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Who Is at Fault if I Was Hit While Merging?

July 8, 2024

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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. And when traffic is heavy, there may be few, if any, openings for you to merge, turning a routine maneuver into a tricky and potentially dangerous affair.

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 the main lanes of traffic, but other drivers also may not have enough room or time to react to clear a path.

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.

Understanding Right-of-Way Rules

When it comes to merging on the road, it's crucial to understand the right-of-way rules that govern these scenarios. Typically, the driver already on the highway or main road has the right-of-way over vehicles attempting to merge.

This means that drivers merging onto the highway or changing lanes must yield to the traffic already occupying that lane. Failure to yield the right-of-way can lead to dangerous accidents and potentially severe injuries.

The Merging Driver Is Usually Considered at Fault

If you were hit by an oncoming vehicle while you were trying to merge, 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 changed lanes 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. And sometimes, drivers in the lane adjacent to on-ramps fail to accommodate merging drivers, and although that doesn’t necessarily make them at fault, it’s worth considering if the cause of the crash is contested.

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 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 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 for them 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. 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.

Comparative Negligence in Merging Accidents

Ohio law follows the modified comparative negligence approach. Comparative negligence recognizes that both parties involved in an accident may share some degree of fault, even in situations where one driver clearly violated the right-of-way rules.

In merging accidents, for instance, a driver already on the highway may have been traveling too fast or failing to maintain a proper lookout, contributing to the collision. If they were then injured in the crash, their compensation may be reduced proportionally to their percentage of fault.

For example, if you were in an accident and found to be 20% at fault, your awarded damages would be reduced by 20%. It’s important to note that if you’re found to be 51% at fault, you will not have access to any damages.

Seeking Compensation After a Merging Accident

If you've been injured in a merging accident due to another driver's negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. Depending on the circumstances, you could pursue damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, property damage, and other losses.

An experienced car accident attorney can evaluate your case, gather evidence of the other party's negligence, and fight for full and fair compensation. It's crucial to act promptly, not only due to time limits for filing a claim but also to preserve evidence that can strengthen your case.

Let Us 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.

Originally published February 22, 2021.

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