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Accident vs. Negligence

Serving Families Throughout Fresno

What is the Difference Between an “Accident” and “Negligence” Under California Law?

An accident is commonly defined as “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.” While negligence is “a failure to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable or prudent person would do in the circumstances, or taking action which such a reasonable person would not. (  Although auto accidents are common daily occurrences, a precious few would qualify as true accidents. Most accidents and collisions contain some degree of negligence and it is the presence of negligence that helps attribute fault in auto collision cases.


There are many ways that a person could be deemed at fault due to negligence. Some of these include:

  • Speed

Some of the ways in which speed helps attribute fault in a collision include driving faster than the posted speed limit, driving too fast for the road conditions, or going too slowly for the current flow of traffic. For example . . .

If you, or the other driver, were driving in excess of the speed limit and it was a factor in the crash, whichever of you was speeding could be held fully or partially liable for the collision.

When it is raining or snowing or if a vehicle is driving through a construction zone or other area where traffic flow requires extra caution, if speed was a contributing factor in the collision, the driver could be deemed at fault for driving too fast for the current conditions.

If a collision was caused by someone driving below the posted speed limit or significantly slower than the current flow of traffic, that driver could be viewed as the at-fault driver.

  • Failure to signal

If you are turning or changing lanes, you need to make sure you signal other drivers of your intention to alter your path. If your failure to signal results in a collision, you could be viewed as the at-fault driver.

  • Failure to maintain distance

If you are following behind another vehicle, make sure that there is enough distance between you and the car in front of you to stop in a timely manner. If you rear-end another vehicle, you would be viewed as the at-fault driver.

  • Failure to pay attention

Talking or texting on your phone, not looking before changing lanes, or eating while driving could be viewed as failure to pay attention. The driver must have full control of the car at all times. If it is determined that one of these contributed to a collision, the driver would be deemed at-fault.

  • Failure to yield

Drivers must give the right of way to the person who legally has it. This would include yielding when getting onto the highway, changing lanes, and merging. If a collision occurs due to a driver’s failure to yield, they would be at-fault.

  • Vehicle defect

Knowingly driving a vehicle when something is not working properly could result in being named the at-fault driver. For instance, a driver could be deemed liable if they knew their brake lights were not functioning, and, as a result, a collision ensues.

  • Illegal turns

Following posted directional street signs is important. If a driver makes a turn or u-turn at a location where such terms are prohibited by signs, the driver could potentially be the at-fault party.

Comparative Fault or Liability (Both Parties At-Fault)

Sometimes, it is possible to attribute fault to multiple drivers involved in a collision. For instance, if one driver fails to signal and turns left in front of an oncoming speeding vehicle, both drivers could share comparative fault. The first driver because he failed to signal his intent to turn to the oncoming driver and the other driver for driving either above the speed limit or too fast for current conditions. It is too difficult to determine who is more responsible for the collision, so liability/fault is shared. When this happens, each party will be responsible for the percentage of fault they contributed to the collision and resulting damages.


If the other driver (or you) purposely caused the accident, they, clearly, would be the at-fault party.

These are only some of the common ways a person could be found at-fault. The best way to protect yourself after an accident is to seek knowledgeable legal counsel. Sawl Law Group can guide you through this difficult time. Contact us today for a free consultation and get some piece of mind that we are looking out for you.