Philadelphia Car Accident Attorney
Originally posted on https://www.levininjuryfirm.com/philadelphia-car-accident-lawyer/
When traffic accidents leave Philadelphia-area residents mourning a loved one or struggling to recover from debilitating injuries, the Philadelphia car accident attorneys at The Levin Firm are here to lend them support.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 37,133 people in the United States were killed in auto accidents in 2017. Millions more were injured. Statistics like these demonstrate the high risk of accidents and injuries that Americans face every time they climb into a motor vehicle.
As in the rest of America, car accidents are common in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation calculates that over 128,000 accidents occurred in 2017 on Pennsylvania roads, injuring tens of thousands of drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Approximately 9% of those accidents, and approximately 8% of all traffic-related deaths, occurred in Philadelphia.
Hundreds of thousands of passenger vehicles travel through Philadelphia every day. Chances are, if you live in or around the City of Brotherly Love, you will be involved in a collision at some point during your driving life. If you are lucky, you will walk away from an accident with only minor injuries. Many Pennsylvanians, however, are not so lucky.
HOW AN ATTORNEY CAN HELP AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT
Car accidents cause more than just physical and emotional pain. They also rob individuals and families of much-needed income while burdening them with unexpected expenses. An attorney can help victims of Philadelphia motor vehicle accidents recover compensation to help make up for those lost wages and pay for medical and other bills that pile up.
HOW MUCH IS A CAR ACCIDENT CASE WORTH?
Car Accident Lawyer in Philadelphia
There is no single answer to how much a car accident case is “worth.” Every car accident is different. At The Levin Firm, we aim to help our clients recover the maximum amount of compensation to which they may be entitled. In some cases that can total millions of dollars. In others it may be tens of thousands. Whatever our clients’ circumstances, our goal is to recover every penny they deserve.
At The Levin Firm, we understand that money cannot solve all of the problems that a car accident creates. It doesn’t bring back loved ones who have been taken from us before their time. It doesn’t take away the physical pain of a back injury or the emotional difficulty of brain damage. But, money can help victims of car accidents and their families find stability after tragedy. It can eliminate the mountains of bills that pile up, and it can pay for medical treatments and services that give victims a chance to adjust to a “new normal.”
The amount of damages a car accident victim may be entitled to recover will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The severity of the victim’s injuries and/or whether the victim died;
- The victim’s age and health condition at the time of the accident;
- The victim’s life circumstances, such as whether the victim:
- Had a job or career;
- Supported or cared for family members;
- Was active in the community.
- How the accident happened and who was at fault;
- The potential difficulty and expense of proving the victim’s case; and
- The availability of insurance to cover the victim’s losses.
To identify the maximum compensation our car accident victim clients should receive, the experienced team at The Levin Firm gets to know clients on a personal level. We learn about our clients’ lives before and after a car accident. We listen for what they hope to achieve by seeking legal advice, and aim to help them meet the needs they feel are most important to recovering from losses and injuries. Of course, we also investigate the facts of our clients’ cases in detail. But, first, we listen to them.
If the need arises, we also may work with experts to help us calculate the size of the financial impact of a car accident on our clients’ lives. We have worked, for example, with economists who can calculate the income an accident victim would have earned had tragedy not cut her life short. We have also sought the assistance of medical experts to estimate the future costs of care and therapy for victims whose injuries caused permanent disability.
THE IMPORTANCE OF “FAULT” IN A CAR ACCIDENT MATTER
Lawyers who represent victims of car accidents spend a lot of time and energy thinking about “fault,” and for good reason. Under Pennsylvania law, who was “at fault” in a motor vehicle accident determines who owes damages to the victim and how much the victim should receive. An experienced car accident attorney will usually focus on identifying who was at fault in a car accident as soon as possible. Here’s why.
IT ALL USUALLY COMES DOWN TO “NEGLIGENCE”
In the most basic sense, the person at “fault” for an accident is the one whose actions caused it to happen. But, not everyone “at fault” for an accident has legal liability for it. Sometimes accidents just happen.
