car accident claim

Car Accident Claim: How To Show A Driver Is Legally Responsible For Your Road Accident

Find out how your solicitor determines who is responsible in the eyes of the law for your car accident claim; why this process is largely the same for all motor vehicle accidents; who is responsible when your road accident involves someone driving as part of a job and what happens to your compensation claim if you caused the accident yourself.

How do you show who is responsible for your car accident claim?

Before you can make a motor vehicle accident claim for compensation, you must show that a driver is legally at fault.

An example of a car accident claim is used on this page – as this is the most common type of road accident compensation claim in the UK.

Watch out – as long as the accident involves at least one motor vehicle, generally the process to show legal responsibility for a car accident claim is largely the same for all vehicle types.

The steps to showing legal fault, include :

You must be owed a duty of care

A vehicle driver owes a duty of care to their passengers, vehicle drivers, pedestrians and other road users.

Imagine a car driver collides with you as you cross a road. Clearly you are owed a duty of care as a pedestrian road user – but someone looking from their house window at the time of the accident (alleging a claim of shock) is not necessarily owed a duty of care.

A driving error must have occurred

You can only make a car accident claim against a driver you believe to be responsible, if you can show that driver has made some form of driving error. In law this error is called “negligence”.

Prosecution for a criminal offence

If the other driver is convicted of a driving offence as a result of your accident – this will often be enough evidence to show that the driver was also negligence. Your solicitor can rely on the prosecution as evidence.

Watch out – the legal test (known as the burden of proof) is higher in criminal law than in a personal claim. In criminal law the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt and in the civil law (personal injury claim) it is on the balance of probability.

Use your common sense

In the main we are all road users (whether as a motor vehicle driver, pedestrian, cyclist, etc) and as such we are familiar with the rules of the road. We may call this common sense.

We can use this common sense to decide whether a driving error has occurred.

Consider the road safety rules in the Highway Code

All drivers are familiar with the Highway Code which describes the road safety rules in the UK.

If a driver has broken these rules – you will know that he has made a driving error or been “negligent” in the eyes of the law.


To prove legal fault – you must overcome the hurdle of foreseeability.

Foreseeability refers to the whether it was foreseeable that a a driving error of the kind made could cause you or some other road user to be injured.

Example 1 – imagine you looked down to use your mobile and didn’t see a traffic light change to red, resulting in you colliding with a vehicle legitimately crossing lights on a green in their direction. Clearly it is foreseeable that the other road user could be injured by this driving error.

Example 2 – imagine you again looked down at your mobile and hit the kerb coming to an abrupt stop and a pedestrian on the other side of the road was watching and distracted causing them to trip over. These accidents are not connected and it was not foreseeable that this driving error could cause injury to an unconnected pedestrian in this way.

However – in most car accident claims it is obvious and so “foreseeable” that a driver controlling a heavy vehicle could injure another person by making a driving error.


The driving error must have caused your actual personal injury.

The legal term for this is medical “causation”.

You will need to show from your medical notes (hospital and GP) and an from an independent medical report (medical expert instructed by your solicitor) that any injuries you are suffering from were actually caused directly by the traffic accident and did not already exist before the accident.

These don’t have to just be physical injuries, such as whiplash or a broken arm, they can include psychiatric injuries, such as post traumatic stress disorder.

Watch out – a medical expert will check your notes to show that you reported your injuries at the time of the accident and that you do not already have pre-existing problems of the type you are attempting to claim compensation for.


Your injuries must not be considered too remote from the accident event. In other words injuries that may be expected – but not for you in this instance.

Examples of this would include:

  1. You coming across a car accident in which a pedestrian has suffered injury and as result you suffer a psychological reaction. This will likely be considered too remote as you did not witness the accident and the pedestrian is not connected to you.
  2. However, if you were walking with your son when a car bumped up onto the pavement fatally knocking him down – you are directly connected to the child and you directly witnessed the accident, so psychological injury in this instance may not be considered too remote.

Example of how to show a driver is legally responsible for your car accident claim

Imagine you are driving your car along a road when you have to apply your brakes suddenly to avoid a child. A few moments later the vehicle travelling behind you collides with the back of your car causing you to smash your arm on the steering wheel and break your arm.

The process to show the other driver is legally responsible for your collision and potential car accident claim is:

proving car accident compensation claims
Proving Car Accident Compensation Claims
Duty of care

you are owed a duty of care by the car driver behind you as a fellow road user.

Driving error

Your car has been hit by another, so it is obvious that a driving error has occurred otherwise this could not have happened.

The Highway Code tells drivers to travel no closer than the safe stopping distance from the vehicle in front. The driver behind was not travelling at this safe distance as he did not have time to avoid hitting your car. He has broken the safety rules of the Highway Code.

The driver who hit you may be prosecuted for careless driving – which would support your claim.

However, no prosecution is necessary as it would be relatively straight forward for your solicitor to show negligence.

The accident was foreseeable

It is obvious that the driver could hit your car by not keeping a safe distance behind it and it is equally obvious that, if he hits your car, the force of the collision could cause you to be injured.

The driving error caused your personal injury

Your GP and hospital notes would show that prior to the car accident you were not suffering from a broken arm, but as a result of the collision you x-rayed and a broken arm detected. An independent medical expert would produce a report verifying all of this that you solicitor can rely on at court as evidence.

Who is responsible if a driver was an employee – driving as part of a job?

Sometimes a driver who caused your road accident will be an employee driving as part of his job.

For example, if a bus collides with your car – the driver will normally be an employee of a bus company driving as part of his job. His employer will not only own the bus, but be responsible for its motor insurance and often be responsible for driver training.

If the bus driver is responsible for your collision – his employer will equally be considered to be responsible for your car accident claim through vicarious liability.

Can you make a claim if you were at fault?

“No” – you cannot make a car accident claim if you were at fault, but you may still be able to claim compensation from your own insurer for your vehicle damage if you had a comprehensive motor insurance policy.

Remember – if you have comprehensive motor vehicle insurance, even if the accident was your fault, your insurance company will pay for the repair to your car.

For you to have a personal injury compensation claim in the United Kingdom someone other than yourself must have been at fault.

Watch out – rarely some motor policies may make provision fof a fixed payment for certain defined injuries, so check your policy just in case this applie to you.

Summary And Next Steps

You have seen the simple process to follow to show when a driver is legally responsible to meet your car accident claim for compensation, how the process is the same for all accidents involving an automobile, who is responsible when the driver-at-fault was an employee driving as part of his job and what happens to your compensation claim in the unfortunate circumstances that you caused your own accident.

We recommend you see our motor vehicle accident article – to discover how to make a “car accident claim” for compensation.

See our RTA Blog or road accident compensation Q&A.

Select from our free online / telephone solicitor assistance, including ask a question and claims assessment.