Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing what that court called the “sudden emergency doctrine.” The court explained that the doctrine applies when a defendant is faced with a sudden emergency, and if it applies, it excuses the defendant from exercising reasonable judgment. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant met the elements of the affirmative defense, and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim. The case presents an interesting issue for Washington, D.C. car accident victims in that it discussed under what situations a defendant’s potentially negligent conduct may be excused.

Highway IntersectionThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was getting on the highway when the driver that was behind her quickly passed her, making an obscene gesture as he passed. The passing driver then slammed on his brakes, causing the plaintiff to quickly apply her own brakes in order to avoid an accident. The car immediately behind the plaintiff also applied the brakes, and was able to stop in time to avoid an accident.

The defendant truck driver was driving behind the third car in line, and despite braking and sounding his horn, was unable to stop in time. The defendant crashed into the car in front of him, and that car was pushed into the plaintiff’s vehicle.

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Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a Virginia car accident case requiring the court to determine if the defendant insurance company was required to cover the costs of the plaintiffs’ injuries through the plaintiffs’ underinsured motorist (UIM) policy. Finding that the vehicle in which the plaintiffs were driving did not meet the definition of a “covered auto” under the policy, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ theory of liability and dismissed the case.

Signing a ContractThe Facts of the Case

A furniture company hired the plaintiffs as independent contractors to deliver a load of furniture. Normally, the furniture company used another company, but that company was unable to make the delivery, so the company asked the plaintiffs to make the delivery last-minute.

Due to the last-minute nature of the request, the plaintiffs did not have a vehicle available, so the furniture company allowed the plaintiffs to make the delivery using a truck that the company had rented. As the plaintiffs were making the delivery, another motorist struck the truck, killing one of the plaintiffs and seriously injuring the other.

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When someone is injured or killed due to the negligent act of another party, the injured party or their family may seek compensation for their injury or loss through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. While there are some differences between these two types of claims, they both require that a plaintiff be able to establish that the named defendant’s actions caused the accident that resulted in the injury or death.

HighwayThe element of causation is one of the most contested elements in Washington, D.C. personal injury cases. In part, this is because the underlying legal doctrine is complex, and each case must be considered on its specific facts. Additionally, even if a defendant is found to have begun a chain of events that ultimately resulted in the injury or death, the defendant can avoid liability by showing that an intervening act “severed” the causative chain. A recent case illustrates how another party’s actions can be deemed an intervening cause, preventing a defendant from being held liable.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a young man who was admitted to the defendant hospital after he started to hear voices and hallucinate. The doctors at the defendant hospital diagnosed the plaintiffs’ son with obsessive-compulsive disorder and planned on discharging the young man later that day. The plaintiffs, concerned about their son’s wellbeing, asked if there was anything else that they could do. The doctors told them that they should make an appointment at a mental health facility.

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Being involved in a Washington, D.C. car accident can be a traumatic experience. Aside from the obvious concerns of physical injuries and emotional distress, car accident victims often find themselves in financial hardship. Thankfully, car accident victims are often able to pursue financial compensation from those responsible for the accident through a Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuit.

Pizza BoxDetermining which parties to name in a lawsuit is not necessarily as easy as naming the other drivers involved in the accident. In fact, naming only the other drivers can be a major mistake. For example, in many cases, third parties can also be named in a lawsuit, not only increasing the chances of a favorable verdict but also increasing the chances of being fully compensated for any injuries sustained.

The doctrine of vicarious liability permits accident victims to name third parties in some situations. Essentially, vicarious liability allows a plaintiff to hold one person or entity responsible for another person’s actions. A common example is when an employee is involved in an accident while on the clock. In some cases, the employer can also be liable for any injuries sustained. However, as a recent case illustrates, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that the relationship between the employee and the employer is sufficient to impose liability on the employer.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Connecticut issued a written opinion in a car accident case requiring the court to discuss and analyze the difference between the question of whether evidence is admissible at trial and how much weight that evidence should be assigned. The case is important for Washington, D.C. personal injury plaintiffs because it illustrates the principle that a judge or jury must determine how much weight to assign the evidence presented by both sides.

Roll-Over AccidentThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving on the highway when she passed a Department of Transportation vehicle on the side of the road. As she passed the vehicle, she heard a loud noise, and her car flipped over, sliding on the roof for some distance before coming to a stop.

In her complaint naming the Department of Transportation as a defendant, she claimed that the driver pulled out into the road as she was passing and struck her vehicle. The trial took place in front of a judge, rather than in front of a jury. When the plaintiff testified, she explained that she was not looking at the Department of Transportation car and did not notice it until it struck her.

