Side-impact collisions often lead to high-dollar insurance claims. Here’s how to get the compensation you deserve for your injuries, pain and suffering.
Side-impact accidents, also called broadside or T-bone accidents, happen when the front of one vehicle slams into the side of a second vehicle.
These types of collisions are responsible for 25 percent of all vehicle accident deaths each year.¹
Side-impact collisions happen most often at intersections, where drivers blow past stops signs and run red lights. Even at lower speeds, these accidents often result in severe injuries to the occupants of the broad-sided car.
If you or a family member were injured in a car accident, you’re entitled to compensation from the at-fault driver.
This page helps you understand the dynamics of side-impact car accidents, and explains how to get the compensation you deserve.
Who’s At Fault in a Side-Impact Collision?
Proving who’s responsible for a side-impact crash is the basis of any successful personal injury claim. To establish liability, you must prove the other driver was negligent, meaning they did something wrong or failed to act responsibly.
Examining how the crash happened is the first step in identifying the other driver’s fault.
Failing to halt at stop signs: “Rolling” through a stop sign is illegal. Failing to come to a complete stop at an intersection violates traffic laws. If the collision happens while you’re legally in the intersection, the traffic law violation is automatic proof of the other driver’s negligence.
Failing to yield: When stop signs are in place at a four-way intersection, the law requires one driver yield to another. When two or more cars arrive at the intersection at the same time, it can be hard to figure out who should go first. In these situations, most states’ traffic laws require the driver on the left to proceed first.
Running a red light: Running a red light is illegal, and clear evidence of negligence. Because most drivers pick up speed to get through a light just before it turns red, a broad-side collision can turn deadly.
Turning across traffic lanes: Drivers in a turning lane must wait until it’s safe to cross lanes of traffic. Rarely will a driver who cuts across traffic escape liability for an accident.
Making a right turn into oncoming traffic: Most drivers look both ways before making a right turn at a red light or stop sign. Sometimes that’s not enough. All too often, drivers can’t see speeding cars coming from the side until it’s too late.
Drivers are legally required to wait until it’s safe to join the flow of traffic before attempting a right turn. While the driver already in the lane of traffic can be held partially to blame for speeding, the most blame usually falls to the driver who failed to yield to the oncoming vehicle.
Recklessness and aggressive driving: Reckless behavior and aggressive driving often go hand in hand. Many drivers use their cars as “equalizers.” When they’re intent on making a point, they ignore other drivers who are legally in an intersection as a scare tactic. When aggressive driving results in a collision, the reckless and aggressive driver is liable.
Cell phones: Talking on cell phones and texting while driving is dangerous and illegal. Cell phones take the driver’s eyes, concentration, and focus off driving. While talking or texting, the driver is distracted, and the resulting wrecks are often lethal.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI): Intoxication impairs a driver’s reflexes, sight, and thinking abilities. Intoxicated drivers often fail to look for traffic coming from the side. If they do see other vehicles, their intoxication causes them to misjudge the oncoming driver’s speed and location. DUI is another example of unquestionable negligence.
Mechanical failure: Equipment failure is less frequent, but an equally dangerous cause of side-impact collisions. When a driver can’t stop because of brake or steering failure, traveling into oncoming traffic may be unavoidable. The driver may still be negligent if the car was not properly maintained, or if the driver knew the car had problems but didn’t fix them.
Weather and road conditions: Severe weather, like unexpected freezing rain, can make it impossible for a driver to stop safely. Sliding past a stop sign or traffic signal into an intersection is an invitation to a side-impact accident.
Common Injuries in T-Bone Accidents
When your car is hit from the front or back, like a rear-end collision, there is a bigger “crumple zone” between you and the point of impact. Your bumpers, trunk, motor, and seats can absorb a lot of force.
But when your car is broad-sided, the person on the side that takes the hit is extremely vulnerable. Even with airbags, there’s only the car door and window to slow the other vehicle before it hits you or your passenger.
On impact, the person is violently jolted from side to side. Airbags and seatbelts may help, but the human body can only absorb so much force. When the force is more than the body can take, injuries ranging from whiplash to fractures, organ damage, and even death can occur.
Side-impact collisions often cause secondary crashes, by spinning or slamming the car into other cars, guardrails, trees, or other stationary objects. Airbags deployed in the first impact are no protection when your car rolls over, or spins and crashes into a second car.
Frequent types of injuries from T-bone accidents:
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI): In a side impact, the victim’s head can strike the vehicle frame or window, causing the brain to hit the inside of the skull. Depending on the force of the impact, the person can suffer anything from a mild concussion to a skull fracture, often with long-term cognitive damage. Severe brain injuries can be fatal.
