Frequency of Car Accidents in the United States
According to the Institute of Insurance Safety, the number of motor vehicles involved in crashes and the number of fatalities have remained fairly consistent despite advancements in safety systems. This may be in part due to the fact that more drivers are on the roads and driving more dangerously than ever as they rely too heavily on safety features.
It may also be due to the fact that there is no level of safety equipment to compensate for the lack of fundamental safe driving skills. For example, it is part of building automatic safety habits to stop at every stop sign and slowly recite the letters S-T-O-P before moving out of place. Many drivers today don’t come to a dead stop. They don’t pay attention and are distracted by cellphones. In their minds, if no one appears to be coming at first glance, why bother waiting. Others may do what is called a rolling stop by impatiently slowing down and rolling right through stop signs or red lights.
The enforcement of red-light cameras in the city and speed controls appears to do very little. We might even say that the more speed patrols there are on the roads, the more incentive drivers have to speed together in more dangerous bumper-to-bumper gridlock to avoid being singled out for a ticket. There are lots of additional factors when it comes to automotive safety beyond the laboratory four-star crash test data. Many accidents today are between mismatched vehicles. When vehicles are mismatched in height and mass, an automotive collision comes down on top of the drivers in the compact vehicle at a trajectory that the vehicle is not ordinarily designed to withstand.
What’s to Blame for More Frequent Accidents?
A greater number of people are on the roads and driving while half asleep to meet the demands of our hustle-bustle post-recession world. The number of smartphones and GPS apps distracting drivers or giving them bad directions creates a whole different set of problems. As vehicles become more expensive and difficult to repair, it may not matter how safe that vehicle was when it was manufactured. The planned obsolescence of car manufacturers creates a disadvantage when problems arise that no one is able to repair and owners are stuck with problematic electronics or brake systems.
People are also taking more prescription drugs and under the influence of legalized drugs like medical marijuana more than ever before. A large volume of people are impaired but forced to drive while taking muscle relaxers or psychiatric medicines that cause drowsiness. Over 70% of the drivers who are killed in serious car accidents are males. Chalk it up to male dominance and testosterone.
The number one cause of automotive accidents is speeding. Over 100,000 fatal car accidents from 2006-2015 were as a result of speeding. This number is 30% of the total fatal car accidents in that period. It is estimated that half were at highway speeds exceeding 55mph.
Nearly 30 people are killed every day from drunk driving accidents in the USA. This is the second leading cause of accidents because alcohol slows down reaction times and dulls the standard of care perception. Drunk drivers wind up in big trouble with the law and may be forced to pay on settlements to their victims for life.
It is statistically demonstrated that distracted driving accounts for the third leading cause of fatal car accidents. Texting and driving, adjusting the central console controls, eating, and talking to passengers or over a cellphone, are often just enough time for drivers to put the importance of something mundane over highway safety.
Cellphones lead the pack in distracting drivers and causing fatal accidents. It is easy to get emotionally attached to the conversation or task you are consumed with on your cellphone. Your mind is designed to keep a central focus and cancel out other distractions. Multi-tasking has its limitations when there is no room for error. It only takes one second to miss important driving information that is forever impossible to replace, like a loved one.
What an Auto Accident Attorney Can Do to Help
If you are the helpless victim of an automotive accident or may have caused the automotive accident yourself, it is important that you retain competent legal help immediately. A car accident can get you in big trouble. These cases can lead to criminal charges with life-changing consequences. An attorney will mitigate penalties or prevent you from getting into trouble with the law altogether. If they specialize in personal injury or defenses for automotive-related charges, they will generally be able to help you after a free consultation. Because they have a full understanding of the applicable laws, they are the only ones who can get you out of trouble.
Deciding Which Attorney to Choose
When it comes to attorneys, you often get the help you paid for in most cases. The amount of hard work that is needed to help you is exhausting. Lawyers have to battle insurance companies and state prosecutor offices with nearly unlimited budgets and underlings to even mitigate the trouble you face. A good attorney has to consider preserving errors on appeal. This means that he has to spend hours and hours strategizing the case to help you. He has to boil the arguments down into concise poetic verses.
The briefing limits on appeal are very narrow and require lawyers to present and preserve those same issues objectively to the judge below. Very few attorneys can help you win on appeals because the time needed to conceptualize the claims is draining and takes decades of experience to master. The years of opinions that may present nuances of support for your arguments over your opponent’s can be endless arcane publications that must be sifted through with a fine-tooth comb. A general practice attorney cannot simply pick up a factually complex case and expect to be successful.
The state and insurance companies often work on salary and have all the time in the world to draw out litigation if the damages are serious enough. Prosecutions like to pick on the lowest hanging fruit. If you don’t have strong counsel to help you, they may become overzealous to make an example out of your case. If you are guilty of any vices like drugs or drinking, they will be used to smear your good image and expose you to more trouble.
