Automobile Accidents: More Common And More Severe Outcomes
Although automobile accidents have been the greatest cause of personal injuries and wrongful death by number, they are now becoming far more frequent and the consequences more serious. The reason, distracted driving and especially driver’s distracted by electronic instruments including navigation systems and cell phones. Cellular phones and their various functions including dialing, texting and talking have become the most prevalent cause of rear end accidents and more importantly of far more severe high speed collisions as drivers on highways and freeways continue to engage in the alarming practice of looking at their cell phones while driving at high speeds. As well, newer models of high tech vehicles now include other electronic devices including computers on board that permit web site surfing and other searches which all contribute to drivers being distracted from their primary task of driving safely.
As distracted drivers often fail to recognize an impending collision in time to take evasive action or at least brake, the severity of collisions has increased dramatically with the result that occupants of vehicles are experiencing ever more serious injuries. Even where the collision is into the rear end of a vehicle ahead, the so called “rearender” which is often considered to be without serious implications has become a frequent cause of severe injuries especially where the impacted vehicle is forcibly propelled into the vehicle ahead. The impact from the rear coupled with the frontal impact to the car ahead will result in a “whiplash” injury to passengers that, contrary to popular belief, can be serious and potentially disabling. These collisions do not engage built in passenger restraint systems, air bags and seat belts, that would normally be activated by front end impacts. When the vehicle impacted in the rear is pushed into the car ahead the “whiplash” effect can be magnified severely by the rearward (hyperextension) neck and the sudden forward (hyperflexion) of the neck.
While rear-end impacts are the most common of automobile accidents, they are by no means the only accidents that cause injuries and, in fact, the most severe injuries often occur at intersections where both high speed frontal and side impacts frequently occur when some motorists attempt to “beat the light” or otherwise fail to obey traffic lights and signals. Another common cause of significant injuries are left turns made at intersections while vehicles approaching from the opposite direction are close enough to constitute a hazard. Other causes of vehicular accidents including high speed, loss of control and driving while impaired by fatigue or substance abuse are also all too frequent.
Driver’s injured in automobile accidents are entitled to recover monetary damages for economic damages including the cost of repair or replacement of their vehicles and the rental of replacement vehicles and for all medical and related charges incurred as well as any loss of earnings that might result from the injured party’s inability to work. These monetary damages are collectively known as “economic” damages as they can be determined by looking at the documents or other evidence that summarize the costs incurred and can be easily ascertained by adding up the bills and invoices that accumulate after an injured party undergoes hospitalization, surgery or other medical treatment for their injuries.
Another class of damages that injured parties are entitled to recover are known as “non-economic” damages which entitle the injured person to compensation for those losses that are not as readily determined by reference to documents or billing and frequently include damages for pain and suffering, scarring or disfigurement, disability and the inability to engage in pre-accident employment and activities of daily living. Where appropriate, additional damages can be recovered for loss of enjoyment of life and all those losses associated with severe injuries that prevent the accident victim from returning to their previous condition and their prior state of good health. Emotional distress damages, including anxiety, depression and fear of driving can also be recovered in the proper case. Other damages not specifically mentioned can nonetheless be claimed and recovered where established by the evidence.
While all of the damages mentioned come under the heading of damages intended to compensate the injured party and theoretically make them “whole” and are therefore known collectively as “compensatory” damages, another class of damages exists that are intended to punish the at fault party for wrongful conduct that may constitute a violation of criminal law. These damages are known as “punitive” damages and are intended to make an example of the defendant and presumable deter future conduct that is engaged in without consideration of the safety of others. In the past, driving “under the influence” of either drugs or alcohol was the most common basis for seeking damages intended to punish a person for their wilful or grossly negligent behavior in driving while impaired. Today, as mentioned above, driving while distracted has increasingly become the cause of catastrophic collisions and at the same time has been recognized by Courts as a proper basis for the allegation of punitive damages against distracted drivers. The theory is that driving while distracted is wilful and not merely negligent. When a driver takes his/her eyes off the road to access an electronic instrument they are knowingly endangering both themselves and other drivers and passengers and, in doing so, may be found liable for punitive damages. Significantly, punitive damages are awarded to punish the wrongdoer and are therefore not covered by insurance as the law prevents insurance policies from indemnifying the insured from damages awarded for sake of punishing or making an example of the defendant.
For some helpful information regarding your rights and responsibilities after an accident, please read “Automobile Accidents: Protecting Your Rights To Maximize Your Recovery” on our home page. Whether you have serious injuries or have injuries that may not at first appear to be severe, it is always important to know your rights and how to protect them. You should speak with an attorney before you talk with an insurance company to preserve your rights and insure that you receive fair but full compensation should you suffer injuries due to the fault of another. Attorneys who represent people injured in accidents do not charge for giving advice and only charge a fee if a recovery is obtained for their clients. Knowing and protecting your rights and those of your injured family, friends or passengers should always be your primary concern and doing so will hopefully limit the impact that an accident has on your life and future well being both physically and financially.