Car accidents are one of the most common sources of personal injury. Most are minor fender-benders, but a shocking number cause severe injury, permanent disability, and even death. With these traumas often come pain and suffering, emotional distress, lost wages, medical expenses, and property damage - all of which may constitute financial compensation.
Sadly, though, many auto accident victims never receive the full amount of damages to which they are entitled to for their car accidents. The major reason is that, because they don't know the full worth of their claims, auto accident victims accept the first offers that insurance companies make - and it's no secret that these insurance companies try to get off cheap. Therefore, it is crucial to enlist the help of a qualified personal injury lawyer if you are to be fairly compensated.
To learn more about auto accidents and how an experienced lawyer can help victims of car accidents receive the compensation they deserve, read the sections below.
Car Accident Lawsuit Eligibility
Immediate family members - including parents, spouses, and children, are almost always eligible to file a claim, although minors may need an adult guardian to take a lawsuit to court. Additionally, other family members - such as stepparents, grandparents, and dependents, may also be permitted to file suit in some states.
A personal injury lawyer specializing in car accident cases can help you and your relatives understand the laws in your particular state.
Statutes of Limitations
Many factors can weigh into a person's ability to file a car accident suit. Depending on the laws of the state in which you live, the statute of limitations laws may restrict your ability to file a car accident personal injury suit to as little as one to two years following the date on which the accident occurred. In situations in which injuries are not discovered until well after an accident, the date on which the injuries are discovered is generally taken as the beginning of the period delineated in your state's statute of limitations laws.
Other factors which may impact upon your ability to file a car accident suit include your state's motor vehicle and insurance laws, the crashworthiness of the vehicles involved in the accident, both parties' compliance with local traffic laws, and other regulations pertaining to liability and negligence.
Common Auto Accident Causes
There are many factors that can contribute to motor vehicle accidents; however, the most common cause is irresponsible driver behavior. When a driver’s negligent driving behavior causes an accident with another vehicle, the injured person may be eligible to receive compensation. If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident, an experienced attorney can help you determine if negligent driver behavior was to blame.
The most common causes of auto accidents include:
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), speeding is one of the main factors contributing to auto accidents. Even traveling 5 miles over the speed limit can greatly increase your chances of being involved in an accident.
Driving Under the Influence
Drunk driving is also one of the main causes of auto accidents. In fact, the NHTSA estimates that alcohol was involved in 9 percent of all crashes and 41 percent of fatal crashes in 2006.
Talking with other passengers or on a cell phone, changing radio stations, looking at scenery, or other actions that take the driver’s attention from the road can all cause accidents. In addition, when an accident has already occurred, “rubbernecking”, or looking around to see the aftermath of the accident, can lead to additional car accidents.
Driving while Drowsy
According to the NHTSA, drowsy driving leads to thousands of auto accidents each year. Because these crashes often occur on high-speed roads and the driver doesn’t attempt to avoid the accident, these accidents tend to be very serious. The driver is often drowsy due to sleep loss, or is under the influence of sedating medications or alcohol.
Behaviors such as tailgating, preventing other drivers from moving their vehicles, or flashing the headlights at another driver when annoyed are all classified as aggressive driving, which can lead to accidents.
Road and Weather Conditions
Inclement weather conditions, icy roadways, and low visibility, can also lead to auto crashes which can often involve multiple vehicles.
Although driver behavior is to blame for many auto accidents, some are due to a mechanical defect, such as a faulty tire design or flaw in the breaking systems. An experienced auto accident lawyer can determine if a mechanical problem is to blame for your accident and hold the responsible party liable.
Crashworthiness refers to the ability of a vehicle to protect its occupants in the event of a collision. Crashworthiness features such as airbags, seatbelts, rollbars, and headrests are designed to minimize injury and the risk of fire, as well as prevent ejection from the vehicle. However, when these features fail, serious injury can occur, leading to questions of crashworthiness.
Crashworthiness cases primarily deal with the “second collision” in which the driver and passengers collide against the interior of the vehicle. The cause of the accident is typically irrelevant in crashworthiness cases.
There are two important questions to consider when determining crashworthiness:
- Could the vehicle occupants have fared better?
- Could some feature that was lacking in the vehicle have reduced the occupants' injuries?
