Who Is at Fault in a T-Bone Collision?

January 5, 2023
Who Is at Fault in a T-Bone Collision?

Who Is At Fault After a Florida T-Bone Car Accident?

After a T-bone car accident, the shock may make it hard to determine who the at-fault party or parties are. A T-bone car accident derives its name from the “T” shape that is formed at the point of impact when the front of one vehicle collides with the side of another vehicle. They can occur in a variety of situations, such as at an intersection or even from a mechanical error in the vehicle itself. The scene of the crash will have important evidence that can help determine who is to be held responsible.

Aside from intersections, T-bone accidents can occur on a highway when one driver loses control of their vehicle and swerves to the side, or in parking lots when one driver reverses out of a parking spot and is struck from the side by another approaching vehicle. One driver may fail to yield to another after disregarding a stop sign or running a red light. Exercising bad judgment on a green light when making a left turn is also a common cause of a T-bone wreck.

These collisions are relatively common. They are among the most dangerous types of crashes because the impact can occur very near the occupants, whether that is the driver's door, passenger door, or backseat.

A wide variety of factors contribute to the occurrence of side-impact collisions and T-bone collisions, and each of those factors can point to different parties being at fault. To learn more about your legal rights after a T-bone accident in Florida, speak with an experienced car accident lawyer. Contact the personal injury law firm of Dolman Law Group for a free consultation today.

What Is a T-Bone Car Accident?

In the tv and movies, there is a common type of side-impact car accident scene where the camera is in the vantage point of a passenger in the front seat of a car, pointed at the driver. All of a sudden, another vehicle comes hurtling toward the driver's side of the car (and toward the camera) and collides with the side of the car in a shattering impact. As commonplace as this sort of scene has become on-screen, it never ceases to shock and terrify.

Most people are fortunate enough to only imagine what such a side-impact collision would feel like if experienced in real life. However, those who have lived through it know the on-screen version pales in comparison to the actual violence and agony experienced during the course of a real T-bone (a.k.a. “side-impact” or “angular”) collision. These are among the deadliest and most devastating of all traffic accidents. 

Per the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), side-impact collisions accounted for 23 percent of vehicle occupant deaths in 2019, including drivers and passengers. Crashes at intersections, where the vast majority of all T-boned collisions occur, claim the lives of hundreds of Floridians and injure tens of thousands more every year.

T-bone car accidents get their name because, from an overhead perspective, the two vehicles colliding would form the letter “T.” In other words, the front of one vehicle crashes into the side of the other vehicle. happen most often at places where lanes of traffic intersect (i.e., a traffic light) at a right angle, such as four-way intersections or the ends of arterial roads where they connect to thoroughfares. They often involve making a left turn, running a red light, and are also common in parking lots.

Understanding Side-Impact Collision Car Accidents

In typical T-bone car accidents, the driver and passengers in the car struck on its side suffer the greatest amount of harm and injuries. The driver of the other vehicle benefits from the safety features common to all cars that protect against injuries in a front-end accident (i.e., seat belts, airbags, and crumple zones). This is not necessarily the case for the occupants of the car struck on its side, whose belts and airbags do less good in protecting them from a jarring impact against a side panel measuring just inches wide.

Victims of T-bone accidents often hope to receive compensation for their injuries and losses. There is nothing unusual about this. Our civil legal system exists in large part to make injured parties “whole” through monetary damages after experiencing harm at someone else's hands. This compensation can be in the form of a T-bone car accident settlement or may involve litigation, depending upon the particular case at hand.

As any owner of a car or truck registered in Florida likely knows, the Sunshine State follows the “no-fault” insurance law. Pursuant to the terms of Florida Statutes § 627.736, all registered motor vehicle owners must carry no-fault auto insurance that, among other types of coverage, includes mandatory personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.

How Do No-Fault Laws Impact a T-Bone Accident Case?

Prior to seeking compensation from any third parties for injuries or for property damage in a Florida car accident, the victim must first turn to their own no-fault insurance company or the no-fault insurance of the owner of the car in which they were a passenger. No-fault insurance is the “primary” insurance utilized for the purpose of paying the cost of medical care and medical bills necessitated by the accident, as well as for a portion of the injured person's lost wages (if applicable).

Under Florida law, a person injured in a car accident can only seek compensation from the other driver (assuming that another driver was “at fault”) if the cost of their injuries exceeds their own PIP coverage, if their injuries were “serious” (i.e., life-threatening, disfiguring, leading to long-term disability), or fatal, such as wrongful death.

