Question: I damaged the taillight of another car, but only because he had an illegal bumper height; it was a low rider. My bumper height was statutorily correct, but I got cited. Can I really be held responsible and have to pay for the damages?
Answer: Yes, if you hit another car, then you can be held liable and a claim made against your property damage liability coverage for damages to the other car’s tail light -- even if the other car were illegal in some way.
We get a lot of questions like this, asking if your liability as the at-fault driver is affected if there is some reason the other car is technically illegal. The answer is almost always no.
The other motorist could have been driving without insurance, missing a license plate, or have window tint that is too dark – all of which may be illegal in your state – but none of these things actually has any bearing on you hitting the other car or who is to blame.
What would affect your liability, or how much fault is placed on you, is if the other driver did something that contributed to the car accident.
Say you turned left in front of the other driver, but it was at night and the other party didn’t have their headlights on. In this situation, you both could be found partially at fault. You for failure to yield and the other driver for not using headlights, which is a traffic violation that made his car hard for you to see and avoid.
States have either contributory or comparative negligence laws, so more than one driver can be at fault for an accident. These laws also dictate how much you can claim if you were partially at fault.
In your case, however, it doesn't sound as if an illegally low bumper height contributed to the accident. It may have made it harder to see the other vehicle or, in your opinion, resulted in you causing more damage than if the car had been of proper height, but that doesn’t exonerate you from being the driver at fault.
Your car insurance company will probably say that had you taken reasonable care as a driver you wouldn’t have hit the other car and thus will find you liable for the low rider’s damages.
You can bring up the issues you have with the other car with your insurer when they ask for your description of how the accident occurred, though it’s doubtful it will affect the claim in any way. What you can hope for is that the other driver was cited for illegal car equipment or illegal aftermarket parts and will have to fix it, which is likely to cost him plenty of money.