South Carolina Traffic Light Disputes

November 21, 2022

By J. Richards McCrae III

When it comes to traffic laws, almost everyone understands the basic concepts that a red light means stop and a green light means go. However, when auto accidents involve traffic light disputes, the blame isn’t so easy to place. With every accident, the involved parties give their account to law enforcement and insurance professionals. Unfortunately, these accounts don’t always match, and it can be difficult to understand who is at fault.

There are many factors at play when an auto accident occurs at a traffic light intersection and each scenario is different. There are some situations, though, that occur more frequently. This includes left-turn accidents, which can cause catastrophic injuries and complicated insurance claims for both parties involved.

Turning Left on a Yellow Light

A common accident scenario is when a driver who has been sitting at a green light, waiting for a break in oncoming traffic, attempts to complete a left-turn once the light turns yellow. The driver turning left often assumes that opposing traffic will come to a stop since the light is now yellow. It’s even possible, on a multi-lane road, that cars in one lane will begin to come a stop, which conveys the sense that it now safe to make that left-turn. But oftentimes, traffic in one of the opposing lane will continue through the intersection despite the yellow light, resulting in a “t-bone” collision with the driver turning left.

So, in this scenario described above, who is at-fault?  This is actually an easy call under South Carolina law. State statute provides that the driver of a vehicle intending to turn left must yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or close enough to present an immediate hazard (South Carolina Code § 56-5-2320). This applies even when the light has turned yellow. Accordingly, in our first scenario, the driver turning left is clearly at fault.

Traffic Light Disputes and Accident Liability

A thornier situation arises when the parties involved in a wreck offer opposing stories with the respect to the color of the light.  Take the same scenario discussed above, but now assume that the driver turning left (Driver A) had pulled out into the intersection while waiting for a break in traffic. Driver A then attempts to complete a left-turn. Driver B, traveling in one of the opposing lanes, proceeds through the intersection at the same time that Driver A is turning left. Predictably, all of this results in a violent collision. When law enforcement arrives, Driver A maintains that the light had turned red and that he was simply trying to clear the intersection. Driver B, however, is adamant that the light was yellow when she entered the intersection. Absent a witness to either support or refute the facts offered by Driver A and Driver B, the investigating officer is likely to write off the affair as a “He Said, She Said” and leave it to each driver’s respective insurance carrier to make a determination as to fault. However, in this situation, it is almost certain that each driver’s insurance company will deny liability, leaving the parties with no other option than to bring a lawsuit against one another.

Depending on the evidence developed over the course of the case, a jury could find one party 100 percent liable or, as is frequently the case, determine that both parties are partially responsible. In the latter scenario, the jury would be tasked with assigning a percentage of liability to each party and the court would then reduce the plaintiff’s monetary award of damages by the percentage of his or her liability (provided that the jury doesn’t not find the plaintiff to be more than 50 percent at fault, in which case, he or she would be barred from any recovery).

If you’ve been involved in an auto accident, you most likely have questions. To determine who is at fault, you need help from an experienced attorney. This can be a lengthy and complicated process, and you don’t want to go it alone. At Morton & Gettys, our Personal Injury Group is dedicated to getting you the outcome you deserve, no matter the situation.

Morton & Gettys Personal Injury Practice in South Carolina

If you’ve been involved in a complex auto accident, you need an experienced attorney by your side. At Morton & Gettys Personal Injury group, we are dedicated securing the outcome you deserve. Unlike insurance companies, we have your best interests at heart. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.