Head-on accidents are the most lethal car wrecks on American roadways. Get the facts on settling personal injury and wrongful death claims for fair compensation.
Head-on crashes are the most serious of all car accidents. Although they represent only two percent of all collisions, they account for more than ten percent of all car accident fatalities.
Statistically, less than half of the vehicle occupants in a head-on collision will survive the crash. ¹
Even at slow speeds, frontal crashes can be catastrophic. Victims of head-on accidents often incur astronomical bills for medical care, therapy, medicines, and more.
On top of the bills, injured survivors are often out of work for months, and many can never return to full employment.
If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a head-on collision, you need to know what to do, and the pitfalls to avoid, to get the full compensation you deserve.
What Causes Head-on Accidents?
Head-on accidents, also called frontal crashes, happen when the front of one vehicle collides with the front of another vehicle, or a stationary object like a tree. Here are some of the circumstances that can lead to a head-on collision:
Impaired driving: By far, the highest number of head-on crashes involve intoxication. An intoxicated driver’s reflexes and judgment are affected. The impaired driver may nod off at the wheel.
Unsafe passing: On two-lane roads, the passing vehicle must move into the oncoming lane of traffic to get around the slower car. If the driver of the passing vehicle doesn’t see an oncoming car or miscalculates the speed or distance of oncoming traffic, they may not have the time or clearance to move back into the proper lane before crashing.
Wrong-way driving: Many fatal accidents occur because of confused or intoxicated drivers heading the wrong way on a one-way street, or entering a highway with an exit ramp, heading straight into fast oncoming traffic.
Cell phones: Dialing, texting, and speaking on cell phones distracts a driver’s attention. It only takes a couple of seconds of inattention for a car to veer into oncoming traffic.
Drowsy driving: Driver fatigue often affects long-haul truckers, night shift employees, and other sleep-deprived individuals. It’s easy for a drowsy driver to doze off at the wheel, letting the vehicle meander into the opposing lane of traffic.
Road conditions: Cars may slide or hydroplane due to weather conditions. Drivers often swerve to avoid debris in the road, large potholes, or animals.
Common Head-on Accident Injuries
Head-on collisions produce catastrophic, often fatal injuries to the occupants of passenger vehicles. The injury types most commonly seen in front-impact vehicle crashes include:
Head injuries: Thanks to seat belts and air bags, the frequency of severe head trauma in car accidents has gone down. However, closed head injuries and skull fractures resulting in traumatic brain injuries aren’t uncommon, ranging from concussions to coma and death.
Crash victims may also suffer severe cuts and bruising to the head and face, as well as a broken jaw or other facial fractures.
Obese passengers are at the highest risk of severe head injuries in a head-on collision, although the mechanism of injury is not well understood.
Neck injuries: Neck injuries are the most common cause of disability after car accidents, and a third of all neck injuries happen in head-on collisions. Violent movement of the head after impact can over-extend delicate muscles, nerves, and tendons, causing whiplash injuries.
Spinal injuries: When the impact is severe, cushions in the spinal column are compressed, causing painful rupture or herniated disks. Violent front-end collisions can damage or sever a victim’s spinal cord, resulting in paralysis or death.
Leg injuries: Seat belts and airbags helped reduce head injuries, but severe leg injuries have increased. In a front-end accident, the victim’s legs hit the dashboard, steering wheel, or other parts of the passenger compartment.
Internal injuries: Severe trauma to the torso in a head-on accident can cause life-threatening internal injuries to the lungs, spleen, liver, and other organs. Victims with internal organ injuries often suffer from fractures to the ribs or pelvis.
As in any accident, secondary injuries often occur from flying glass and debris. A second impact may cause additional injuries if the vehicle rolls, spins or otherwise crashes into another car or object.
Finding Fault in Head-on Crashes
If you’ve been in a head-on accident with another vehicle, it means one of the drivers was on the wrong side of the road. The person driving on the wrong side is usually to blame for the crash.
When you’re injured, you have the right to expect compensation from the driver who caused the crash. Usually, the compensation will come from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
The insurance company won’t immediately hand out compensation checks for personal injuries or wrongful death claims. It’s up to you to prove the other driver caused the crash, and the crash caused your injuries.
Here are some common terms used by attorneys and insurance companies:
Duty of Care is every driver’s legal obligation to stay alert, watch the road, and avoid causing harm to others.
