Case Example: Collision from Falling Asleep While Driving

Follow two car accident victims injured when another motorist fell asleep while driving. Learn about auto insurance claims for severe injuries.

Here we examine a fictional case study drawn from actual car accident claims.

The study deals with the insurance claims of two innocent victims injured in a vehicle collision caused by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel.

We’ll discuss how the crash occurred, liability, injuries, insurance coverage, and the final claim resolution.

The study ends with a list of important points you should know about car accident injury claims.

How the Accident Happened

The accident occurred just before midnight on a clear and dry autumn evening.

Vehicle 1: Jennifer had worked a 16-hour shift at the hospital, was coming down with a cold, and was exhausted after several weeks of working overtime as a registered nurse. As she pulled out of the parking lot of Sutter General, she debated on whether she could make the 45-minute drive home or if she should sleep in the employee’s quarters.

Determined to sleep in her own bed, she got on the interstate and began the long drive home. At some point, Jennifer started falling asleep while driving and side-swiped a car next to her, causing both cars to hit the concrete Jersey barriers before coming to a stop.

Vehicle 2: Connie was driving home from college with her sister Arlene in the passenger seat. The young women were looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with their family. This would be their last year together at school, as Connie was due to graduate in May.

Connie’s small sedan was in the left lane on the interstate, traveling parallel to the SUV that was traveling in the right-hand lane. Both vehicles were traveling at the posted 55 miles per hour speed limit.

When Jennifer’s SUV suddenly came over on Connie’s car, Connie had no escape. The sisters screamed as the sedan was sideswiped by the big SUV and slammed against the concrete Jersey barriers.

The SUV continued veering to the left, crashing into the Jersey barriers in front of the sedan.

Injuries from the Crash

Vehicle 1: Jennifer experienced severe whiplash, lacerations to her face, and a broken leg.

Vehicle 2: Connie’s side of the small car took the full brunt of hitting the Jersey barrier. Connie suffered a concussion, a broken left arm, and a broken pelvis. She had to be removed from the vehicle with the jaws of life and was transported to the emergency room by ambulance.

Arlene sustained a severe whiplash injury to her neck, lacerations to her face from hitting the passenger side window, and a broken right arm. Like her sister, Arlene was bruised from the force of her body slamming against the safety belts and covered with small cuts from flying glass. She was also rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

Liability and Insurance Coverage

The police investigation determined that Jennifer was at fault for the accident based on the position of the vehicles, skid marks, and witness testimony.

As noted in the police crash report, when questioned at the scene, Jennifer admitted to falling asleep at the wheel. She was ticketed for failing to keep a safe lookout and failing to stay in her lane.

Further, the police report stated that Connie had no part in causing the terrible collision. Jennifer was fully liable for the injuries suffered by Connie and Arlene.

Jennifer’s auto insurance policy provided bodily injury liability coverage limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.

Jennifer’s injuries were covered by the Med-Pay coverage under her own policy.

Damages and Insurance Settlements

Auto insurance liability coverage pays for the bodily injuries and property damage caused by the insured driver.

Claims for vehicle damages are usually handled separately from injury claims.

Bodily injury claims, especially severe injury claims, usually take longer to resolve.

Bodily injury damages can include:

  • Ambulance expenses
  • Medical bills
  • Mental health treatment bills
  • Lost wages
  • Out-of-pocket medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering

Connie’s Damages

Connie required surgery and in-hospital rehabilitation for her broken pelvis. She suffered headaches and blurred vision for several weeks from the concussion. Because of her broken arm and pelvis, Connie was wheelchair-bound for two months. She was completely dependent on others for her daily personal care and meals.

Connie suffered terrible physical and emotional pain for months after the crash. She was unable to return for her last semester at college and could not graduate with her class in May.

She incurred $110,000 in total medical and rehab expenses. Her attorney demanded $200,000 in compensation to cover her medical expenses, out-of-pocket losses, and extensive pain and suffering.

Arlene’s Damages

Arlene was treated in the emergency room for her severe whiplash and a broken arm. Due to the severity of the crash and the bruising on her abdomen, she was evaluated with CT scans for internal injuries. She was released to her parents’ care the next morning and followed up with an orthopedist for her broken arm.

Arlene needed muscle relaxers and a cervical collar for three weeks until the stiffness in her neck subsided. Her arm was put in a cast, and the break was fully healed within twelve weeks.

While her physical injuries healed, Arlene suffered acutely from the emotional distress and trauma from the crash and watching her sister’s bloody body being cut out of the mangled car.

Arlene required intensive psychological counseling to overcome her nightmares and fear from the accident. With the support of her counselor and parents, and encouraged by Connie, Arlene returned to school the following year.

Arlene accrued $14,000 in medical bills and mental health services. Her attorney demanded policy limits of $50,000 from Jennifer’s insurance company.

Final Settlements

Jennifer’s insurance company tendered their $50,000 per-person limit to Connie without hesitation. Since her damages reach $200,000, her attorney wasted no time in filing an underinsured motorist claim with Connie’s car insurance company.

Connie still lived with her parents while she attended college. Leaving no stone unturned, her attorney also filed an underinsured motorist claim with Connie’s parents’ auto insurance carrier, on the basis that Connie was a member of their household and covered under their policy.

Finally, Jennifer’s attorney was able to negotiate a significant reduction to the medical liens against Jennifer’s settlement proceeds.

Arlene’s claim was settled with Jennifer’s insurance company for $40,000. Because her claim settled within the liability carrier’s per-person limits, there was no basis for an underinsured motorist claim.

Important Points About Severe Injury Claims

  • An experienced attorney should handle severe injury claims to maximize car accident compensation for the victim.
  • Government and private health care insurance companies can attach medical liens to your potential injury compensation.
  • College students are typically considered residents of the parents’ household, even if they stay on campus during the school year and are often covered by the parents’ insurance.
  • If the at-fault driver does not have enough insurance to cover your damages, you may have the right to sue them directly for the difference, assuming they have money or assets to pursue.
  • Be sure you know what your auto insurance covers and how it can protect you in accidents that aren’t your fault.


Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>