Brain Stem and spinal cord injuries: The human spinal cord attaches to the brain stem. Spinal cord injuries can cause nerve damage, permanent paralysis or death. Trauma patients are assumed to have spinal cord injuries until testing proves otherwise.
Complicated or multiple fractures: The force of impact can easily fracture the victim’s ribs, collarbone, legs, arms, wrists, and hands. Fractures to the pelvis, hips, and thigh bones usually require surgical repair with internally placed rods, plates and screws.
Internal injuries and bleeding: Punctured lungs, aortic tears, and ruptured organs are life-threatening injuries requiring immediate surgical intervention. Victims with internal injuries must be transported to the hospital immediately.
Soft tissue injuries: Back injuries are quite common in driver-side impact collisions. The force of the impact can rupture or herniate the disks located in and around the spinal cord near the neck, mid-back or lower area of the back.
Muscles, ligaments, and tendons all over the body can be sprained and strained in car accidents. Jolting and stretching of the neck and shoulder from side to side and forward and backward is similar to a whip effect, resulting in whiplash injuries.
Cuts, bruises, and scrapes: Flying glass and shards of broken metal can deeply cut the face and other areas of the body. Airbags can cause scalp and facial burns.
Punctured eardrums: Airbags can be lifesaving, but when a side airbag deploys, it explodes outward against the driver’s face and ear. The magnitude of the force can puncture, burn, and lacerate the eardrum. Tinnitus (painful or annoying ringing in the ear) can also result from side airbag deployment.
Using Evidence to Prove Your Claim
After the crash, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what caused the collision. It may be clear to you that the other driver caused the accident, but you’ll have to prove it to the driver’s insurance company before they’ll pay your claim.
When dealing with an insurance company, it helps to speak their language. Here are some common terms used by attorneys and insurance companies:
- Duty of Care means the legal obligation every driver has to drive carefully and avoid causing harm to others.
- Negligence happens when a driver fails to act responsibly or does something no reasonable motorist would do. For example, running a red light.
- Liability means responsibility. The at-fault driver or vehicle owner is usually liable for the accident victim’s damages.
- Damages for car accident victims can include property damage, medical and therapy costs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, replacement services, consortium claims, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
- Direct and Proximate Cause is an action that leads a specific outcome which wouldn’t have otherwise happened. For example, you would not have suffered a fractured pelvis if the at-fault driver hadn’t run the red light and slammed into the side of your car.
To prove the other driver’s negligence requires solid evidence. The evidence must show:
- The at-fault driver had a legal duty of care to drive safely.
- The at-fault driver violated their duty of care.
- The driver’s breach of their duty of care was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries.
A driver’s failure to drive safely is negligent behavior and a breach of their duty of care. When the breach of duty is the direct and proximate cause of a side-impact accident, the at-fault driver becomes liable for your injuries.
When They Blame You For the Crash
Most side-impact collisions are clearly the fault of one negligent driver, often one who blew past a red light or stop sign. But what if the other driver’s insurance company blames you?
Did their insured fail to yield because he couldn’t see you? Were you driving in the rain or after dusk without headlights? Whatever the insurance company comes up with, they will use it as an excuse to limit your compensation or flatly deny your claim.
Don’t give up. If the insurance company denies your claim or wants to cut your compensation, immediately contact a personal injury attorney to protect your interests.
Most states have comparative negligence laws, meaning you can win compensation from the other driver even if you were partly to blame for the accident. If you are partly to blame, your compensation is reduced according to your portion of liability. Depending on the facts, your attorney may help you prove the other driver was totally at fault for the collision.
Gather Multiple Types of Evidence
With or without an attorney, your injury claim will go a lot smoother and have a better outcome if you have well-organized evidence and paperwork.
Evidence to support your claim includes:
Police report: Whether to coordinate fire and rescue activities or to clear traffic, it’s safe to say the police will come to the scene of a side-impact accident. The investigating officer will prepare an official police accident report.
The police report includes valuable information for your claim, including witness statements and contact information, a diagram of the collision, and a list of traffic citations issued to the other driver.
Photographs: Pictures and videos taken at the accident scene immediately after the crash are compelling evidence. The police typically take pictures while investigating fatal car accidents.
If you are physically able, use your cell phone or another device to photograph the cars from as many different angles as you safely can. Take pictures of the intersection, including traffic signals and any stop or yield signs. Photographs of skid marks are also very important.