Negligence is when a driver disobeys traffic laws or does something no reasonable driver would do. For example, driving the wrong way on a one-way street.
Liability means responsibility. The at-fault driver is usually liable for the financial cost of the accident victim’s damages.
Damages can include ambulance and medical airlift costs, medical bills, therapy and rehab costs, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Wrongful Death is the term used when seeking damages from the at-fault driver who caused the death of an accident victim. Wrongful death damages include the cost of any emergency or medical care, burial costs, loss of future income, and loss of consortium by dependent family members.
Direct and Proximate Cause is an action that leads to an outcome which wouldn’t have otherwise happened. For example, you wouldn’t have two broken legs if the at-fault driver hadn’t swerved into your lane while texting and hit your car head-on.
Negligence and Liability
The courts have long held that drivers have a legal duty of care to other drivers. When a driver neglects to follow local traffic laws, drives recklessly, or endangers others, that negligence is a duty of care violation. When that violation causes an accident, the driver is liable.
If you have injuries from a head-on crash, you must prove the driver’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the collision. When you prove the other driver caused the collision, then he or she is legally responsible for your damages.
There are times when it’s not easy to prove the other driver was solely responsible. Sometimes, outside circumstances beyond a driver’s control contribute to a crash. When outside factors like icy roads play a role in the crash, the law mitigates, meaning lessens or offsets, the at-fault driver’s liability.
Watch out for insurance company excuses to cut your settlement payment. The insurance company will reckon that if icy roads are 40 percent of the cause of the crash, the fault of their insured is reduced by 40 percent, so they can knock 40 percent off your compensation.
Don’t settle for less than you deserve. Contact a personal injury attorney to discuss the full value of your claim.
Your contribution to the crash can also mitigate the at-fault driver’s liability. If you had some fault in the crash, the at-fault driver’s liability might lessen by the percentage of your contribution.
Again, don’t rely on the insurance company to make that call. Insurance adjusters are trained to talk injured and suffering claimants into settling for as little as possible. Talk to an attorney.
If you live in one of the many states with comparative negligence laws, you can pursue compensation from the other driver even if you were partly to blame for the accident.
If you are partly to blame, your compensation will be reduced according to your portion of liability. But don’t let the insurance company have the final say in how much liability was yours. Your attorney may be able to prove the other driver was primarily to blame for the collision.
Wrongful Death Claims
Head-on collisions cause severe, often fatal injuries. If you lost a loved one in a fatal crash, please reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney for a free consultation.
The accident victim may have been driving the car that was hit, or was a passenger in either car. In any case, you’ll need an attorney to protect the best interest of your deceased loved one and family members.
Let your attorney help you with:
- Insurance adjusters
- Hospital records
- Police inquiries
- News reporters
- Probate issues
Don’t rely on the insurance company, who may even blame your loved one for being in the car.
Good Evidence Supports Your Claim
There are several ways to gather the evidence you need to build a personal injury claim. If you’re sent directly to the hospital, ask someone else to gather evidence for you.
If you don’t have someone to help, all is not lost. You’ll be able to use information gathered during the police investigation of the accident.
Always call 911 to report an accident and ask for help. If your physical condition and circumstances allow, try to collect some evidence before the accident scene changes.
Don’t try to gather evidence if it will worsen your injuries, cause you to delay medical attention, or keep you from helping others who are injured.
Photographs: Use your smartphone, camera or another device to take pictures of everything in view. Photograph the cars as they sit and the point of impact. Close-ups and wide shots of the scene are important.
You can never take too many photos of the scene. Include traffic signals, overhanging trees, lane dividers, skid marks, road debris, and any bottles of alcohol in or near the other driver’s car.
If a police officer gives the other driver a field sobriety test, record it using your camera’s video mode. Try and get as close as possible so you can hear any slurred speech or admissions of guilt. If the officer tells you to stop taking pictures, you must cooperate.
Witness statements: Write down the names and contact information of all witnesses. Make sure you ask them what they saw, especially if they believe the other driver was at fault. Maybe they saw the driver talking or texting on a cell phone.
They may have heard the other driver making admissions against interest, like “I was looking down at the radio,” or “I was on the phone with my daughter.” Driver admissions are strong evidence of negligence and liability.
Additional Types of Evidence
Police report: Emergency responders, including police, are always sent to injury accidents. Police officers are specially trained to investigate traffic accidents.
