Was that car crash really the deer’s fault?

Deer play a role in some car crashes, and sometimes, there is nothing that could have been done about them. Not always, though.

In many, if not most, car crashes, the fault seems to rest with one or both drivers. Tennessee uses modified comparative fault, which means damages occur according to the fault level of each party. For example, say that A and B are involved in a car accident, and a jury finds that A is 30 percent at fault and B is 70 percent at fault. As long as the plaintiff's fault is 49 percent or under, he or she can collect damages.

However, are drivers always and solely at fault in car crashes? Some people may think, well, no. Sometimes, a car swerves to avoid, say, a deer, and crashes into another car. Would the deer not be at fault then? What if there is no deer but a bar that kept serving liquor to a clearly intoxicated patron who, an hour later, drove and seriously hurt someone? What if an intersection was horribly designed or a freeway on-ramp was too short?

Yes, there can be parties other than the drivers at fault in some accidents, but these cases may be tricky.

Thorough picture of what happened

Take the case of a deer. If Driver A swerves to avoid hitting one and plows into Driver B, it may seem reasonable for some people to assign fault to the deer. However, this might not be the case. For example, if the transportation agency responsible for signage along that road knew of deer populations but chose not to erect warning signs, then that agency's failure could play a role. Otherwise, the driver might have slowed down after seeing warning signage.

Suppose there were roadway signs, and the driver was texting, speeding or possibly intoxicated. It is possible, then, that a driver following all safety precautions would have seen the deer in enough time to brake safely and avoid swerving. So, this might not be the deer's fault either.

In fact, the consensus advice when it comes to deer is to hit it. The risks stemming from hitting a deer are less than the risks incurred when swerving to avoid one. In such cases, the car could go off road, into a sign or another inanimate object, down a cliff or into another car, to name a few things. The financial toll is likely to be higher too. Even a passenger who gets injured in a car that hits a deer or swerves to avoid it could sue the driver.

The point is that someone in Tennessee who was hit by a car or injured in one that swerved to avoid a deer may think that there is nothing to be done about it. It was the deer's fault, and these things happen. However, there could have been at least one other factor such as a lack of signage or an excess of speeding that came into play. There is also the fact that the driver should not have swerved. An attorney may be able to help determine if there is a case in such situations.