Types of Vehicle Defects
Defects in any part of the vehicle may cause accidents, including:
- Air bags
- Door Latches
- Seat Backs
- Seat Belts
- Fuel System
- Child Restraints
Responsibility for Crashworthiness Defects
Defective crashworthiness features are a matter of product liability and fault for the defect typically lies in one of three areas:
- Design Defects: injury occurs when a vehicle is unsafe because of the manufacturer's design. For example, a fuel tank placed in a location that makes it likely to explode upon impact is a design defect.
- Manufacturing Defects: injury occurs when there is a flaw in the manufacturing process. For example, failure to include an airbag when the design calls for it is a manufacturing defect.
- Failure to Warn: injury occurs when the manufacturer is aware of a dangerous aspect of a vehicle but fails to warn or provide adequate warning to consumers.
An experienced attorney can review your case and help determine if a defective crashworthiness feature caused your accident and with whom the responsibility lies for this defect.
SUV and Other Vehicle Rollovers
Crashworthiness features are especially important in accidents that involve vehicle rollover. Since SUVs are more top heavy than passenger cars, they are more likely to roll over in the event of an accident. In addition, many SUVs are not equipped with a roll bar - a crashworthiness feature that reduces the degree to which the roof of the vehicle caves in. As a result, SUV rollover is more likely to result in serious and/or fatal injury.
What to do after an Auto Accident
After an auto accident, it is important to know how to proceed so that you do not compromise your ability to obtain the compensation you are entitled to from those responsible for the accident. Insurance companies for other drivers involved will try to dispute your claim, even if it is valid. It is crucial to follow the basic guidelines listed below in the event of an accident so that essential evidence is preserved and your right to full compensation is not jeopardized.
At the Scene of an Auto Accident
At the scene of an auto accident, one should first be sure that any injured parties receive medical attention. Disabled vehicles should be moved from traffic if it is possible to do so without risking further injury. By law, all involved parties must provide their names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and insurance information.
In addition, it may be helpful to do the following:
- obtain names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses
- obtain names of the police officers who responded to the accident
- photograph the location of the vehicles and the damage
- photograph skid marks or other evidence, if available
- record the exact location and time of day
- note the weather and road conditions, traffic signs, and other relevant information
- note the names of anyone who claims responsibility for the accident
For your protection, do not admit fault at any time and do not offer any information other than what is required by law. If you have been injured, it is important to speak with a knowledgeable auto accident attorney as soon as possible who can ensure that your rights are upheld.
After an Auto Accident
There are certain things that you should do in the days and weeks after an auto accident.
Seek Medical Care if Needed
If you have been injured, make sure to seek the appropriate medical care. You should also keep records of all medical treatment you receive for your injuries.
Inform Your Insurance Company
You must inform your insurance company of the accident promptly. However, don’t be in a hurry to speak with the insurance companies of other drivers involved in the accident. They may offer you a settlement that is far below what you are entitled to.
File Necessary Reports
If you are injured in an auto accident or if damage to the vehicles exceeds a certain amount (usually $200-$500; however, the amount varies depending on the state), you must file a police report. Some states will also require that you file a report with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Keep Meticulous Records
Make sure that you document everything that happened during the accident right away. Also keep records of any medical care you received for injuries sustained in the accident.
Hire an Auto Accident Attorney Immediately
An experienced auto accident attorney can help uphold your rights from the very beginning and help you navigate through the laws pertaining to your case. He or she can help you compile evidence to build a strong case in your favor so that you can recover the compensation you are entitled to.
Do I need a Lawyer?
It is important that you speak to a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after your auto accident to ensure that your rights are protected. In addition, a knowledgeable lawyer can advise you regarding your state’s statutes of limitations, or the time deadlines that apply to your case, and help you file your case in a timely manner.
Understanding the Laws and Time Deadlines
After a car accident, an experienced, knowledgeable lawyer can help you understand the laws that apply to your case and assist you in making a claim before it is too late. The laws that pertain to auto accidents vary by state, and they can be complex and confusing. An experienced auto accident lawyer can help you understand the laws for your state and how they affect your case. In addition, if you do not file your case within your state’s specific time deadlines, or statutes of limitations, you may lose your right to recover any damages for your injury.
