The Standard of Care for Motor Vehicle Accidents

September 27th, 2022 by

What is the legal standard for determining who is responsible for a motor vehicle accident? We can’t just say, “Hey, it was your fault! … No, it was your fault!” That’s not good enough. We need to have a legal standard to follow when determining who is responsible for causing a car accident.

Assessing Liability

What we’re trying to determine when assessing liability in a motor vehicle accident case is which party was negligent. In order to establish negligence, you have to consider these elements:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach of the duty of care
  • Causation
  • Damages

What we’re focusing on here is the duty of care element. In order to find that someone was negligent, a driver must owe a duty of care to other drivers on the roadway. The duty of care is also called the standard of care.

Standard of Care

The standard of care for a motor vehicle collision is “reasonable care.” This sounds like a pretty broad, general, vague term, and it is. The term “reasonable care” is about as nonspecific as you can get. In my opinion, it doesn’t really mean much of anything, but unfortunately, it’s the best we have as far as legal standards go for car accidents. It applies to any type of motor vehicle accident, whether they involve cars, trucks, motorcycles, or anything similar.

“Reasonable care” is the standard of care for motor vehicle accidents that’s set forth in the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions, commonly referred to as “CACI.” CACI is an acronym of “California Civil Instructions” and pronounced like “Casey.” CACI 700 is the civil jury instruction on the standard of care for motor vehicle accidents. Based on the civil jury instruction, a driver must operate their vehicle with “reasonable care.”

Reasonable care requires you to operate your vehicle safely, to watch out for any hazards, and to avoid causing collisions. Reasonable care is that level of care that a “reasonably prudent driver” would exercise under “similar circumstances.” Again, more vague stuff here, but it’s the best we’ve got.


We’ve got this nice reasonable care standard, but how is it really applied? The way I look at it, you’re really just going to use common sense. Use your common sense when you’re trying to figure out if the reasonable care standard was violated, which is a “breach” of the standard of care. Who caused the accident? Use your common sense to answer that question.

For example, if Joe rear-ends Frank’s car at a stop light, that’s obviously going to be Joe’s fault. Some collisions are very simple and straightforward, but others can be much more complex. Some complicated accidents might require an accident reconstruction expert to prove who was at fault.

Lawyers should listen to what their client says happened, review the traffic collision report, pull up the collision location on Google maps, drive out to the accident scene and check it out, send written discovery requests, and take depositions. Review whatever information and documents you can get your hands on. Based on that review, use your common sense and make the best evaluation of liability that you can.

If you have been injured in any kind of motor vehicle accident in Northern California, call us at (408) 637-5413 to schedule a complimentary consultation.

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