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Who Is at Fault if I Was Hit While Merging?

March 17, 2023

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Originally published February 22, 2021.

Merging onto a highway or interstate is always a little stressful, even when traffic is light. That’s because you’re required to enter the roadway at a fast enough speed to keep up with other traffic, but you may have only a hundred feet to accelerate and reach that speed. When you’re merging, it’s your legal responsibility to ensure you can do so safely, regardless of traffic conditions.

Many highway and interstate crashes occur while merging, as they’re essentially high-speed lane changes. But who is at fault for these crashes? Merging drivers may run out of room and have no choice but to drift into heavy traffic, but drivers already on the highway may not have enough room or time to react to clear a path for them.

At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, our lawyers have helped many drivers who were injured in merging-related accidents, and we’re here to break down this common but complicated legal situation.

The Merging Driver Is Usually Considered at Fault

If you were hit by an oncoming vehicle while merging, it’s likely—but not guaranteed—that you will be considered at fault. Why? Most police officers, insurance companies, and even juries will assume that you merged off the on-ramp and onto the highway or interstate without paying attention or checking your mirrors. In other words, you will be assumed to have negligently merged into the path of another vehicle without looking to see if the path was clear.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and many times merging drivers aren’t at fault or had no choice but to merge because their on-ramp was ending and they had vehicles behind them. Drivers in the lane adjacent to on-ramps may fail to accommodate merging drivers. Although that doesn’t necessarily make them at fault, as Ohio law says oncoming traffic has the right-of-way, it’s worth considering if the cause of the crash is contested, and consulting an auto accident lawyer.

Why Are Merging Drivers Considered at Fault for Crashes?

Merging drivers may be assigned partial or full fault for a crash due to the following reasons:

  • Merging too slowly—Merging should be done quickly but safely, and vehicles should reach normal highway speeds before drivers change lanes. When drivers enter highways or interstates at slow speeds, they can put other drivers at risk by disrupting the flow of traffic.
  • Merging without signaling—Although it may seem obvious that you’re merging when you’re traveling on an on-ramp, other drivers don’t always know that, since they may not know when you are planning to merge. Just as you would when changing lanes, always use your turn signal when merging.
  • Merging dangerously—Although it’s nice for other drivers to be considerate and give you room to merge, they don’t legally have to. It’s up to merging drivers to find a safe time and place to merge. When drivers merge recklessly, they can be held accountable for crashes.
  • Merging across multiple lanes of traffic—When you merge onto a highway or interstate, you should do so into the closest lane to the on-ramp. If you need to get over to the far side of the road, do so one lane at a time, and check for safe gaps in traffic before each lane change.

Negligent Drivers Can Be Held Accountable for Merging Crashes, Too

Although drivers in adjacent lanes of traffic don’t have any duty to merging drivers—i.e., slowing down or changing lanes to make room is only a courtesy and not a requirement—they DO have a duty to drive safely, responsibly, and within the law. That means that if a merging crash occurs because the driver in the adjacent lane was speeding, impaired, or distracted, they can be held liable for the crash.

Merging drivers also may not be held liable for their crashes if they’re hit by drivers who drift into them. For example, a driver may be attempting to merge, but the driver in the adjacent lane isn’t paying attention and drifts, speeds up, or slows down at the same time the on-ramp driver begins to merge or has already begun to merge. If there’s a collision, the non-merging-driver could be considered responsible because they created a dangerous condition when the merging driver otherwise was clear to enter the highway or interstate.

Let Nurenberg Paris Investigate Your Crash and Get You Compensation

Merging crashes are treated similarly to rear-end crashes. Although the drivers who rear-end others are usually considered liable, it’s not always an open and shut case. Certain circumstances can make it so that the rear-ended driver, or in this case, the non-merging driver, can be held liable for the crash. Our Cleveland car accident lawyers know the ins and outs of all crash-related compensation claims, and we’ll work hard to prove you weren’t at fault and get you the money you’re owed. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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