Injured parties should also be aware that statutes of limitations not only vary by state, but also by the type of claim you are filing, the entity you are filing against, and other factors. A qualified lawyer can help you determine which regulations pertain to your specific situation to be sure your claim is filed in a timely manner.
While most accidents are relatively minor, serious accidents can cause a lifetime of physical pain, emotional distress, and financial loss. The effects of personal injury as a result of auto accidents can be devastating, requiring months or years of rehabilitation and causing extreme pain and suffering, substantial medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages for which the responsible party can be held liable. Additionally, in the event of a wrongful death caused by an auto accident, surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim to cover funeral costs, medical bills, lost wages, loss of companionship, and other damages.
A lawyer can help you pursue the full amount of compensation to which you are entitled when you or a loved one is involved in an auto accident. A skilled lawyer can thoroughly investigate your claim and preserve essential evidence to help prepare an effective case and get you the compensation you deserve. Having a lawyer on your side also ensures that you are not bullied by the other drivers’ insurance companies into accepting a settlement that is below the amount to which you are entitled.
Though every auto accident case is different and the compensation that you may be eligible to obtain will depend on the specific circumstances of your case, the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit can typically obtain compensation for the following:
- Medical costs
- Rehabilitation costs
- Loss of wages
- Inhibited earning capacity
- Loss of future income or future medical costs related to the injury
- Pain and suffering
There are many insurance issues that can affect your auto accident case. A lawyer can also help you understand issues such as insurance bad faith, uninsured motorists, and no-fault and at-fault laws and how they affect your claim.
Dealing with Insurance Companies
Insurance companies often have their own financial interests in mind instead of your wellbeing. Keep in mind that insurance company employees, especially those of the at-fault driver, are trained to put words in the mouths of accident victims with the intention of invalidating their claims. There are a few things you should know before dealing with insurance companies; however, it is often in your best interest to speak with an experienced auto accident attorney first.
Reporting the Accident
It is important to contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the auto accident. Most insurance companies will deny a valid claim if the accident isn’t reported promptly.
Your insurance company will want any information pertaining to the accident to help in their investigation, including the events that led to the incident and the names and insurance information for the people involved.
Recording a Statement
Your insurance company, as well as the insurance company or the other drivers involved, may want you to record a statement. It is often in your best interest to consult with an auto accident attorney about your case before you make a formal statement so that you don’t compromise your rights to fair compensation.
Insurance companies for the other drivers involved will try to pressure you into accepting their offer; however, it is important that you do not accept this settlement because it is often much less than you may be entitled to.
Insurance Bad Faith Claims
Auto insurance is supposed to help individuals who are involved in car accidents cover the associated costs. However, insurance companies sometimes deny valid claims in their own financial interest. When an insurance company denies a claim that is supported by viable evidence, it is called insurance bad faith. Auto accident attorneys can help people who have had valid claims rejected by filing a bad faith claim against the insurance company.
Most states require motorists to carry a minimum amount of auto insurance in order to legally drive. However, the Insurance Research Council found that in 2000 an average of 14 percent of drivers nationwide didn’t have insurance. Drivers can purchase insurance policies that cover accidents involving uninsured motorists. In such cases, the insured driver will receive compensation through his or her insurance policy, and responsibility then falls on the insurance company to pursue a case against the uninsured motorist. If the insured motorist’s policy does not cover uninsured motorist claims, he or she must seek compensation directly from the uninsured driver.
No-Fault and At-Fault Laws
Liability laws vary from state to state. About half of all states in the United States have adopted no-fault liability laws, which make everyone involved in a car accident responsible for his or her own damages. However, most of these states allow exceptions to these laws, namely if a person sustains a serious personal injury or if property damage exceeds a specific amount. The remaining states have instated at-fault liability laws, which require the party responsible for the car accident to pay damages for everyone involved.
Because points of view and opinions on the events leading to an injury-causing car accident can vary widely between involved parties, proving fault in a car accident suit can often be a particularly difficult, though necessary, task. Whether you are dealing with an insurance company or a car accident lawsuit, in order to maintain the best chances of collecting the full amount to which you are entitled you must demonstrate as clearly as possible which party was at fault for the accident.
To accomplish this, an experienced car accident attorney may call upon a number of resources. In most car accident cases, a police report will be filed by officers responding at the scene, and possibly by you or another person involved in the accident. These police reports can be invaluable in proving fault.
