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Vehicle Accidents

Every year tens of thousands of Minnesotans suffer personal injury or wrongful death on Minnesota highways and roads. Negligence and improper driving cause countless accidents and crashes each year resulting in injuries, death, medical expense and lost time from work. According to the Minnesota State Patrol:

  • Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death to young people.
  • 455 people died on Minnesota highways in 2008.
  • 33,379 Minnesotans were injured vehicle accidents in 2008.
  • Contributing factors in single vehicle crashes 1) speed 26%, 2) driver inattention 11.6%, 3) chemical impairment 7.4% 4) overcorrecting 7.2%.
  • Contributing factors in multiple vehicle crashes 1) driver inattention 23.3%, 2) failure to yield 18.1%, 3) following to closely 11.4% 4) speed 8.2%.
  • For older drivers failure to yield is cited most often as cause of crash. Driver Inexperience is the second most cited factor for drivers age 15 -19.

The following are a few of the types of vehicle collisions frequently seen in Minnesota, and the law relating to each:

Intersection Crashes

Rear-End Crashes

Over the Center Line Crashes

Truck and Bus Crashes

Farm Equipment Crashes

Single Vehicle Crashes

Bad Weather Crashes

Intersection Crashes

The primary right-of-way statute in Minnesota is Minn. Stat. § 169.20.  Right-of-way is defined as “the privilege of immediate use of the highway”.  Minn. Stat. § 169.21, subd. 45.

Stop Sign Intersections

After coming to a stop at a stop sign, the driver must yield to vehicles “which are within the intersection or approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard”.  Minn. Stat. § 169.20, subd. 3.

Traffic Light Intersections

Traffic with the green light obviously have the right-of-way, but must still yield to other vehicles and pedestrians lawfully within the intersection.  Minn. Stat. § 169.06, subd. 5.  Vehicles facing a red light shall remain standing until the green light is shown.  Vehicles permitted to turn on a red light must first stop and then yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and other traffic lawfully proceeding with the green light.  Minn. Stat. § 169.06, subd. 5(c).

Yield Sign Intersections

The driver of a vehicle approaching a yield sign shall slow to a speed that is reasonable for conditions of traffic and visibility, and stop if necessary, and yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian legally crossing the roadway, and to all vehicles in the intersecting street or highway which are so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.

Left Turning Vehicles

The driver intending to turn left must yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.  Minn. Stat. § 169.20, subd. 2.  A motorist must signal his or her intention to turn continually for at least one hundred feet before turning the vehicle.  Minn. Stat. § 169.19, subd. 5.

Passing at Intersections

The law requires that a driver not cross over to the left side of the roadway to pass another vehicle when approaching within one hundred feet of or traversing any intersection within a city or without if so posted.  Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 5(d)(2).

Duty of Driver with Right-of-Way

The driver traveling at an unlawful speed forfeits the right-of-way.  If a driver forfeits the right-of-way, it does not shift the right-of-way to the other driver, but leaves it to the jury to determine negligence based on the exercise of due care and reasonableness.  Unlawful speed includes unreasonable speed based upon the actual and potential hazards then existing.

Duty to Observe

The driver with the right-of-way remains obligated to maintain a proper lookout, then once it appears that another driver will not yield the driver with the right-of-way is obligated to take appropriate precautions.


Rear End Crashes

Duty to Avoid a Collision

The operator of a following car must exercise due care to avoid collision with the vehicle in front. The following driver is prohibited from following more closely than is reasonable and prudent. Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 8. The presence of slippery roads requires the exercise of care commensurate with the dangers ordinarily attendant to driving in such conditions.

Duty on Leading Driver

A notice of intent to stop must be given by operable brake lights and or turn signals which clearly communicate the intent of the leading driver.


Over the Center Line Crashes

Drivers shall drive on the right half of a roadway except when overtaking and passing another vehicle which is proceeding in the same direction or when otherwise allowed. Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 1. Vehicles proceeding in opposite directions shall pass each other on the right. Minn. Stat. § 169.18, subd. 2. Over the center line collisions, often known as head-on collisions, are often the most violent and damaging crashes which happen on our roadway. Driver inattention, fatigue, texting or talking on the cell phone, and failure to control the vehicle in bad weather are the leading causes of crossing the center line. These collisions can often be fatal or cause life-altering damages.