This is not uncommon in side-impact crashes, when injuries may be significant. The no-fault law has no effect on a T-bone car crash victim's right to seek compensation from other, non-driver parties who may have caused the accident. This does occur, although the carelessness of other drivers is the most common cause of side-impact collisions.

T-Bone Accident Liability Theories

Let's take a look at who may be held legally responsible for a T-bone car wreck that occurs at a standard four-way-stop intersection. It may surprise you how many potentially at-fault parties there are.

1. The Other Driver

Let's start with the obvious premise that in a T-bone collision, the driver of at least one of the vehicles is going to be deemed at fault for the accident. Traffic should not cross an intersection at right angles at the same time, which means one of the two drivers should not have entered the intersection. 

What might cause a driver to enter an intersection in a wrongful manner? Here are some common factors, many of which often occur in combination with one another:

  • Speeding: Drivers who approach an intersection at a high speed, risk not being able to stop in time to avoid entering the intersection and causing a T-bone collision. Speeding poses particular dangers when a driver accelerates in order to attempt to beat a stoplight or in order to sneak through an intersection just ahead of crossing traffic, rather than attempting to slow down.
  • Inattention or distraction: One of the most common reasons for T-bone accidents is when a vehicle is in an intersection when it is not their turn. This happens when car and truck drivers fail to observe stop signs, traffic signals, or red lights.
  • Impairment: Driving while impaired by the effects of alcohol or drugs—or even just experiencing fatigue—can also lead to T-bone collisions at intersections. Impaired drivers make risky, dangerous decisions that can easily end with their vehicle colliding with oncoming traffic. Drivers should never get behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol, illicit drugs, certain over-the-counter or prescription medications, or while drowsy.

Of course, these are just a few of the factors that can contribute to a driver making a poor decision at an intersection that results in a T-bone car accident. Yet, they illustrate just how varied the explanations might be for why someone mistakenly drove into an intersection and caused a collision.

2. Others Legally Responsible for the Other Driver's Conduct

Sometimes, the poor decision a driver makes at an intersection that leads to a T-bone car accident is the result of a factor beyond that driver's control. For example, we all know it is illegal to drive while impaired, but what about a situation where the other driver had been prescribed a new medication but wasn't warned about the dangers of driving while they adjusted to the medicine? 

What if the other driver was behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle, despite their employer being aware that they had an unsafe driving record? Suppose the other driver was a 15-year-old joyriding in their parents' car while they were away on vacation without express permission.

An experienced car accident attorney knows to look beyond the actions of the other driver. Doing so allows them to determine whether there is yet another party who shares fault for a T-bone car accident by virtue of not having taken the necessary steps that may have prevented it.

For example, in almost all circumstances, the driver's employer will be vicariously liable for any injuries suffered in a collision by a commercial driver, such as a trucker. This is because of the legal doctrine respondeat superior. It holds the employer responsible for the actions of their workers when they are on the clock and handling job-related tasks.

3. Road Engineers and Designers

We all share an intuitive sense that some intersections are more dangerous than others. This isn't just based upon a gut feeling—researchers analyzing traffic and accident data can clearly identify intersections where accidents occur more frequently than they should. The more difficult task, however, lies in figuring out specifically what makes an intersection dangerous, and who could have (and perhaps should have) acted to prevent those risks and hazards.

Below are some of the features of intersections that road engineers and designers exercise control over. These can contribute to making an intersection unreasonably susceptible to T-bone car accidents:

  • Inappropriate signage/signaling: The more traffic that is expected to flow through an intersection, the more robust the signals should be. Sometimes, engineers simply make the wrong decision, such that drivers approaching the intersection do not appreciate and appropriately respond to such danger from crossing traffic and end up going through a red light or making a wrong left turn.
  • Poor sightlines: Drivers approaching an intersection should be able to see and properly assess oncoming traffic. Sometimes, however, engineers make poor judgments regarding where to locate an intersection, resulting in a “point of conflict” between crossing traffic that increases the danger that a car or truck will mistakenly enter the intersection, thereby causing a T-bone collision.
  • Confusing layout: Drivers should be able to quickly figure out—without spending a significant amount of time and brainpower—where they are permitted to drive through and/or turn at an intersection. Needless to say, confusing traffic patterns can result in drivers making mistakes and entering intersections when they shouldn't.

