If The Other Driver Turns Left In Front Of Me, Are They At Fault For Causing The Accident?
The answer to this question depends in most situations on whether or not there is a traffic control device- a stop light or stop sign or signal- present. In the absence of a traffic control signal, the law provides that a vehicle shall not turn left in front of oncoming traffic unless it is safe to do so. The oncoming traffic traveling straight has an almost absolute right of way over left hand turning traffic crossing their lane. It almost goes without saying that if there is an accident between the left turning vehicle and the straight traveling, oncoming, vehicle, then it was clearly not safe to make that left hand turn.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this a common question in the wake of many Maryland automobile accidents. I frequently encounter individuals who will say that the oncoming traffic was:
- speeding, or
- sped up suddenly, or
- signaled, then decided to go straight
These individuals, who often have been cited for a traffic infraction, or, told by an insurance company they caused the accident, are perplexed, confused, and often angry. Such individuals simply cannot understand how they are being blamed for an accident with a car they did not see coming. The reality is in most applications it simply doesn't matter. The driver of the left turning vehicle is invariably going to be found to have caused, in whole or in part, any accident. Now, the result in these cases if often hotly contested in comparative fault jurisdictions. There, the relative degree of responsibility of the involved drivers is balanced out. Maryland, unfortunately, employs the dated doctrine of contributory negligence. A driver who contributes in any way to an accident cannot recover- a death knell for the personal injury claims of many a left-turning driver.
The presence of a traffic control device changes the equation. The rules here are simple. If the left turning vehicle has a green arrow, then they have the right of way over oncoming traffic. If they are faced with a solid green circle, then they must yield to oncoming traffic.
In this latter situation, the same principle applies as if there is no traffic control device- a vehicle shall not turn left in front of oncoming traffic unless it is safe to do so.
There is a lot of litigation over the color of lights and “left-hand turn” cases in Baltimore City, and in Maryland generally. The difficulty confronted in many of these cases is proving who had a green arrow. Of course, the individual drivers are free to testify in court as to what color their light was. But I've seen countless times over the years where those stories are directly in conflict. If there is a third-party, disinterested, impartial witness, a judge or jury may give that testimony great weight in determining if the left-hand turning driver, in fact, had a green arrow. In the absence of such impartial, disinterested, testimony, it is often difficult for a plaintiff, who carries the burden of proof, to prevail.
-This Article was updated by Eric Kirk on 10/13/20.