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Determining Fault in a Lane Merging Accident

When a vehicle enters a traffic lane already occupied by another vehicle and a collision occurs, the driver making the lane change would seem to be at fault. But this is not always the case. The fault for a resulting accident can involve a combination of factors and circumstances, all of which bear on an injured party’s right to recover damages.

Merging on multi-lane highways can occur from the left, from the right and from entry ramps. The following are considered in determining the cause of an accident:

  1. Original lane owner — Under Massachusetts law, the vehicle already occupying a lane generally enjoys the right of way. This means the merging vehicle has the responsibility to yield and to find a safe gap in which to merge without causing an obstruction to the existing traffic flow.
  2. Lane change safety — The merging driver shoulders most of the responsibility for safely maneuvering. This includes accurately judging gaps in traffic and adjusting speed as necessary. However, another driver might be negligent in moving from another lane into the lane that the merging vehicle is clearly about to enter, in which case the fault may be shared.
  3. Blocking — The vehicle already in the target lane has obligations. They must be aware of their surroundings and try to leave reasonable space for access by a merging vehicle whenever possible. Deliberately blocking or impeding a safe merge can be found to be negligence.
  4. Speed — Part of the fault equation is how fast the vehicles are travelling. If the vehicle already in the target lane is exceeding the speed limit, that driver might be deemed negligent per se. On the other hand, the merging driver has the obligation to quickly adjust to the lane speed when merging and might be found negligent in failing to do so.
  5. Blind spots — Although vehicles usually have rear-view mirrors on both sides, there are areas that are not fully visible. This is especially true of large vehicles like tractor-trailers and semi-trucks. The driver of a car riding in the other vehicle’s blind spot may be found negligent.
  6. Signaling intent — Neglecting to properly signal a lane change or signaling and then not completing the maneuver can cause accidents. Signaling also must be done far enough in advance for the driver in the target lane to notice it.
  7. Road and weather conditions — Merging can be inherently unsafe in certain circumstances. Factors like darkness, sun glare, poor weather or construction zones can affect the fault determination. Either driver may be negligent for failing to appreciate and respond to these conditions.

The assessment of fault in a lane-change accident is critical for a party seeking compensation for their injuries and related costs. A driver cannot be more than 50 percent at fault, and their recoverable damages will be reduced by their percentage of negligence. Anyone injured in a merging accident should consult a skilled auto accident attorney.

At Feinberg & Alban PC, our experienced attorneys have for more than 70 years helped victims of car crashes throughout Greater Boston get the optimal compensation for their injuries. Call us at 617-232-5950 or contact us online to arrange a free consultation.

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