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Someone in America dies every 12 minutes in a fatal auto accident and someone is injured in a car wreck every 14 seconds. Car accidents account for massive losses each year, both in terms of human suffering and property damage. The are nearly six million motor vehicle accidents annually in the United States.
Car Crashes – The Inevitable Reality
Automobile accidents are the leading type of personal injury lawsuit in the United States. Car wrecks can cause physical injury as well as intense financial strain to the victim and their family. Many insurance companies have a well-earned reputation for using tactics that are intended to force plaintiffs into accepting smaller settlements, often simply by holding out longer and making things take as long as possible.
Automobile accidents are largely avoidable, but this has not slowed down the long series and history of car accidents in the United States. Car wrecks are a dreadfully common thing, in spite of a driver’s duty of reasonable care. Many crashes are a result of recklessness or negligence while others are purely human error.
Parties who were injured in car accidents can opt to file lawsuits against the person who caused the accident and injury, or on some other party who is deemed to be at fault for the accident (manufacturers, people responsible for constructing and maintaining roads – in cases of accidents on bad roads). While it is usually recommended for cases such as this to be settled between two parties, there are also other options which plaintiffs and defendants may use to come to an agreement in terms of compensation, such as mediation or arbitration.
Sometimes, depending on the policy, insurance companies cover the compensation of damages in behalf of the defendant. There are limitations to this coverage, whereas most insurance companies do not cover non-economic losses. It is always best to have an expert or lawyer analyze your case and help the plaintiff decide which option is the best decision to push through with.
Lawsuits concerning car accidents are pretty straightforward, as they can also be a sub category of personal injury lawsuits. Other claims, however, like negligence claims may complicate lawsuits as they require a multitude of elements to prove the plaintiff’s claims and allegations. It would require further proof that the defendant caused injuries to the plaintiff, and seeking full compensation for damages is another feat to overcome in lawsuits. It is always important to remember, though, that each state has different governing laws and it is pertinent to check which laws are applicable for each state.
Car Accident Lawsuits
Plaintiffs can file personal injury lawsuit claims against the defendant, or the person who caused such injury. Compensation for damages usually includes medical expenses, lost past and future wages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages in some cases. Most lawsuits of this nature are decided through jury verdicts, the body of people who will also deliver a verdict regarding awards to the plaintiff. However, some states limit the amount of money that the jury can award to the plaintiff.
Some states enforce a comparative fault doctrine for car accidents. In following the comparative fault rule, the judge or jury will be the determining factor as to the recovery and percentage of fault or liability to the parties. Under this rule, the compensation for damages are reduced by the plaintiff’s contributed negligence to the accident and injury. So the percentage of the plaintiff’s fault will be the equivalent amount of reduction on the awarded damages. The net amount will then be paid by the defendant as compensation for injuries of the plaintiff. Anyone who is named in the lawsuit, and not just the person or driver, who caused the accident, can be eligible to pay damage awards – including manufacturers, government agencies, utility companies, and others.
Other cases are awarded punitive or exemplary damages. Punitive damages are used to punish a defendant for the negligence that has occurred, and to prevent the defendant from committing the same mistake. Punitive damages are also often used to make an example of for future lawsuits and accidents. Behavior that usually goes past basic negligence are often used as a basis for punitive damages. This behavior or conduct could either be malicious, vindictive, willful, wanton, or reckless. Some of the reasons for punitive damages in car accidents are driver incompetence, excessive speed, violation of safety or traffic laws, intoxication, and knowledge of the vehicle’s poor condition that may cause an accident.
Certain insurance companies are able to cover damages that were made to another person in an accident. However, it is a rare occurrence that insurance policies would cover non-economic losses such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. Ultimately, it would depend on the limitations that are stated in the insurance policy.
Throughout any case, both parties are allowed to settle any time before the case is included. Ideally, it is best if the settlement is done pre-trial. Most lawyers recommend settlement rather than going to court and handling this case for a long period of time. Plaintiffs who opt to settle prior to filing a lawsuit find themselves getting faster compensation, avoiding high attorney fees, avoiding recurrent court proceedings, and avoiding unpredictable jury decisions.
Pursuing A Lawsuit
Lawsuits that seek for compensation from injuries sustained in a car accident are called civil lawsuits, or more commonly known as personal injury or tort cases. These lawsuits typically start with filing the complaint or petition in local court. Because of varying state laws, some states have a limited time in which these lawsuits can be filed. Lawsuits should be filed before the statute of limitations expires.
The complaint or petition will thoroughly detail the plaintiff’s allegations that make him or her entitled to receive compensation from the defendant. It should also be stated in the complaint that kind of relief is being asked for, and in some cases, it will also state the legal theory or claims that the plaintiff will use to prove and win the case.