Truck and Bus Crashes

Vehicle accidents that involve commercial vehicles (semis) or that involve commercial buses or motor coaches cause significant damage and injury each year in Minnesota. These cases require special attention, including acting quickly to preserve evidence at the scene of the accident and serving spoliation notices on the trucking companies. Spoliation notices are formal letters giving notice of the claims and directing the companies to preserve vital evidence for later evidentiary use in court. Lawyers who are experienced in truck and bus litigation will be able to move quickly to preserve this critical evidence. Commercial truckers and buses are required to comply with many federal regulations that involve the number of hours that they can drive, how they keep their log books, the condition of their vehicles, and the selection and retention of their drivers.


Farm Equipment Crashes

Anyone who operates a tractor, combine, hay wagon or other implement of husbandry on public roads must follow state laws designed to ensure the safety of other drivers. The Minnesota State Patrol provides the following guidelines:

What is an implement of husbandry?

An implement of husbandry, according to state law, is any vehicle designed or adapted exclusively for agricultural, horticultural or livestock operations.

Any towed vehicle which meets the definition above is an implement of husbandry. This includes wagon trailers and implement trailers used in a farming operation.

Driving on the left/wide load

Implements of husbandry must stay to the right of the center line except when passing, or if preceded by a registered motor vehicle equipped with operation front and rear hazard warning lights.

When is lighting required?

Amber flashing hazard lights are required at all times on selfpropelled implements manufactured since January 1, 1970. Other lights specified below are required on implements of husbandry (regardless of manufacture date) from sunset to sunrise, while it's raining, or any time visibility is impaired. Although not required by law, lights used during daylight will enhance equipment visibility on the road.

What lights are required?

Lights on self-propelled implements must include at least:

  • Two amber flashing hazard warning lights visible to front and rear
  • One white headlight visible to front
  • One red taillight visible to rear
  • Two red reflectors visible to rear
  • Self propelled implements may also display a rotating amber beacon.

Lights on towed farm implements must include at least:

  • One white or amber light, visible from the front to mark the extreme left projection of the implement.
  • One amber or red light visible from the rear to mark the extreme left projection of the implement
  • Two red reflex reflectors at the extreme left and right rear ends of the implement

What other safety practices are recommended?

The American Society of Agricultural Engineers and other safety organizations suggest:

  • Implements extending more than 33 feet behind the hitch point should have amber reflectors on both sides spaced at least every 16.4 feet, with the rearmost reflector positioned as far back as possible.
  • Tractors or other vehicles towing implements should be of adequate size to safely control their towed load. It is unsafe to tow any implement without brakes at any speed, if the implement's weight exceeds twice that of the towing vehicle.
  • Drivers should reduce speed for hills, rough ground, curves and turns and before approaching intersections or stops.
  • If possible, implements of husbandry should pull over on busy or narrow roads to allow traffic to pass.
  • Brake pedals on self-propelled implements should be locked together.
  • Shift to lower gear before ascending incline.
  • Reflectors, lights and SMV emblems should be kept clean and should be replaced when faded.
  • Extra riders should never be allowed on implements of husbandry. Runovers by tractors and trailing implements are the leading cause of farm-work related death to children.

Single Vehicle Crashes

The safety of passengers in an automobile is the responsibility which rests primarily with the operator of the vehicle. When a passenger is injured in a single vehicle accident, negligence will commonly lie with the driver of the vehicle for failing to maintain control of the vehicle on the roadway.

Injuries to Family Members

In Minnesota, a family member may make a claim for negligence against the driver or owner of a motor vehicle who happens to be a family member. This is true even of spouses and immediate family members. Restrictions contained within auto insurance policies which restrict the ability of family members to make claims against one another are generally not enforced in Minnesota.

Collisions with Animals

An owner of a cow or horse is required to properly control them and prevent the animal from running at large. If an owner knowingly permits the animal to run at large he may be responsible for treble damages. Minn. Stat. § 346.18. These cases often require proof of inadequate enclosures or failure to properly maintain the enclosures which prevent the animals from getting loose.


Bad Weather Crashes

Bad weather accidents are a common occurrence in Minnesota. Drivers in Minnesota have a duty to drive at a speed commensurate with the conditions of the roadway and to maintain control of their vehicles at all times. Bad weather crashes are generally avoidable and could be prevented by the exercise of due care by the driver to slow down and drive at an appropriate speed given the roadway conditions. All drivers have an obligation to know and appreciate the changing weather conditions and the effect that those conditions have on the roadway.


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