Under Pennsylvania law, the person or entity “at fault” for an accident will be on the hook for paying damages to those injured only if that person or entity’s actions were wrongful. Now, most of the time, people don’t try to cause a car accident. (Obviously, if they do, they’ll be held liable.) Instead, legal liability for a car accident usually boils down to whether the person or entity at fault acted “negligent” in causing a motor vehicle accident.
Though most people have heard lawyers use the word “negligent,” many may not fully understand what the term really means. To prove someone was “negligent” in their actions, under Pennsylvania law, you must typically show that a person or entity:
- Owed the victim a duty of care not to act in a way that might harm the victim;
- Breached that duty of care by acting in a way that a reasonable person would expect to cause the victim harm;
- In fact harmed the victim through those actions; and
- Caused the victim to suffer damages as a result of that harm.
All drivers on Pennsylvania roads owe a duty of care to everyone else on the road, including other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. That duty requires drivers to operate their vehicles in a reasonably safe manner that will avoid accidents and injuries to others. The Pennsylvania laws and regulations that make up the “rules of the road” every driver must follow provide guidelines for what constitutes that duty of care. When a driver breaks those rules and gets into an accident, that violation is evidence he was “negligent” behind the wheel. For example, it may be a sign a driver was negligent if at the time of an accident he was:
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI);
- Driving distracted;
- Driving aggressively or unpredictably;
- Failing to obey traffic signals;
- Driving while fatigued; or
- Driving without a license.
As straightforward as it might be to prove that someone committed a moving violation, however, proving that a person’s negligence actually caused an accident can pose challenges. To prove negligence, lawyers often need to gather independent evidence – something other than their client’s “say-so” – to show the other driver was at fault. For example, it may not be enough for the victim to testify she saw the other driver texting just before the accident happened. Instead, the victim’s lawyer may need to obtain the other driver’s cell-phone records to show the exact moment he sent or received a text, or track down other witnesses who saw him texting. An experienced auto accident lawyer understands the kind of evidence necessary in Philadelphia courts to demonstrate that the other driver’s negligent actions caused an accident.
Of course, “the other driver” isn’t always the only person or entity that might have acted in a way that caused a motor vehicle accident. For instance, a government agency responsible for designing or maintaining roads could act “negligent” by building a road poorly or leaving it in a condition that make it likely accidents would happen on it. Or, an accident could be caused by someone who influenced a driver’s control over his vehicle, such as when a shipping company fails to balance the load in a tractor-trailer, putting it at risk of tipping over.
At the beginning of a legal representation, an experienced car accident lawyer will usually try to identify all of the people or entities whose actions may have caused the accident and the client’s injuries. The more potential “defendants” a lawyer can find, the more options the client may have to recover compensation.
THE PENNSYLVANIA RULE OF “MODIFIED CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE”
Sometimes, determining legal liability for a car accident is as straightforward as figuring out the one person or entity who acted negligent. Often, however, more than one person or entity’s actions contribute to causing a motor vehicle accident. There could be several drivers who were negligent. Or, as in the example above, the negligence could be partially on a truck driver and partially on the company that improperly loaded his trailer. Even a car accident victim can sometimes act in a way that leads to her own injuries. When more than one person or entity bears part of the fault for causing an accident, lawyers and courts in Pennsylvania turn to a legal doctrine called “modified contributory negligence” to figure out who-owes-who-what.
Here’s how it works. Under Pennsylvania law, a court will attribute a percentage of fault to each party to a lawsuit in which a plaintiff seeks damages from one or more defendants. So long as the plaintiff’s share of fault is less than the total share of the fault borne by all defendants combined, the plaintiff can recover damages. But, the plaintiff’s recovery from the defendant(s) will be reduced by the proportion of the plaintiff’s fault.