Attorneys can turn on you in litigating insurance claims in your favor or in fighting criminal charges. After they are paid a retainer or have negotiated a settlement they are happy with, for their time spent, there is usually very little you can do to get your money back or get out of the contract. Legal malpractice cases against attorneys are very hard to win. This means that you should hire an attorney who has a reputation to keep up. An attorney who isolates themselves from public and customer opinions on their website is likely more of a manipulator who is not dedicated to his clients’ causes.
If your attorney seems to be giving you the run-around with incoherent answers and asking you for more money without producing any work-product as proof of spending time on your case, you can bet that he is sailing off with the easy cash. This is especially true if you have criminal charges pending and can be stigmatized if he blows your case. It is important that you switch counsel immediately if you encounter a lawyer who you feel is treating you disrespectfully.
The standard for legal malpractice in criminal cases is nearly impossible to substantiate in many states. See Bailey v. Tucker, 621 A.2d 108, 533 Pa. 237 (1993). States like Pennsylvania require that you be found innocent by the courts because your counsel was ineffective. You still have to file the Complaint within two years of the injury unless it is a strictly construed breach of contract case. You are then forced to prove a standard that is used virtually nowhere else in law of “gross dereliction of duty” to reclaim anything more than the money paid to the lawyer. It is hard to imagine an example of gross dereliction of duty other than your lawyer doing nothing at all to help you.
Although there is usually a lawyer’s fund set up in each state to help when attorneys commit misconduct, these are usually a dead-end in a criminal case where the state wants to retain the verdict and admit no fault. The State Bar Association disciplinary proceedings are likely controlled by the same Supreme Court that affirmed your criminal appeal and thus have a conflict of interest.
If your case involves lawsuits against an insurance company or others when you or a loved one is the victim, a personal injury attorney who has the best feedback from clients is the way to go. If a law firm has won many large awards in the past, this is a good indication that they like to fight and get the maximum benefit for their clients. Most cases end in settlement before trial because it is a convenient way to hedge against the risks of loss. This may exemplify a law firm that is too lazy to prepare for trials and appeals because they want the easy money. We would suggest avoiding such law firms.
Possible Consequences of Fault in an Automotive Accident
You can be charged with anything from manslaughter to second-degree murder if the police believe you were at fault for the death of occupants or others. This is often under the theory that your vehicle was a deadly weapon. Cases, where the defendant was sleeping behind the wheel, intoxicated, or has a habitual offender record, may lead to the most aggravated charges. The reason why sleeping behind the wheel charges are so serious is because the person has many warning signs before taking the vehicle and its occupants into the danger zone. In this sense, it is like consciously making the choice to drive while heavily intoxicated. One can always pull over to the side of the road and take a power nap.
In some states (e.g., Louisiana), vehicular homicide charges may lead to 30-years in prison (a potential natural life sentence for middle-aged or older people). You may also be charged for DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and face up to five years in prison in some states, hefty fines, and probation if this is a subsequent offense with no victims. Violating any traffic laws that can demonstrate your negligence is usually enough to make an objective case for a personal injury tort in any state. These cases may require expert testimony to reconstruct the accidents and record the extent of injuries for maximum compensation.
Possible Damages You may Be Able to Collect in Personal Injury Cases
If you or a close loved one is the victim, a lawyer who specializes in personal injury cases and has real clients you can meet is your best bet. Any lawyer who works on contingency may be your only choice if you do not have the budget for an attorney’s upfront fees. There is a limited set of attorneys that specializes in wrongful death cases. These cases require a special skill set in calculating the prospective lost income and various damages accurately. You may be able to collect for pain and suffering, loss of property, medical bills, disability, quality of life issues, lost wages, wrongful death on behalf of an estate, or loss of consortium if a close loved one was injured.
Most of these issues are common sense calculations that estimate the full collateral impact after the accidents. However, insurance companies often cap coverage in most of these cases to state law minimums. These minimums can be as low as $10,000 per person and $20,000 per collision total coverage for liability when there is bodily injury. The highest insurance coverage caps are $300,000 per person and $500,000 per accident. However, If a person is disabled or experiences significant quality of life issues, this may be a drop in the bucket after lawyer fees take 30% or more.
This doesn’t even include the property caps that may be below the value of the vehicle(s) and many other contractual options that require the insured driver to pay higher premiums each month. That being said, you may be facing an uphill battle if the insured driver at fault has little personal income and relies solely on state minimum insurance. You might drive a little further back next time you see that jalopy speeding down the highway when you consider the realities of insurance limits. Underinsured and uninsured driver insurance options on your personal plan may also seem more valuable.