Control as a Factor in an Auto Accident Case

The duties of a motorist to drive at a reasonable rate of speed, to maintain an adequate lookout, and to keep his-her car under control are interrelated requirements under Oregon law.  These are legal duties that cannot be considered separately because they are elements which are mutually dependent on each other—the so-called “trinity.”  The reason for this interrelationship between control, speed and lookout is that each one of these factors impacts on the other factors.  Also, how they are treated by a court depends on the facts of each case rather than upon a formula.  In this section on the subject of control, we will concentrate on looking at just the element of “control.”

Am I “Out-of-Control?”

There is an important question that the law and courts are trying to resolve in an automobile accident case.  That question is: “Which driver was out-of-control?”  In order to reach a judgment on that question, the actions of both parties in the accident—as well as rest of the facts—will be examined.

Specifically, on the issue of control, unless a change takes place in the circumstances and the environment in which you are driving, a variation in the rate of “speed” has a simultaneous effect upon the duties of “control” and “lookout.”  Therefore, if any one of these elements of “the trinity” are violated and not properly handled, then an accident could easily occur.  It is for this reason that a jury will usually consider all three elements of the “trinity” (speed, control, and lookout).  A jury will look at all three elements in order to determine who is at fault and what constitutes negligence.

Putting the Pieces of the Puzzle Together

In “putting the piece of the puzzle together, a jury has to determine three important issues:

  1. the violation of a duty,
  2. assessing liability and
  3. a finding of negligence.

[We will discuss “negligence” in more detail in another part of this website].  But, for now, what is important for you to know is that these three issues will be addressed by a jury that will look at the accident through an analysis of how speed, control, and lookout relate to each other—based on the facts of the case.

It is important to understand that speed, control and lookout will always have to be considered in relationship to one another.  Why?  The answer is: “Because change in control or lookout can affect the rate of speed.”  For example, the greater the speed, the less control a person has while driving.  As a result of this kind of situation, the less control that a driver has over his-her vehicle, there is a greater necessity for them to maintain a sharp lookout.

How it All Fits Together

In making a determination of “how it all fits together,” a jury will have to look at the facts of each case, rather than use a set formula.  In looking at the facts, Oregon law and the courts expect that a jury will take the relationship of speed, control, and lookout into account.  It is the relationship between these three elements that helps a jury determine which driver violated a duty, acted in a negligent manner and is liable for the accident and any damages and/or injuries that result.

In this regard, it is important to know that as long as some evidence is introduced on any one of these elements—speed, control, and/or lookout—then all three of these elements will be considered by the jury.  And that is how it all fits together.