Auto accidents are extremely common in the United States. Federal accident data indicate that 2.3 million people suffered injuries in a traffic accident in 2013, and that was actually an improvement; it was 2.4 million in 2012. Maine’s Bureau of Highway Safety reports that there were 164 deaths and 981 serious injuries from accidents in 2012. Traffic fatalities in Maine averaged around 175 per year in the last decade or so.
There are many, many causes of auto accidents, ranging from defects in one of the vehicles to obstacles on the highway to drivers who operate their vehicles while impaired, distracted, or simply in too big a hurry. Many accidents are caused by a driver’s violation of a basic rule of the road. For example, Maine requires drivers to keep to speeds that are “reasonable and proper” in light of the conditions. The state’s traffic laws provide rules for passing and a host of other driving activity.
There are laws against drunk driving, laws that address distracting activity like cell phone use and texting, and laws requiring a variety of safety features like headlights, turn signals, and so on.
Violation of any of these regulations and laws can be used to establish that the driver’s negligence caused the accident.
Recovering compensation for injuries or death in an accident requires that the attorney handling the case be familiar with all the potential causes, all the possible reasons that the defendant may come up with deny liability, all the various ways there are to establish exactly what happened during an accident, and all the nuances of establishing how much compensation a victim is entitled to receive.
What to Do Following a Car Accident
Once an automobile accident occurs, everyone is tense, anxious and unlikely to think straight. Unfortunately, that’s exactly when you need to be thinking very straight, in order to avoid saying or doing something that later comes back to haunt you during the complex process of sorting out who is liable to whom, and for what. It helps to have given some thought to the matter before the accident occurs, but very few people do.
If you are reading this because you have been in an accident, you may have already failed to do some of them, but it’s still useful to compare what you did to what you should have done.
The first thing to do is get help; call 911 for the police and medical help is that is needed. Stay at the scene until the police have arrived and questioned everyone involved.
It’s important to get the names and addresses of everyone who was involved in the accident and everyone who witnessed it (all of it or any part of it). From the other driver, you should get:
- Name, address, driver’s license number
- Vehicle information–make, model and year of car
- The license plate number
- Insurance information: name of company, policy number if available, and local contact info
- The type and extent of damage to the driver’s vehicle
Also obtain information about the police who respond to the accident, especially name, badge number, phone number of their station, and the number on the police report they will file. Also request a copy of the police report, which may take a day or two
Unless you are too injured, you should take good notes on all the circumstances of the accident—make sure they are legible and detailed enough that you will understand them later. At a minimum, note:
- The time, date, and place of accident
- The position and routes of travel for all vehicles before and during the accident
- The same information for any pedestrians that may have been involved
- All relevant conditions: weather, fog, lighting, ruts or holes in the road, etc.
- What you remember of the events immediately before and during the accident (these are for your use; don’t share them)
Most modern cell phones can take pictures. Try to get pictures of:
- The vehicles involved; final resting position, the damage, etc.
- The accident location, including any of relevant conditions that might (you don’t really know at this point) have played a role in the accident: the lighting in the area; any snow, ice or other weather conditions; road conditions, including curves, grades and obstructions
The “Next Day Checklist”
Once you have gotten though the immediate aftermath of the accident, there remain several important things to do and remember not to do. Other things to do:
- Make a report about the accident to your own insurance company
- Check up to ensure that the other driver has done the same with his insurance company
- Avoid going into detail on who did what to cause the accident
- Do not engage in conversation with any insurance adjuster
- See a doctor to at least document your condition, and make sure the doctor know exactly how you are feeling
- Contact an experienced Maine personal injury attorney
Dangerous Road Conditions
If there was a dangerous condition on the road, and that caused the accident, liability for the damages may fall on:
- The people who caused the dangerous condition (anyone from the person who designed the road to someone who left objects in the road)
- The people who failed to correct the dangerous conditions, like the government department responsible for maintaining the road
- A driver who failed to use proper caution in dealing with the dangerous condition
There are many conditions that call for extra caution while driving. The fact that a driver was aware of those conditions but didn’t use proper caution can be the basis of liability for injuries in any accident that ensued. Dangerous conditions include rain, fog, ice, snow, flooding, even high winds that blow down tree limbs and power lines. Construction zones and the presence of hazards on or near the road—such as an existing accident– also qualify as dangerous conditions.
The negligent action in these cases is usually driving too fast for the conditions, but it may be other actions, like failure to have the vehicle lights on or following too close to other vehicles.
To recover, your attorney will have to show both the existence of a dangerous condition and that the driver did not act reasonably in light of those conditions.
Texting and Cell Phone Use
Distracted driving is increasingly recognized as a major factor in vehicle accidents. The Department of Transportation concluded that, in 2008, almost 6,000 people died and another 500,000 or more were injured because of distracted drivers.
Few things are more distracting than trying to text message someone, or have a cell phone conversation, while driving. In Maine, texting while driving is prohibited, while cell phone use is allowed for most drivers; only drivers under 18, those with learner’s permits, and those with only an intermediate license are prohibited from cell phone use while driving.
If the texting or cell phone use can be established as the cause of the accident, the driver can be held responsible for the injuries that result. That’s true even for the many drivers who are allowed to use the phones while driving. It’s just more difficult to show that the driver was negligent when there’s no prohibition against using the phones. When the phone use is prohibited, and in all cases of texting, the fact that the driver was violating the rules helps establish that the driver was negligent.
Nationwide, just under a third of all vehicle accident fatalities occurred in accidents involving an alcohol-impaired driver. Many, many more people suffer serious injuries but survive. There’s no doubt that alcohol impairs a driver’s judgment, perception and reaction times. And Maine has made it an offense to drive if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is higher than .08.
Levels considerably below that can still contribute to driving behavior that causes an accident. Of course, it’s easier to establish negligence when the BAC does violate the law, but even when the BAC is too low for the driver to be charged criminally, impairment can be the basis for holding the driver liable for the injuries from an accident.
Liability in a case like that depends on the attorney for the victim being able to establish that the driver was, in fact, impaired, and that the impairment caused the accident. Testimony of witnesses, especially of the police who responded to the accident, is important. An expert witness may be able to testify to the typical effects of someone having the BAC level that that driver had at the scene if the driver was tested.
Compensation for You Auto Accident Injuries
Once your attorney establishes that the defendant was responsible for the accident, you can recover damages to compensate for all the injuries you suffered including medical costs ,both present and future; any lost wages and income; pain and suffering; and emotional distress. If your injuries will interfere with your future earning capacity, damages include the difference between your earning capacity before and after the injury. That’s a tricky computation and one that the defendant is likely to dispute.
Of course, any loss of “consortium,” a general term referring to family relations, is also compensable.
An automobile accident is traumatic even if you don’t get hurt. It’s also the start of a complex process of sorting out who did what, who is liable to whom, and what damages were caused. By the time it’s over, the process will probably involve all or most of the following:
- One or more other drivers and/or passengers
- Police officers
- Bystanders and witnesses
- Tow trucks and drivers
- Emergency medical personnel
- Doctors and hospitals
- Insurance companies
- Insurance company adjusters and claims handlers
- Attorneys, both for yourself and for the other parties involved
It takes experience and dedication to handle these claims effectively. At Maine’s Jabar Injury Law, we have 36 years of experience handling serious injury cases, with a track record of success. Our clients have recovered tens of millions of dollars. Both our clients and other lawyers respect what we do.
Get your recovery started now; call Jabar Injury Law and speak to one of our highly qualified personal injury attorneys about your case. There’s never a fee unless you recover monetary compensation.