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Last month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a car accident case, highlighting the importance of a thorough pre-trial investigation. The case required the court to determine whether the plaintiff should have been permitted to amend her complaint to add the name of the owner of the vehicle that struck her in a hit-and-run accident. Ultimately, the court did permit the plaintiff to amend the complaint because the court determined that the vehicle owner was a “necessary party.”

T-Bone AccidentThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving in the car with her two daughters when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver. While the driver did not stop after the accident, the plaintiff was able to see that the driver was a male and was able to get the license plate of the vehicle.

The responding police officer ran the license plate number and determined that the vehicle was registered to a female owner. However, the owner could not have been the driver, since the owner was female, and the hit-and-run driver was male. The plaintiff initially filed a personal injury lawsuit against the woman whom she believed to be the owner of the vehicle. The plaintiff later requested insurance information for the vehicle, and another woman’s name was provided as the insured. The two women were mother and daughter. Later, the plaintiff attempted to add the daughter to the lawsuit; however, the trial court prevented the plaintiff from amending the lawsuit.

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Last month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case that was brought by a police officer who was injured while responding to an emergency call. Ultimately, the court concluded that since the officer was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, the “firefighter’s rule” prevented him from recovering compensation for his injuries.

Police SirensThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a police officer who was responding to the scene of an accident that had been called in while he was on duty. The call was for a single-vehicle accident that left a pick-up truck blocking the southbound lanes of the highway. The plaintiff was given the location of the accident and told that the blockage was in the southbound lanes.

As the officer was responding to the scene, he saw headlights up ahead. He believed them to be those of the disabled vehicle. However, the headlights belonged to another motorist’s vehicle that had stopped to assist the pick-up truck driver. As the officer approached the scene at 104 miles per hour, he crashed into the pick-up truck, which had its lights off. The driver of the pick-up truck was later determined to be legally intoxicated.

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In 2016, the National Safety Council estimated that roughly 40,000 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents across the country. According to an insurance industry news source, this represents a 6% increase in fatalities over the previous year and reflects the highest number of deaths since 2007. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported similar numbers, with an 8% increase in traffic deaths year-over-year.

Cell PhoneIn fact, since 2007, the number of traffic deaths has dropped dramatically. It was not until 2014 that the rate of traffic deaths started to slowly increase. However, since 2014, there has been a 16% increase in the number of traffic deaths.

Those who conducted the study point to several non-problematic factors that contributed to the sharp increase, including reasonable gasoline prices and a healthy economy. However, the researchers note that even taking these factors into account, the year-over-year total increase in miles traveled was only a 3% increase. This suggests that other factors are also in play.

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Late last year, an appellate court in Ohio issued a written opinion affirming an intermediate appellate court’s decision that a city that allowed a stop sign to become overgrown with foliage was not entitled to governmental immunity. In the case, Bibler v. Stevenson, the court concluded that the city was not entitled to immunity because the stop sign was placed due to a state law requiring stop signs to be placed at intersections of “through highways.”

Stop SignThe Facts of the Case

Bibler was injured in a car accident when another motorist, Stevenson, allegedly ran a stop sign. Stevenson claimed that he did not see the stop sign, and the responding police officer agreed that the sign was overgrown with foliage and not visible to approaching motorists.

Bibler later filed a personal injury lawsuit against both Stevenson and the City of Findlay, the local government of the place where the accident had occurred. Bibler settled with Stevenson, and the case proceeded against the city only. In a pre-trial motion, the city argued that it was entitled to government immunity because under state law, governments are only liable for negligence involving “public roads,” which do not include traffic-control devices. Bibler agreed with that general statement but argued there was an exception when the traffic-control device was by the state’s “manual of uniform traffic control devices.”

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Earlier this month, an Arizona appellate court issued a written decision in an auto accident case, holding that the lower court erred in not allowing the sole defendant to name an additional defendant whom she believed to be in part liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. The court in Cramer v. Starr based its decision on the fact that Arizona was a “several liability” state.

Car AccidentIn short, Cramer struck another motorist, Mungia. Mungia then sought out medical treatment, culminating in a surgery. The surgery ended up making her symptoms worse, and she sued Cramer for negligence without naming the doctor in the lawsuit. Cramer then asked the court for permission to name the doctor as an additional defendant under a medical malpractice theory of liability.

“Several Liability” Versus “Joint and Several Liability”

There are two basic statutory schemes that states use to determine how much an at-fault defendant can be required to compensate a plaintiff. In a “several liability” state, defendants are severally liable to the plaintiff for the damages they caused. This means that any one defendant cannot be required to pay more than their share of the damages. For example, if a defendant is determined to be 30% at fault in an accident, and the total damages suffered by the plaintiff were $500,000, the defendant who was 30% at fault will only be required to pay $150,000.

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