As a general rule, the car moving straight through an intersection has the right of way, except on a protected left turn intersection. If an accident occurs in an unprotected left turn intersection, the vehicle that made the left turn is almost always at fault.
However, there are some exemptions to this rule. Understanding fault in an unprotected left turn collision starts with knowing the difference between a protected and an unprotected left turn.
The Difference Between Unprotected and Protected left turn
An unprotected left turn occurs at an intersection where a vehicle can make a left turn but has no green light to indicate the right of way.
Under such circumstances, the driver taking a left must wait until it is safe to make a turn before entering the intersection. If a left turning driver enters the intersection and a collision occurs, they will be at fault by default.
On the other hand, a protected left turn collision occurs in an intersection with a green turn left sign in its cycle. When the turn left light is on, the driver turning left has the right of way. This means that if an oncoming vehicle goes straight through the intersection and causes an accident, the fault will lie on the oncoming vehicle’s driver.
The Odds are Against the left turning Driver
When accidents happen at an intersection, the police will more often than not ticket the left turning driver. “Sometimes the presumption of fault on the left turning driver can be very frustrating,” cites Attorney Jim Ruane of Ruane Attorneys at Law, LLC.
According to Ruane, if you are ticketed for a collision but believe the oncoming vehicle was at fault, you may want to consider hiring an attorney to help you establish fault.
When the left turning Driver May Not Be At Fault
There are situations when the left turning driver may not be at fault in an unprotected left turn collision. One such example is when the vehicle going straight through was moving beyond the posted speed limits at the time of the accident. However, proving speed after an accident can be complicated and is only possible with the help of an accident reconstruction expert. Even then, the chances of succeeding with this option are pretty slim, and not many attorneys will want to take that route.
Another example is if the oncoming driver was distracted. For instance, if they were using the phone while driving or if they were operating a vehicle illegally. Examples of the latter can include:
- Driving while intoxicated.
- Driving without a license or with an invalid license.
- Driving a stolen vehicle.
When the Unexpected Happens
In some situations, the unexpected can happen. For instance, the left turning vehicle takes a left when it is safe but develops a mechanical problem mid-way and fails to clear the intersection on time, resulting in a collision.
Under such circumstances, fault can be solely on the oncoming vehicle or shared between both drivers depending on the state laws. In rare cases, your lawyer may also consider looking into the possibility of the faulty part manufacturer’s liability in a collision.