that lead to accidents include:
● Failure to yield to other vehicles or pedestrians;
● Following too closely, i.e., tailgating;
● Exceeding the speed limit or traveling too fast for road conditions;
● Texting, talking on the phone, or other cell phone use;
● Other forms of distracted driving;
● Running red lights or stop signs;
● Ignoring other traffic signals or lane markings;
● Driving under the influence (DUI); and,
Motorists may break the law by doing something as seemingly insignificant as parking in front of a loading zone – or more dangerous acts like drag racing or drunk driving. In addition to potentially causing accidents, the driver who does not comply with the rules of the road could also face hefty fines and accumulate points on their driving record.
What are your legal rights when a traffic violation leads to an injury-causing accident?
The General Rules
As explained above, most car accidents occur because of driver error, including carelessness or recklessness. In general, to recover monetary damages, you need to prove the four essential elements of negligence.
● You need to prove that the other motorist had a duty to exercise reasonable care when driving, a duty that applies to all road users;
● You must show that the responsible drive breached this duty;
● You need to establish causation, in the sense that the accident would not have occurred but for the breach of duty; and,
● You must prove that you suffered damages as a result of the accident.
1. THE EFFECT OF A TRAFFIC TICKET ON LIABILITY – CITATION IS NOT USUALLY ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE
A citation for breaking a traffic law is evidence and constitutes a factor related to the breach of the duty to exercise reasonable care while driving a motor vehicle. While the ticket does not automatically entitle you to compensation, or constitute proof of negligence per se, it can serve as some of the evidence you need to prove negligence. Interestingly, the mere fact a citation was issued, is generally not admissible evidence in a subsequent civil trial. Additionally, a finding of guilt if often inadmissible without some other evidence that has a high indicia of reliability, such as a guilty plea or an admission of guilt for the citation.
2. PROOF THAT NO TICKET WAS ISSUED MAY ALSO BE IRRELEVANT
It is actually very common for a driver to NOT receive a ticket, even when he or she did violate a traffic law. When police do not actually observe someone breaking the law, they may decide not issue a citation. Fortunately, the concept of negligence works the other way as well: You can establish a breach of duty even when officers do not write a ticket for the violation. Often, you will need to do so through other evidence, such as:
The location of physical damage on the vehicles;
● Surveillance footage;
● Statements of witnesses who observed the accident;
● Skid marks or other indications of how the crash occurred; and,
● Your own statements and observations of occupants in your car.
3. Implications of Maryland’s Contributory Fault Rule
In any car accident case, you should be aware of a unique law that could affect your rights. Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC comprise a handful of the few US states that still apply the rule of contributory negligence, in which the injury claimant’s own conduct can be raised as a complete and total defense. In short, if you can be shown to have been at fault in any way for the incident giving rise to your own injury, you can be barred from recovering any compensation for your losses in the above states. This is true regardless of whether the other driver received a ticket for a traffic violation – or even many tickets for multiple violations. To illustrate the harsh nature of this rule:
● Another driver runs a stop sign and enters an intersection illegally, leading to a collision with your vehicle.
● You were traveling in excess of the speed limit when you approached an intersection but had no stop sign and arguably had the right of way.
● Police saw the motorist ignore the red light and issued a ticket at the scene of the crash to the other driver.
● Notwithstanding the above, because you were speeding, you cannot recover any monetary damages under the contributory negligence rule
LET US HELP YOU
If you are hurt in an accident based upon someone else’s violation of traffic laws, you do have rights that are separate from any ticket issued to the responsible driver. However, as discussed, a citation does not automatically mean a victory in your claim for auto crash damages. You still need to prove the elements of negligence AND avoid getting “hit” by Maryland’s harsh rule on contributory negligence.