Personal Injury Case Study
The following car accident story illustrates several important legal issues regarding rear-end collisions. It reviews the accident, demonstrates liability, injuries, settlement negotiations, and the final case resolution.
A family of four was driving westbound down a busy four lane intersection in a sizeable sport utility vehicle (Vehicle One) traveling at a speed of 10-15 miles per hour during a light rain. The traffic was congested since there was a holiday sale taking place at the mall about 1/4 of a mile ahead. As they drove, they noticed a dancing reindeer holding a sign advertising a sale.
The father was driving and his attention was drawn to the dancing reindeer as he looked away from the road for no more than 10 seconds. When he looked back, the traffic immediately in front of him was completely stopped.
The father, unable to brake in time and due to the slick roadway, slammed into the car in front of him, a compact mini-car (Vehicle Two) in which an elderly man and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Retired were traveling. The rear-end collision started a chain reaction causing the mini to slam into a motorcycle (Vehicle Three) driven by a 19-year old male with an 18 year old female passenger who was not wearing a helmet.
The vehicle code in almost every jurisdiction in the U.S. requires drivers to allow a comfortable distance between themselves and the vehicle in front of them. It also requires a degree of care particularly when the road conditions are less than ideal (i.e. in this car accident story the light rain raised existing oils on the road surface making the roadway particularly slick).
Furthermore, the driver is required to keep their eyes on the road avoiding distractions such as a dancing reindeer on the side of the road. In this car accident story, when the driver of the SUV slammed into the mini he was at fault for failing to observe those basic rules of the road.
Some states will hold the initial driver responsible for the chain reaction and the subsequent damage and injury to the motorcyclist. However, other states may hold the driver of the mini partially liable under a contributory negligence theory - for "contributing to" the accident by also failing to allow a comfortable distance.
Vehicle One: In this vehicle, we have four passengers. Since the two children and two adults were seat belted, the injuries were no more severe than mild whiplash. (This occurs when the body is restrained by a seat belt but the neck is not. When the car jerks to a stop due to a collision, the head moves forward then backward in a whip like motion which can cause symptoms such as head aches, back pain and sometimes tingling sensations in the legs.)
Vehicle Two: In this vehicle, we have two elderly parties. Even though Mr. and Mrs. Retired are more fragile due to their age, the driver of vehicle one is still responsible for their injuries because most jurisdictions hold that we take the plaintiff as they come - even with pre-existing conditions or fragile sensibilities.
They experienced whiplash, neck and back pain due to the rear-end collision. However due to the size differences of each vehicle, the SUV caused extensive property damage and the impact would be more severe causing more significant injury.
Vehicle Three: These two were the most seriously injured because they did not have the protection of a vehicle. Both experience road rash from falling on the pavement and the female passenger experienced a concussion from failing to wear a helmet.
In a rear-end collision such as this, the police will usually respond and make a Traffic Incident Report. Therein, any vehicle code violations would be noted as well as witness statements, injuries and over-all cause of the accident. When this occurs, it makes settlement negotiations quite easy because there is no real dispute as to what happened and re-telling your car accident story is not an issue.
Mr. and Mrs. Retired each went to their family chiropractor and incurred $3,500 in chiropractic care as well as $150 in out-of-pocket expenses. They each submitted a claim for $14,150.00 to the adjuster which represents their medical bills multiplied by four plus their out-of-pocket expenses attributed to prescriptions.
The adjuster responded with a settlement offer of $3,800 which is slightly more than the medical expenses. This is common, however Mr. and Mrs. Retired counter-offered at $12,500 letting the adjuster know that they were serious about their settlement.
The driver of the motorcycle had to be taken to urgent care where he incurred $5,800 in medical bills. He needed to participate in 3 months of physical therapy for another $3,600 and he missed 4 weeks of work as a courier where he makes $12 per hour part-time. He demanded $38,560 or 4 times his medical bills plus his lost wages. The adjuster countered at $19,000.
His female passenger incurred $7,300 in medical bills in the emergency room and was transported there by ambulance which cost $1,200. She participated in 6 months of chiropractic for another $9,000. She demanded $70,000. The adjuster challenged the duration of treatment arguing that her chiropractic was excessive and offered $11,000.
The total insurance policy was only $50,000, therefore each of the four injured parties only had this sum to share. The final settlement was $8,000 each to Mr. and Mrs. Retired, $20,000 to the motorcycle driver and $14,000 to his passenger.
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