The Traffic Laws in Your State
Your state and local traffic laws may also be found to support your claim that the other party was operating their vehicle in an unsafe or negligent manner, particularly if they are found to have violated any speed limits, road signs, or right-of-way laws. In certain situations, such as in cases involving rear-end collisions on vehicles turning left in the path of oncoming traffic, the other party is nearly always found at fault.
Because the circumstances of each crash are unique and can be difficult to understand, the services of an accident reconstruction expert can be useful in proving fault and making clear the many factors leading up to the occurrence of an injury-causing car accident.
Auto Accident Reconstruction and Investigation
When an auto accident occurs, the people involved may be unable to recall the exact events that took place, or there may be conflicting versions of what took place. In addition, over time important evidence may be lost, damaged, or tampered with. It is essential that a knowledgeable lawyer be contacted as soon as possible to help investigate the accident and build a strong case in your favor. A lawyer can protect essential evidence from the scene and reconstruct the car accident to determine who was at fault.
Why do I need a Lawyer for the Investigation?
Police reports may not show the whole picture of what happened at an auto accident and important evidence may be left out. A lawyer who has experience defending auto accident victims knows what to look for at the scene of an accident. They will preserve vital evidence and use it to reconstruct the accident, which may play an important role in the case. They know how to use the evidence to defend your case against other drivers’ insurance companies so that you obtain the full amount of compensation to which you are entitled.
How Lawyers Reconstruct and Investigate an Auto Accident
An experienced auto accident lawyer will examine the exact location where the accident occurred, documenting factors such as road and weather conditions at the time of the accident, eyewitness accounts, sight lines, skid marks, debris, and any other evidence that can be found. They will use the evidence collected during the investigation to reconstruct the auto accident, step by step, which can be essential in lawsuit negotiations and in the courtroom.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that car accidents are one of the main causes of personal injury for all age groups, accounting for approximately 2.6 million injuries each year. Injuries range from minor abrasions, scrapes, and bruises, and broken bones, to catastrophic personal injuries to the internal organs, brain, or spinal cord that can have life-changing effects.
Internal Organ and Soft Tissue Injuries
Injuries involving the internal organs are often caused by the impact of an auto accident, or by a broken rib that punctures an organ. Injuries can occur to the kidneys, liver, spleen, intestines, lungs, or heart, and may require extensive corrective surgery. In severe cases, certain internal injuries may lead to lifelong disability. Other injuries to the skin, such as cuts, scrapes, and abrasions, may require plastic surgery to correct.
Spinal Cord Injury
Auto accidents are one of the leading causes of spinal cord injury (SCI). The effects of spinal cord injuries vary based on the location and severity of the damage. In auto accidents, SCI is most often caused by excessive pressure, bruising, and lacerations involving the spinal cord. When severe, spinal cord injuries can radically change the life of the victim, causing some degree of paralysis or loss of muscle function in various areas of the body.
Victims of spinal cord injury face extensive challenges to restore their quality of life, and may require long term physical and occupational therapy, attendant care, pain medications, prosthetics, and more. Additionally, more than 30 percent of spinal cord injury patients require hospital admission every year for surgery, infections, respiratory complications, and other medical issues.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Car accidents are also one of the main causes of traumatic brain injury (TBI). During auto accidents, TBIs are caused either by a concussion when the victim’s head hits the inside of the vehicle, or from a serious whiplash injury that damages the brain tissues. Short and long term symptoms can include an altered state or loss of consciousness, memory loss, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, blurred vision, loss of smell, hearing, or taste sensations, speech problems, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and an increased sensitivity to light, noise, or movement. Even with years of rehabilitation and therapy, a person suffering from a traumatic brain injury may still require daily attendant care and life long medical treatments. The financial costs can be overwhelming for both the victims and their families.
Auto Accident Statistics
Approximately 2.6 million people are injured each year in car crashes and they are the main cause of death for Americans from age 2 through 34. Read more auto accident statistics such as these.
Contact an Auto Accident Attorney in Your Area
If you or a loved one has been injured, or you have lost a loved one in an auto accident, you should contact an attorney to handle your case. Use ImpactLaw’s online directory to find an experienced auto accident attorney in your area.