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How Liability Changes in Intentional Car Accidents


The phrase “car accident” implies that a crash was unintentional. In most cases, this is accurate, but not all. In some situations, a driver may intentionally try to cause an accident to harm themselves or hurt, scare, or kill others. 

One dramatic example of this happened in San Mateo, California, in January when a father of two drove his car off a cliff at Devil’s Slide with his wife and children inside. While no one died, all occupants of the vehicle were seriously injured. The father has been charged with attempted murder with enhancements for great bodily injury and domestic violence.

Few intentional car accidents are quite as dramatic as this. However, most people have witnessed or fallen victim to another driver’s road rage. Some people with severe road rage may try to rear-end or sideswipe other drivers, force them off the road, or otherwise cause accidents. If they succeed, it can significantly complicate the insurance claim process.

However, that does not mean you cannot pursue compensation for these accidents. In fact, it is particularly important to hold reckless or actively malicious drivers accountable for their actions. Below, we break down how liability is normally assigned in car accidents, how intentional acts can affect it, and how to file a claim after another driver’s road rage causes an accident.

Understanding Liability and Car Insurance

Most car insurance policies consider liability or fault when determining coverage for an accident. For example, in California, the minimum insurance requirements for personal vehicles are bodily injury and property damage liability coverage. These policies cover the damages the driver causes to other people or property in an accident where they are at fault. 

Most people have more than this bare minimum of coverage. Policies may also cover the following:

  • Collisions: Protection against damage to your own vehicle, regardless of whether you’re at fault.
  • Medical payments: Specific coverage for medical costs associated with an accident regardless of who is at fault. If another driver is found at fault, this coverage kicks in after their policy limit is reached.
  • Personal injury protection (PIP): Additional coverage for your medical costs and other expenses caused by your injuries, such as lost time at work or extra childcare expenses while you’re hospitalized.
  • Comprehensive: Coverage for non-collision damage to your vehicle, such as fires, hail damage, theft, or vandalism.
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist: Specific protection for accidents in which the other driver is at fault but does not have the insurance coverage to fully cover your losses.

Liability for Intentional Acts

Most traffic accidents are unintentional, and insurers have developed their policies with this in mind. However, these companies are well aware that some people act erratically on the road. As such, most car insurance policies include an “intentional act” exception. 

These exceptions are clauses within the policy that exempt the insurer from paying anything for injuries or damage caused on purpose. This helps insurers reduce the risk of fraud and saves them money. However, it can also harm the victims of purposeful accidents. 

This is because an intentional act exception applies to the holder of the insurance policy. For example, if someone experiences road rage on the highway and sideswipes another vehicle, the raging person has committed an intentional act. They are clearly liable and at fault for the damage to the car and any personal injuries the occupants might suffer. However, if their car insurance has an intentional act exception, their insurer may not have to pay liability coverage to the victims.

Pursuing Compensation for Purposeful Crashes

This leads to an important question: what are you supposed to do if you’re hurt in a road rage accident? If there is an intentional act exception in the liable driver’s policy, you may be unable to file a claim with their insurance. However, you can still pursue compensation for your injuries from a road rage accident from:

  • Your own insurance: If you have PIP or medical payments coverage, your policy should cover your injuries when the other driver’s does not. However, depending on your policy, you may need to fight an uphill battle to prove that the accident was intentional or receive reduced compensation.
  • The other person: Liability insurance is intended to shield people from financial liability in accidents where they’re at fault. If there’s an intentional act exception, they are once again liable for the injuries and harm they cause. As such, you can take direct legal action against the driver who hurt you if your insurance claim is denied. Should your claim be recognized, the driver could be ordered to compensate you out of their personal assets.
  • Their employer: If the driver who hurt you was working when they caused the accident, their employer might also be liable for their actions. For example, if a truck driver purposefully hits your car, the trucking company could be held responsible for the accident and ordered to cover your losses.

Consult an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer 

If someone hits you with their car or otherwise causes an accident on purpose, they will likely be found at fault for the resulting harm. While this makes determining liability for the accident easier, it also makes pursuing compensation for your injuries more difficult. That’s why it’s so important to consult with a skilled car accident attorney as soon as possible.

The knowledgeable associates at Ellis Helm, APC, can help. We provide clients in Temecula and the San Diego metro area with expert legal counsel after car accidents and road rage incidents. We can help you determine if you have a case and the best way to pursue fair compensation for your injuries. Learn more about how we can help you seek justice after being hurt in a road rage accident by reaching out to our attorneys today.