Drivers should never automatically assume that an intersection is well-designed by nature. Every intersection represents a dangerous conflict point that requires a driver's full and undivided attention in order to navigate safely. Driving through intersections defensively could prevent collisions. For instance, taking actions such as waiting to ensure traffic coming in other direction stops before continuing could save your life or the life of your family.

4. Automotive Parts Manufacturers

What if, as you approached an intersection, you tapped on the brakes, and nothing happened? What if you began driving through an intersection only to have your car suddenly come to a dead stop? If a T-bone collision follows on the heels of a mechanical failure, then the manufacturer of the vehicle or its component auto parts may have legal liability for making and selling a defective part.

Unlike other types of personal injury-related legal claims, proving a defective part caused an accident typically results in “strict” liability for the manufacturer. This means that simply proving that they sold a defective vehicle or component is sufficient to prove that they were at fault. 

Of course, figuring out precisely how and why a part failed and showing that the failure caused the accident also presents a number of complications. An experienced T-bone car accident attorney can help you determine whether a defective part was the cause of your collision.

You may also have a viable claim against a parts manufacturer or motor vehicle company if another driver's vehicle failed because of a defective part. In this case, everyone involved in the collision could pursue a claim against the manufacturer whose dangerous equipment caused the T-bone crash.

Types of T-Bone Car Accident Injuries

While each case is unique, injuries common in T-bone accidents include:  

Many of these injuries prove to be fatal, resulting in wrongful death. Occupants of the side-struck vehicle who survive a T-bone collision often face lasting physical and emotional trauma, not to mention the substantial financial burdens that an unexpected, catastrophic injury can impose upon a victim and their family.

For those who survive but are injured, they could miss days, weeks, or even months at work and have thousands of dollars in medical and rehabilitation expenses. This may be true even if they fully recover. In addition, they may have a significantly damaged or totaled vehicle, as well as additional expenses. 

Types of T-Bone Car Accident Damages

With these T-bone car accident injuries come a host of damages that can turn someone's life upside down. The most obvious of these injuries are medical bills that often end up being the most expensive. Even people with good health insurance and money saved for emergencies can have a difficult time contending with the wave of bills that can easily drown someone in debt. 

T-bone accidents that cause catastrophic injuries can result in long periods of time in treatment and recovery, which means a lot of lost wages that are desperately needed to cover other damages. In addition to wages, they may also miss out on benefits and other income, such as commissions. 

It isn't unusual for people to lose their jobs outright because of the effects of a severe car accident injury that can cause them to abandon their entire careers. T-bone accident injuries can also cause non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or mental anguish, due to the trauma such a violent event can inflict.

What Dolman Law Group Can Do for You

Matthew Dolman, Florida Personal Injury Attorney
Matthew Dolman, T-bone Accident Attorney

T-bone car accident victims are not expected to identify at-fault parties on their own. The complex process of investigating, locating, and pursuing legal claims against parties that causes a side-impact collision or T-bone collision is a job for an experienced Florida car accident attorney. The car accident attorney aims to:

  • Identify every party with potential legal liability for a T-bone car accident;
  • Investigate which of those parties has the resources (either through insurance or assets) to pay damages;
  • Contact and (hopefully) negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement with each of those parties; and
  • If appropriate, take legal action against those parties in order to hold them accountable.

T-bone car accident victims should seek out an experienced attorney who has represented dozens of clients in similar accidents, and who has a proven track record of success in recovering compensation in these cases. You can ask friends and family for recommendations or do a search online. Researching law firms should allow you to make a short list. Then, you can meet with each of them to learn more about their approach to these cases.

How Much Does a Car Accident Lawyer Cost?

Most car accident firms provide free case consultations for potential clients. They also accept cases and represent victims based on a contingency fee. They do not charge crash victims and their families money upfront. Instead, they use firm resources to develop the claim and navigate the claims process. They only get paid as a percentage of the compensation they recover for the client, and do not get any attorney's fees unless they win the case.

Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With Your Car Accident Claim

If you have been in a t-bone car accident, having experienced legal counsel on your side is the optimal way to give yourself the best chance and the highest likelihood of receiving maximum damages for your T-bone car accident injuries. Our lawyers from Dolman Law Group provide complimentary case assessments for crash victims. A great attorney-client relationship is important to us and we are here to help you understand your options for pursuing justice and compensation. 

Contact an experienced Florida car accident attorney from Dolman Law Group if you need legal advice, answers to your personal injury questions, or are ready to get started today. You can reach our office at any time by calling us at (727) 451-6900, or by filling out the contact form on our website.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 451-6900

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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