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Scottsdale  •  Phoenix

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Who Is at Fault in a Left Turn Car Accident?

Many drivers operate under the assumption that a driver who causes an accident while making a left-hand turn is always at fault, but this isn’t the case for some accidents. This is generally true as drivers making left turns must yield the right of way unless they have a clear signal to move. A left-turn accident typically involves one driver making a turn and one driver traveling straight. While there is an expectation for a left-turning driver to yield to oncoming traffic, this isn’t always the case, and liability may be difficult to determine in some of these accidents.

Illegal Left-Hand Turns in Phoenix

Unless the driver has the right-of-way, the vehicle making a left-hand turn must yield to other vehicles. This is why, in most cases, the driver making the turn will bear liability for the accident. When making a left-hand turn on just a green light (not a green arrow), the driver making the turn must wait until there are no oncoming vehicles in the opposite lane. Speeding out in front of an oncoming vehicle is a risk that could result in the driver’s fault for a collision.

It is never acceptable for a driver making a left-hand turn on a green light to cut off oncoming traffic. This is an illegal left-hand turn that would come down to the driver’s liability for an accident. Left-hand turners must also yield to crossing bicyclists and pedestrians. Striking someone in the crosswalk while making a left-hand turn will come down to the driver’s liability, unless the driver had a green arrow and the bicyclist or pedestrian ran into the crosswalk illegally, and without the chance for the driver to stop in time.

Legal Left-Hand Turns and Liability

Liability might not come down to the driver making a left-hand turn if that driver had the right-of-way to make the turn. For example, if a driver has a green left turn arrow, but another driver runs the red light and crashes into the car making the left-hand turn, the driver that ran the red light would be liable. Also, if another driver is guilty of negligence, such as texting and driving or rolling through a stop sign, the driver making the left-hand turn might not be at fault. Liability depends on the right-of-way, the duties of each driver, and what a “reasonable and prudent” driver would have done in the same situation.

Whether a car had the right to make a left-hand turn or not, another driver could be at fault if he or she was negligent or reckless. For example, if the driver going straight was driving significantly over the speed limit, making it difficult for the turning driver to accurately gauge whether or not it was safe to cross. Unexpected circumstances making the left-turn driver swerve or stop while executing the turn might also result in the fault of someone other than the driver. If the other driver was intoxicated, distracted, drowsy, or otherwise negligent, he or she might be at least partially at fault for a collision regardless of the left-hand turner’s fault.

Right of Way

A driver turning left only has the right of way when he or she has a green arrow for the turning lane. Opposing traffic will have a red light for straight traffic but there may be a left-turn green arrow for the other side of the street, too. If a driver travels into the intersection when a left-turning driver has the right of way, that driver is liable for any resulting damages.

On streets without traffic lights, drivers must use extra caution when making left-hand turns. This means only attempting left-hand turns when there is no other traffic in the opposing lane or the traffic is far enough away to provide time for a complete turn. Speeding is one possible exception to this type of situation that may curb liability for a left-turning driver. If the driver in the opposite lane is driving over the speed limit it may make it difficult for the turning driver to accurately gauge the time needed to complete the turn.

Liability in Arizona Crashes

Arizona follows a comparative negligence law, meaning that a plaintiff in a personal injury case may lose a portion of the case award if he or she bears any liability for the accident. The jury reviewing the case will assess the facts and assign a fault percentage to each party involved, based on their varying degrees of fault. As long as the plaintiff’s fault does not exceed the defendant’s, the plaintiff will recover compensation less a percentage equal to his or her fault percentage. For example, in a $100,000 claim for which the court finds the plaintiff 10% at fault, the plaintiff loses $10,000 or 10% of the case award.

If a driver turning left faces a lawsuit from another driver, he or she may claim that the plaintiff is partially or fully responsible for the accident. For example, a driver turning left at night with a green light, but not a green arrow, does not see a driver in the other lane because the other driver did not engage his or her headlights, making it nearly impossible to spot the vehicle. In this situation, the left-turning driver would likely avoid absorbing the bulk of the liability for the crash due to the other driver’s extreme carelessness.

Determining Fault

Anyone involved with a lawsuit for a left-turn accident, on either side of the table, should know how to go about proving fault. Physical evidence like debris in the road, the resting positions of the vehicle after the crash, and traffic camera footage is extraordinarily helpful in determining liability for these accidents. However, collecting such evidence may be difficult, and some rural areas may not have traffic cameras at every intersection.

After any vehicle accident that results in injury, death, or significant property damages, drivers should immediately report the incident to the police. It’s wise to take photos of the accident scene and any injuries immediately after the crash as well. The police may need to clear the crashed vehicles out of the street to make way for traffic, and this could destroy potentially valuable evidence in a later lawsuit. Anyone involved with a left-turn accident should consult a Phoenix car accident attorney as soon as possible to discuss liability and potential options for recovery.

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