Accidents involving motor vehicles are the main source of personal injury cases in the United States. According to statistics, 43,000 people are killed and 2.9 million are injured in the United States yearly in car accidents. Accidents can arise from a variety of sources, including a driver's use of alcohol and other substances, vehicle defects, defective traffic lights and signals, highway and road defects and failure to follow speed limits and other "rules of the road."
"Negligence" is a category of tort law that generally covers vehicular accidents. A person driving a motor vehicle is charged with the duty of operating that vehicle in the same manner as a "reasonably prudent person." Failure to do may result in that person being charged criminally or sued civilly for damages.
A person may be criminally charged with various misdemeanors and felonies for accidents that result in the death of a person, such as voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. If a person causes an accident while under the influence of alcohol or other substances, a person may also face criminal charges for impaired driving, such as DUI. An impaired driving conviction can result in the loss of driving privileges, increased insurance premiums, fines and imprisonment, and court-ordered substance abuse treatment.
An injured person may seek damages, or compensation, for present and future losses, including those losses incurred through reasonable medical and hospital expenses, loss of earnings capacity, harm to marital relationships, physical and emotional pain and suffering, and damage to property.
"Wrongful death" is another area of negligence law that is implicated in vehicular accidents. If a person is negligently killed, the spouse, children, siblings, and others may bring a suit to recover for both economic and noneconomic losses such as love, care, comfort, supervision, financial support, guidance, household support, and society.
As in other cases, a statute of limitations (the time period in which to bring suit) applies to vehicular accidents. Statutes of limitations vary by state.
Sometimes it is a vehicle defect that causes an accident. The area of law known as products liability applies in that instance. An automobile manufacturer may be held liable for injuries caused by that vehicle when there is a defect in the way the car is designed, manufactured, or tested for safety.
Local governments and municipalities can be held liable for accidents that occur as a result of defects in roadways, traffic signals and signs, construction, improperly placed utility poles, and the like. Special care must be taken when suing a governmental entity, special legal limitations apply, such as as shorter statutes of limitation and caps on the amount of money one may recover from the governmental unit.