Who is legally responsible for damages if our cars never touched?

UPDATED: Jul 29, 2011

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Who is legally responsible for damages if our cars never touched?

I was driving on the freeway and began to change lanes when I realized a car was close behind mine. I immediately returned to my original lane (although I never fully left it). Our cars never touched but the woman behind me panicked and grazed a large orange construction cone, causing dents and severely damaging her side view mirror. Repair costs are $300-$400 so no police report was filed. She insists I’m at fault and should pay, but I think she’s at fault because our cars never touched – she lost control of her and caused the damage.

Asked on July 29, 2011 Utah


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

There is no law saying that a driver is only liable in the event of direct collision or contact between cars. Rather, liability is based on negligence, or unreasonable carelessness. If you drove in a careless manner--such as changing lanes when there was a car too close in the other lane to do so--and that carelessness caused  another to incur damage in response to your action, that could give rise to liability. A key issue may be whether her reaction was itself reasonable and appropriate, or whether she was driving carelessly in some way; if she was, that could reduce what she could recover, if this went to court, since a part herself at fault cannot, due to her fault, recover as much as one who was blameless. All that said, for $300 - $400, since it's very likely that if she sues you, she'd get at least something, it may be best to try to work something out with her to avoid the cost, time, and uncertainty of trial. If you can work something out, make sure that in exchange for  paying her, you get a release from any other possible claims.

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