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Every driver has the duty to keep his car under proper control and to drive in a manner so that he may avoid colliding with other cars. Most of the time the fault of the accident lies with the driver involved. However, there are circumstances when others may be negligent and liable for the harm caused. These parties include, but are not limited to, the state or municipality which maintains roads, bridges and signs; auto manufacturers; and maintenance and repair shops.
The law permits you to seek recovery after an accident to "make you whole again." The main concept is that you should be compensated in a manner that, as best as the law can arrange, places you back in the same position as you were before the accident. In attempting to make a person whole, the law recognizes that damages from an automobile accident can come in many forms; lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, scarring, disfigurement, loss of earning capacity and a spouse's loss of consortium, or loss of the services, society and intimacy of the relationship.
In addition to normal compensatory damages designed to make someone whole, in extreme cases "punitive damages" may be available if the injury was the result of someone else's reckless or irresponsible behavior, or if the cause of the accident or the extent of the injury was caused by something about the car that is dangerous -- a defective product -- that the manufacturer should have corrected.
There are exceptions to this rule in states that have passed "no fault" insurance provisions or allow for "economic only" recovery. In this situation, a person may be limited to recovering only for actual lost wages, medical expenses and property damage. Pain and suffering may be limited or unrecoverable in certain states.