Personal Injury Case Study
The following rear-end collision case illustrates several important legal issues in these types of car accidents. We'll discuss the accident, liability, damages, settlement negotiations, and the final case resolution.
Harold and Wilma have been married for 20 years. Wilma was driving home with her adult disabled daughter, Dee, from the grocery store when a vehicle cut in front of her causing her to slam on the breaks.
This caused a rear-end collision with the vehicle immediately behind her. Because Wilma slammed on her breaks, the only collision was between her vehicle and the vehicle behind her.
The driver of the car that cut in front of Wilma was initially at fault for failing to yield the right of way to her. This caused Wilma to hit her breaks suddenly. The driver of the vehicle behind her was also at fault for failing to allow a comfortable distance between himself and Wilma's car.
Each party was assigned a percentage of fault and required to pay damages based upon that percentage. The police were summoned to the scene where they took the accident report and cited both drivers for the violations listed above.
Wilma experienced mild whiplash and her sciatica was exacerbated by the rear-end collision. She declined an ambulance ride and drove immediately home, worried about her spoiling groceries. After sleeping on her injury overnight, she woke up in severe pain with a migraine, stiff back and painful sciatica. She scheduled an appointment with her chiropractor and was seen that afternoon.
Wilma's chiropractor (who had treated her before) scheduled an MRI to determine what were the "old" injuries and what was "new." Wilma was also referred to a physical therapist. She saw her chiropractor for 5 months, received two months of physical therapy and saw her general practitioner twice.
Dee experienced more severe whiplash and her head hit the dashboard causing a slight contusion, but no concussion. Dee also declined to go to the doctor immediately, but was seen by the chiropractor the following day with her mother. The chiropractor saw Dee for 5 months also and scheduled her for 3 months of physical therapy.
Wilma's medical bills totaled $8,500 and she demanded $32,000 for settlement which was denied. The insurance company countered at $20,000 stating that her physical therapy was not necessary and that her chiropractic was excessive.
Wilma then offered $28,000 with a supplemental declaration from her chiropractor attempting to substantiate that the treatment received was warranted.
Dee's medical bills totaled $9,500 and she demanded $40,000 for settlement which was denied. The insurance adjuster countered at $23,000 stating that her physical therapy was related more to her physical disability and not the accident. Dee then counter-offered at $33,000.
Wilma's case settled for $25,000. The driver in front of her paid $15,000 and the driver in back (who effected the rear-end collision) paid her $10,000.
Dee's case settled for $30,000. The driver in front of her paid $18,000 and the driver behind her paid $12,000.
Shortly before settlement, Wilma had filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. Even though Harold did not want the divorce, they resided in a no-fault state and Harold had little choice but to accept it.
When Wilma received her settlement check, Harold claimed that he was entitled to ½ because they also resided in a community property state. Harold was mistaken because personal injury settlements are community property that belong 100% to the injured spouse which, in this case, was Wilma.