The investigation includes speaking with witnesses, and noting the presence of skid marks, damaged signage, and weather conditions at the time of the crash. They may also take photographs.
Most importantly, the official police report will indicate an opinion on whom they believe caused the collision. The report will also detail any traffic tickets issued, and if they arrested the other driver for DUI.
Medical records: Copies of your bills and medical records are crucial. It’s important that your medical records make crystal clear the collision directly caused your injuries – to the exclusion of any previous injury you may have.
If your medical records don’t conclusively rule out a previous injury, the insurance company may say your new injuries are just an exacerbation of your prior injury. As a result, they may offer you less to settle your case.
Ask your doctors to write a medical report describing the treatment you need now, and the type of treatment, therapy, and follow-up testing you will need into the foreseeable future.
Notes and records: As soon as possible after the crash, write out a detailed explanation of what you were doing the day of the accident, how the collision occurred, and your daily life as you deal with your injuries. Also, keep copies of correspondence with the insurance company.
Where to Look for Compensation
Notify your insurance company of the accident, even if you or your loved one weren’t driving. Depending on your policy, your insurance company may pay medical or death benefits under:
- Medical Payments Coverage
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
- Underinsured Motorist Coverage
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Your insurance company also has a duty to defend you if someone from the other car blames you for the crash.
Injured drivers in a no-fault insurance state must start with the med-pay or personal injury protection (PIP) coverage on their own policy. In many no-fault states, injured passengers may file claims against the driver’s PIP coverage. No-fault coverage may also extend to a policyholder’s children or household members.
Children of divorced parents may be covered under two insurance policies. Young people often maintain a residence with both parents and may be eligible for coverage from the parents’ policies. Some households also carry umbrella policies that can come into play.
Most no-fault states allow compensation claims against the other driver’s insurance when the injuries are severe, permanent, or fatal.
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:
- Treatment and rehab costs
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Lost wages
- Burial costs
- Pain and Suffering
An injured passenger may have to file injury claims with both drivers’ insurance companies if liability for the head-on accident isn’t clear.
The Claims Adjuster Is Not Your Friend
Insurance claims will always be given a number and assigned to a personal injury claims adjuster.
The adjuster may seem kind and sympathetic, especially if you lost a loved one in the crash, but don’t let your guard down. No matter if it’s your insurance company or the other driver’s, the adjuster is only looking out for the company bottom line.
When it comes to severe injuries or wrongful death claims, there’s a lot of money involved. Insurance companies are notorious for offering smaller settlements to claimants who are not represented by an attorney.
Protect Your Right to Compensation
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.
The insurance company has no obligation to help you settle a claim before the statutory deadline. They know if you haven’t filed a lawsuit before time runs out, they win.
Be careful what you say to the adjuster. Anything you say about the accident or your deceased loved one may be used to deny or reduce your claim. Never agree to give a recorded statement until you’ve talked to an attorney. Don’t be manipulated into giving a statement when you’re medicated, tired, or grief-stricken.
Head-on accidents can result in a tangle of claims involving multiple insurance companies. Litigation is almost always necessary to resolve disputes and make the insurance companies pay appropriate settlements.
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.
Deciding When You Need an Attorney
If you are fortunate enough to have survived a head-on collision with only minor injuries, you can probably negotiate your insurance claim without an attorney.
If you’ve recovered from your injuries and only missed a few weeks of work, you can calculate your claim value by adding up all your medical bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and lost wages, then adding one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.
Look like a pro when you make your demand with our sample Head-on Collision Demand Letter.
Unfortunately, most head-on collisions involve fatalities or severe, life-changing injuries.
Wrongful death claims are legally complex and emotionally exhausting for claimants. Severe injuries, especially disabling injuries are complicated claims that typically end up in court.
Victims with high-dollar claims need an experienced personal injury attorney to negotiate fair compensation for themselves and their families.
You’ll need an attorney anytime you aren’t comfortable with the insurance company, or when:
- You have a wrongful death claim
- There are questions of which driver caused the crash
- Your injuries are severe, permanent, or disabling
- Multiple victims are competing for the same funds
Don’t try to face the insurance company’s legal experts on your own. There’s too much at stake. There’s no obligation and no costs to find out what a personal injury attorney can do for you.
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Head-on Accident Questions & Answers
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