Can You Sue Someone For Running a Red Light? 

Driving is the most popular form of transportation in the world. At the same time, operating a vehicle can be incredibly dangerous. In fact, thousands of people are killed every year on California roadways and there are over 250,000 injuries reported annually. It is therefore critical that as drivers we follow all rules of the road to prevent potentially life-threatening accidents from occurring.

Modern traffic laws were designed with safety in mind and are in place to protect drivers and pedestrians. Further, when another driver causes an accident due to his or her negligence, victims have the right to sue for damages. Generally speaking, breaking traffic laws, such as running a red light, is considered negligent. However, unless there was bodily injury or property damage that resulted from the infraction, there is likely nothing that can be done in civil court to hold the driver responsible.

Negligence Overview

To be successful in suing another driver, you typically need to prove that he or she acted negligently. Negligence exists where a person did not drive reasonably under the circumstances, and as a result, someone else was injured or property was damaged.

California Law on Red Lights

California law requires that drivers come to a stop when a traffic light is red. A driver must stop before the crosswalk, or if there is no crosswalk, before the intersection. Once stopped, if no signs indicate otherwise, a driver is permitted to make a right turn on red.

Before making the turn, the driver must yield to any pedestrians and any cross traffic. If the traffic light displays a red arrow, the driver is not permitted to enter the intersection, even if it is clear.

Presumption of Negligence

Violation of traffic laws creates what is known as a “presumption” of negligence. The legal term for this is “negligence per se” and simply means that a driver is considered to have acted unreasonably if certain conditions are met:

First, there must be evidence that the driver violated a statute or regulation. In almost all circumstances, running a red light would meet this requirement.

Second, there must have been some kind of injury to a person or property damage.

Third, the law the driver violated must have been in place to protect the type of injury or property damage that occurred. Traffic laws are designed to protect against collisions with other cars and pedestrians, so any kind of car accident as a result of running a red light would likely meet this requirement.

Finally, the person injured or property damaged must be part of the group that the law was passed to protect. This just means that the victims of the collision must be common to roadways, such as another car or a pedestrian.

Limitations to the Presumption of Negligence

It is important to note that although you may be able to show that a driver acted negligently by running a red light, this is not by itself enough to prove fault. You will need to demonstrate that the driver’s actions caused the accident. In most cases, this is straightforward if a collision occurs.

However, if your injury or damage to your car occurred independent of the other driver’s actions, he would not be considered at fault for the accident. An example would be if there was no collision and your tire went flat after the driver ran the red light. In this case, the flat tire was not caused by the other driver’s negligence and you would not have grounds to sue.

In other cases, a driver may have a valid excuse for running the red light. An example would be if the driver was forced to enter the intersection in order to avoid an ambulance. In this case, if the driver’s compliance with the traffic law would have created a greater risk of harm to himself or others he would not be considered negligent under the circumstances.

Another exception would be if the driver was involuntarily incapacitated at the time. An example would be if the driver had a stroke or some other medical emergency and lost control of the vehicle. However, voluntary intoxication would not excuse a driver from being found negligent.

Finally, there is an exception to negligence in situations where a driver is involved in an emergency. An example would be if a driver needed to go through a red light to avoid an exploding vehicle in his lane. For this to apply, the driver cannot be the cause of the emergency.