Videos with sound can capture admissions of fault from the other driver, and could also be compelling evidence of intoxication. Photographs might likewise capture images of beer bottles, drug paraphernalia or open containers of liquor in or near the other driver’s car.
Witness statements: Write down witnesses’ names and contact information. Note any information they may have that shows the other driver was at fault.
Witness statements are powerful indicators of fault. If a witness saw the other driver run a red light or roll through an intersection, make sure you write it down. Better yet, ask the witness to write down what they saw and heard, and to sign and date their statement.
If you or the witnesses heard the other driver say anything like “I didn’t see him coming,” or “I’m sorry, it’s my fault” be sure to write it down. Statements admitting fault for the crash are strong evidence of liability.
Medical records: Never refuse medical attention at the scene. You’ll need a thorough medical exam as soon as possible after the accident. Request copies of all your medical records from the paramedics, hospital doctors, and any other medical and rehab specialists who treat you.
Other: After the accident, keep detailed notes and records. Write down everything you remember from the day of the crash, the events surrounding the accident, and what happened immediately after the other driver t-boned your car.
As time goes by, make notes of every conversation you have with the insurance company, including the date, time, whom you spoke with and the topic of the conversation. You’ll also need to keep clean copies of all correspondence with the insurance company, including letters, forms, and emails.
Maximizing Your Injury Compensation
You should notify your insurance company of an accident, even when it’s not your fault. Your insurance company can usually help with some of your immediate expenses. More importantly, your insurance company will defend you if someone from the other car blames you for the crash.
Injured drivers in a no-fault insurance state must first rely on the med-pay or personal injury protection (PIP) coverage on their own policy. But you don’t have to stop there. You can still file an injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company if your medical costs are higher than your no-fault coverage.
If the accident didn’t happen in a no-fault state, file your claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Damages for injury claims can include:
- Costs for medical treatment, therapy, and rehab
- Out-of-pocket expenses for medications
- Lost wages
- Pain and Suffering
Dealing with Claims Adjusters
Your claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance comapny will be given a number and assigned to a personal injury claims adjuster. If you also have a property damage claim, it will usually be handled by a different adjuster.
The adjuster should treat you with courtesy and respect, but don’t let your guard down. Insurance companies train their employees to find reasons to deny or reduce claim settlements. Try to think like an adjuster while preparing for negotiations.
The claims adjuster will ask you lots of questions and try to get you to say things that could hurt your claim. Be wary of giving a recorded statement. You don’t have to give a statement to get paid. Above all, never give a statement while you’re medicated or upset.
Take advantage of these 12 Tips to Boost Your Injury Compensation.
Remember that if you aren’t comfortable with answering questions or feel bullied by the claims adjuster you can immediately contact an attorney.
Seeking Your Compensation in Court
Keep an eye on the Statute of Limitations. Each state has a deadline for settling an injury or filing a lawsuit. If you miss the deadline, you lose the right to pursue compensation from the at-fault driver.
When the insurance company denies your claim or only offers a low-ball settlement, it may be time to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Lawsuits must be filed against the at-fault driver, not the insurance company. If you have severe or disabling injuries, you’ll need an attorney to help you win fair compensation for your damages.
If your damages are limited, but the insurance company isn’t cooperating, your best bet might be to file your lawsuit in small claims court. Each state has different compensation limits and rules, but the basic procedures for filing a small claims lawsuit are the same.
Small claim courts are designed to make it easier to recover compensation through the court without having to hire an attorney.
When Will You Need an Attorney?
If you are one of the lucky few who walks away from a side-impact accident with minor injuries, you can probably negotiate directly with the insurance company to settle your claim.
Assuming you’ve recovered from soft-tissue injuries and only missed a few days or weeks of work, a fair compensation amount will include the total cost of all your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and a reasonable amount for pain and suffering.
Start your claim like a pro by using our sample Side-impact Collision Demand Letter.
The tragic reality is that side-impact collisions usually result in serious injuries or death.
Claims for severe injuries or wrongful death are complex and expensive. These claims require the skills of an experienced personal injury attorney to get the maximum available compensation for victims and their families.
You need a good attorney to:
- Look for sources of compensation in addition to the at-fault driver’s insurance
- Settle wrongful death claims for the estate to protect the next-of-kin
- Defend accusations of comparative negligence
- Get your fair share of compensation when there are multiple injured claimants competing for limited funds
- Represent injured child accident victims
The insurance company will fight you every step of the way. There’s too much at stake to go it alone. It costs nothing to find out what a personal injury attorney can do for you.
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Side-Impact Collision Questions & Answers
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