Defendants and their insurance companies also have a limited time in terms of responding to the lawsuit of the plaintiff. This may include an answer – either admitting to the defendant’s faults or refutes the allegations of the plaintiff. The response may also state its counterclaims regarding negligence, fault and liability on the part of the plaintiff as a contribution to the accident. Cross-claims and counter-claims can also happen, wherein the defendant aims to put the blame on another defendant or party, if applicable.
Defendants are allowed to submit motions which can affect a car accident lawsuit in various ways. It can be (1) a motion for change of venue – changing courthouses; (2) motion for a change of judge – changing courtrooms; (3) motion for removal – moving the case from state to federal court, but only in cases which show that the case involves federal law or if the defendant is from a different state; and (4) motion to dismiss – states that the lawsuit was brought in an untimely manner or that no compensation or relief is warranted. All these motions, except for the motion to dismiss, allow cases to continue regardless of that grant of the motion. These motions are public and generally ruled upon without hearings.
Prior to the trial, the judge may order a mediation to be executed by the two parties and their attorneys, and a neutral third-party mediator. Obviously, the mediator will be the one to guide the discussion of the parties during the mediation in order to bring the two parties into an agreement. Another alternative to filing in court is arbitration. Arbitration include an arbitrator, agreed upon by both parties, that will hear evidence and will decide on the dispute in a manner similar to that of a judge. These two alternatives, mediation and arbitration, can only happen when both parties agree to it.
In cases of unsuccessful mediation, the case will still push through and move into the discovery phase. Here, attorneys will try to get as much information as they can and investigate the different sides of the story. Both sides are required to share all the information that was gathered during the discovery phase. Depositions, or interviews with people who have pertinent information regarding the case, are also involved in the discovery phase. Lawyers from both parties must both be present during depositions, and are both allowed to ask questions to the interviewees who are sworn to tell the truth, as they would be in court. A stenographer will also be present to transcribe the whole deposition. Depositions may also be used as evidence at the trial.
Plaintiffs may be able to submit a motion for summary judgment if the plaintiff and the lawyer believe that evidence which surfaced during the discovery phase supports the plaintiff’s solicitation for compensation from the defendant. This kind of motion allows a judge to come to a verdict without seeing the witnesses in person, or by conducting an evidentiary hearing. Naturally, the motion will be submitted together with the evidence which was obtained during the discovery phase and may also be submitted with a memorandum from the plaintiff’s attorney that would clearly state the legal theories. If there is no dispute regarding the key facts, then the judge can either grant the motion, or deny it because of the need for a trial to resolve the refuted facts. Summary judgment can also focus on less issues by concluding some (not all) of the issues that were raised in the initial complaint.
“Good liability” means determining, and then being able to prove, that the defendant was at fault. The process of establishing liability involves the attorney collecting and examining evidence, interviewing witnesses, collecting and evaluating police reports and interpreting current traffic laws as they apply to your particular circumstances. A car wreck can be very complex and in some situations can take years before a settlement is reached or verdict is won at trial.
Many car accident lawsuits are based on negligence as a legal theory. Negligence is identified as a person that presents bad conduct or behavior in a thoughtless or careless manner that has caused some form of injury or harm to another person. Negligence can be done by doing an act that the person should not have done or failure to do something that must have been done. Drivers of any sort should exercise care and caution for anyone or anything they would encounter while on the road so as to avoid claims of negligence against them. Drivers are negligent and liable for victims when they are not “reasonably careful” and results in injuring or harming a person as a result of the carelessness.
Plaintiffs who opt to file claims of negligence from a car accident may do so but are required to show and prove many elements, such as (1) the law required the defendant to be reasonably careful or “duty of reasonable care”; (2) the defendant was not careful; (3) the defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s injuries; and (4) the plaintiff suffered losses and/or was injured.
In the second element that was stated – the defendant was not careful – the defendant or driver’s conduct will be compared to that of a “reasonable person”. Drivers violate the duty of reasonable care when their conduct falls short of the conduct of a reasonable person. As for the last and fourth element of a negligence claim, plaintiffs are unable to recover anything for damages if there are no monetary losses or provable injuries found in the case. Therefore, plaintiffs must how evidence of monetary loss and/or injuries that were sustained in order to be compensated for in damages.
Those considered as a bad road include, but are not limited to, blind curves, shoulder drop-offs, potholes, and wrong slope. Because these kinds of road problems can ultimately cause drivers to get in an accident, it is important to identify who is at fault for such accident factors.
Clearly, drivers may also have their own share of responsibility of fault in accidents like this. However, people or companies are also responsible for constructing and maintain such roads and can also be held liable for the accident. These include insufficient warnings, municipality that ignored requests for roads signs, engineers who designed the road that collects water or other debris or a blind curve, inadequate warning signs after a rain, states that do not fix potholes in a timely manner, and construction companies who opted to cut costs over prioritizing the safety of the people.
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