Who Is at Fault in an Unprotected Left Turn Accident?

The Brown Firm

The Brown Firm

It’s one of a driver’s worst nightmares.

You’re approaching an intersection. The light is green, and you’re planning to continue straight through. But just before you get there, a car heading the opposite direction decides to make a left turn—right in front of you.

This scene plays out over and over again on Georgia’s roads. Intersections can be especially dangerous to navigate, and unprotected left turns are a frequent cause of collisions. In these cases, the left-hand turning driver is usually at fault—but not necessarily always.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss right of way rules for left hand turns, cover the most common exceptions to those rules, and provide advice on what to do if you’ve been injured in a left turn accident.

What Is an Unprotected Left Turn and Who Has the Right of Way?

An unprotected left turn occurs at an intersection where left turning is allowed, but there is no left turn green arrow in the light cycle. (If there is a green arrow, it is a protected left turn.) In this scenario, the car making a left turn must yield the right of way to oncoming traffic and wait for a safe opening to turn.

If a traffic light is not present—for example, when turning into a driveway or side street with no signal or sign—the left-turning driver must still abide by the same precautions. The oncoming traffic will have the right of way and do not have to stop or slow down to allow left-turning drivers to pass. Drivers making left turns must also wait for all pedestrians and cyclists to make it safely across the street before they can proceed with the turn.

RELATED: What You Should Know About Georgia Laws and Personal Injury

The Driver Making the Left Is Often Blamed by Default—Even When They’re Not Responsible

When the police arrive on a left-turn collision accident scene, they will almost always issue a ticket to the driver who was turning left rather than the one traveling straight, based on our state’s right of way laws. However, this does not mean that all left turn accidents should be blamed on driver making the turn. There are always exceptions to the rule.

Unfortunately, this can lead to a very frustrating scenario if you were the turning driver, but you believe the driver traveling straight was actually responsible. You may be blamed by default, and without solid evidence, your left turn car accident case may be a “your word against theirs” scenario that leaves you with few options to obtain the compensation you deserve for your injuries, lost wages, or other damages.

This is one great reason to hire a car accident attorney as soon as possible after a left hand turn accident. If there are unexpected circumstances that would indicate other driver’s negligence, an experienced attorney may be able to help you prove them—before the evidence disappears for good.

Exceptions to Left Hand Turn Driving Rule

There are a few exceptions to the left-turn liability rule. The left-turning driver may not be at fault for the following scenarios:

1. The Car Driving Straight Was Driving Significantly Over the Speed Limit When They Were Going Through the Intersection.

This can be a difficult exception to prove. If there are no witnesses, it will be your word against the other driver’s.

Since the police officer will already be predisposed to giving you the ticket when they find out you were the one making the left turn, convincing them that the other driver was being reckless will be difficult to prove on your own.

An accident reconstructionist may be able to estimate the speed of the oncoming car based on damage to your vehicle. At The Brown Firm, we work with traffic experts and other expert witnesses to give you the best possible chance at proving the at-fault driver was negligent.

2. The Car Driving Straight Ran a Red Light or Stop Sign

If a car runs a red light or a stop sign, it will be breaking a traffic law and causing an accident to occur. The driver turning left will not be held responsible because the other driver should not have been going through the intersection when the accident occurred.

Depending on the area and time of day that the accident occurred, there will more than likely be multiple witnesses to attest to the other driver running a red light or stop sign.

3. The Car Driving Straight Wasn’t Paying Attention or the Driver Was Operating the Vehicle Illegally

Distracted driving is becoming a much more serious problem in the age of smartphones. If the driver of the oncoming vehicle was not watching the road, or otherwise driving recklessly or dangerously (for example, operating under the influence), and this prevented them from being able to avoid the car accident, they may be held partially liable.

4. Unforeseen Circumstances

Sometimes, the unexpected happens—and it can complicate your left-turn collision claim. For example, in a multi-vehicle pileup, the car that physically impacted your vehicle might not carry all the blame. Or, if the vehicle ran a red light because of a dangerous defective part (like faulty brakes or an improperly designed acceleration system), you might have a claim against a manufacturer or distributor.

Fault May Be Shared Between Multiple Parties

Responsibility for a traffic accident isn’t always a “one or the other” situation. Sometimes, both drivers in the scenario were negligent, and therefore share responsibility for the crash. For example, the oncoming driver may have been speeding, but the turning driver was also distracted. When determining fault for the accident, each driver may be assessed a percentage of the overall blame.

How much can an injured driver can recover in a personal injury claim if they are partially to blame for that accident? Georgia uses a system of modified comparative negligence to answer that question.

In our state, you are entitled to recover damages if you are found to be less than 50% at fault for an accident. However, your awarded compensation will be reduced by the percentage of fault you share.

For example, if your claim is worth $100,000, but a court finds you 30% responsible, you may only recover $70,000. If you are 50% or more responsible, you cannot receive compensation.

As you can see, fairly assigning fault after an accident can have a substantial effect on how much compensation you can recover, or if you can recover anything at all. Hiring an experienced attorney who can successfully show that you should not be held liable for the left turn accident, or at least argue for the smallest possible degree of fault, can make a huge difference for your case.

RELATED: Who Is Responsible In A Multi-Car Accident?


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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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