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Am I At Fault For An Accident If I Have Car Modifications?

Posted January 17, 2023 | Uncategorized

Since the first automobiles rolled off the production line, car enthusiasts sought to modify their vehicles. Some modders aim for performance, while others strive for a unique appearance. Either way, your mods can affect your ability to receive compensation for injuries after an automobile accident. Understanding the legal concept of fault and the practical tradeoffs with certain mods will help you make wise decisions before you spend time and money on your ride.

Understanding Fault

To know if a court can hold you at fault for modifying your vehicle, you need to understand how and when the legal system weighs fault after an injury-causing vehicle accident.

No-Fault Auto Insurance

If you live in a state with no-fault auto insurance, such as Utah, your vehicle modifications may not affect the compensation you receive. In a no-fault state, persons injured in an automobile accident begin the compensation process by filing a claim with their insurance company.

If the total medical bills for your injuries remain below the legal threshold, your insurer covers the cost above your deductible. In this situation, the law will not allow you to pursue additional compensation from another party. With medical expenses inside the threshold, none of your vehicle modifications affect your settlement.

To step outside of the no-fault system, your medical bills must exceed the state threshold or your injuries must fall into one of a few state-defined categories. When a state’s law allows a person to pursue compensation in the court system, the comparative negligence rule comes into play.

Comparative Negligence

When automobiles collide, the fault for the accident may lie with more than one party. Most states use the comparative negligence rule to apportion this fault in a lawsuit. Under this rule, a judge or jury begins by determining appropriate compensation for a plaintiff. Next, the court will decide what percentage of the fault falls on the plaintiff’s shoulders.

Following the comparative negligence doctrine, the court reduces the plaintiff’s compensation award by the percentage of fault. Most states use a modified version of this rule to determine damage awards. With modified comparative negligence, a plaintiff’s degree of fault must fall below a threshold to receive any amount of compensation. Utah and Idaho set the threshold at 50%, and Texas uses a 51% benchmark.

Fault and Vehicle Modifications

If you suffer injuries in an auto accident and seek compensation in the court system, your vehicle modifications may become an issue. The opposing counsel can enter any of your modifications into evidence and argue that fault for the accident lies with you. If your modifications violate state laws, you hand the opposing counsel an even more compelling argument. Naturally, you will also face substantial fines for violating a law. These harsh realities make it imperative to understand and obey your state’s vehicle modification laws.

Legal Consequences for Common Vehicle Modifications

While any alterations to your ride could factor into a lawsuit, three popular modifications deserve examination.

Tinted Windows

Vehicle owners tint their windows to reduce glare, increase privacy or give their ride a distinctive look. Whatever your motivation, take care to understand the laws regarding window tinting. The federal government allows states to set these standards.

Every state has an AS-1 rule. AS-1 is the most transparent type of automobile safety glass, used for windshields. On the left and right edges of your windshield, about five inches from the top, you will find hash marks. These marks designate the windshield’s AS-1 line. Tinting your windshield below this line is both illegal and unwise.

Automotive tinting can be non-reflective — a film that merely withholds light — or reflective, as with mirrored sunglasses. Nearly half of all states, including Utah, prohibit mirrored tinting. Even with non-reflective tinting, you should consider how much tinting to apply. Tinting any window more than 20% will impair your ability to see through that glass at nighttime. Though legal, this impairment could end up reducing your damages in legal action.

Lift Kits

Raising a vehicle’s ground clearance is a practical necessity for traversing harsh terrain. Many enthusiasts simply enjoy the imposing appearance of a lifted truck. Regardless of your motivation, you should understand the legal consequences of lift kits.

First, understand some basic legal limits. Utah and Idaho limit total vehicle height to 14 feet, and Texas places the limit at 13 feet, six inches. Utah also outlaws lift blocks as a front suspension modification. Next, ensure that your steering gear and brake lines are compatible with your kit’s recommendations. Skimping on these safety basics will impair your ability to stay under the comparative negligence threshold.

Finally, think through all of the consequences of using a lifted vehicle as your daily driving vehicle. Each inch of lift creates a larger blind spot in front of the vehicle. This blind spot raises the hazard for pedestrians and your fellow motorists. Consider limiting your lifted vehicle use to off-road or deep snow conditions, and use a street-friendly car for grocery runs and commuting.

Performance Tires

In most states, tire laws only use the phrase “good condition” along with a prohibition on exposed cords. Utah spells out a 1/16th minimum tread depth.

Drivers of sporty cars sometimes replace their vehicle’s factory-supplied all-season rubber with three-season performance tires. Three-season tires deliver improved braking and handling in dry or rainy conditions, at the cost of snow and ice performance. If your vehicle with three-season tires becomes involved in a wintertime accident, you can expect opposing counsel to argue negligence on your part.

Proven Injury Representation With Fielding Law

Fair compensation for persons injured in auto accidents is a focus of Fielding Law. Since our founding, we have recovered more than $60 million to help clients rebuild their lives. If Fielding Law takes on your case, you will have direct contact with your auto accident attorney, not just a staff member. Case evaluations are free, and there is no fee unless we recover money for you. If you face injuries due to another party’s negligence, we invite you to contact us today.