For example, imagine a plaintiff sues two defendants, A and B. All three of them, the plaintiff, A, and B, were each driving separate cars in a car accident. The plaintiff proves she suffered $100,000 in damages. After a trial, the court determines that the plaintiff was 10% at fault for the accident, that A was 50% at fault, and that B was 40% at fault. Under Pennsylvania law, that means the plaintiff can recover 90% percent (100% minus 10%) of her damages, or $90,000, from the defendants. Defendants A and B will owe her $50,000 and $40,000 respectively, reflecting their proportionate share of the damages.
Believe it or not, that would be a simple case. There are other rules of “modified comparative negligence” that can make calculating fault and damages even more complicated. Sometimes, for example, one of the defendants may be on the hook for 100% of the damages, even if more than one defendant was at fault. For that reason, it is always important to consult with an experienced Philadelphia car accident attorney before taking action to seek damages from someone who caused a wreck. An attorney can help sort through the parties at fault to identify those who may be both most at fault and most capable of paying damages.
CASES NOT INVOLVING NEGLIGENCE
Not all legal actions seeking damages arising out of a car accident require the victim to show negligence, however. Under Pennsylvania law, there are circumstances when someone might be held “strictly liable” for causing harm, even if that person didn’t act in a negligent manner. For example, manufacturers of cars and car parts may be held strictly liable if they sell a defective product that fails, causing an accident. A product can be considered “defective” in its design, in how it was manufactured, or if it doesn’t come with warnings about how it should be used. When any one of these defects exists and causes an accident, under Pennsylvania law it may not matter if the manufacturer was negligent in allowing that defect to occur. Instead, all that will matter is whether the victim was using the defective car or car part in the way it was intended to be used when it failed.
Likewise, under Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Law, a bar or restaurant can be held legally liable for damages a drunk driver causes in an accident. It is illegal for a restaurant or bar in Pennsylvania to sell alcohol to someone who is “visibly intoxicated.” If the visibly intoxicated person a restaurant or bar sold alcohol to gets into an accident on the way home, the restaurant or bar runs the risk of having liability to the drunk driver’s victims. To prove liability under the Dram Shop Law, the victim need only show the bar or restaurant sold the driver alcohol when he was “visibly intoxicated,” and this was a cause of the accident.
An experienced Philadelphia car accident attorney can help accident victims determine whether one of these “strict liability” claims may apply in their case.
DAMAGES YOU CAN RECOVER AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT
Car accidents victims often suffer serious injuries that have a lasting effect on their lives. When motor vehicle accidents cause fatalities, the victims’ families and loved ones suffer. In both cases, victims and/or their families may be entitled to seek money damages to compensate for the physical, emotional, and financial pain inflicted on them by someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions.
THE TWO GENERAL CATEGORIES OF DAMAGES
There are two broad categories of damages the victim may generally be able to recover from those responsible for causing a motor vehicle accident (subject to the insurance rules we cover below). The first is called “economic” or “special” damages. These damages aim to compensate for all of the costs an accident inflicts on the victim and/or victim’s family. Medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, and lost future income, all fall into the category of “special” damages that a victim or victim’s family may be able to recover.
The second category is called “non-economic” or “general” damages. These damages are meant to compensate the victim and/or victim’s family for the harm that is harder to put into numbers. “Pain and suffering” is the most common type of “non-economic” damages. It places a dollar value how much the victim and/or the victim’s family has suffered as a result of the car accident. Other categories of general damages include “loss of consortium,” “loss of companionship,” and “loss of life enjoyment,” all of which try to put a value on a tragic loss or on the victim’s inability to live life the same way after the accident.
You may have also heard of a category of damages called “punitive damages.” These damages fall under the umbrella of “non-economic” or “general” damages. Their purpose is to punish the person or entity that caused the victim’s injuries and to help ensure the conduct that led to the accident never happens again. In Pennsylvania, punitive damages are available only when the wrongdoers’ actions were extreme, outrageous, or intentional. It is not enough for the liable party to have been “grossly negligent.” Punitive damages are reserved only for the worst of the worst behavior under Pennsylvania law.
As we described above, how much these damages total depends on the facts and circumstances of the individual car accident case. An experienced car accident attorney can help victims determine which categories of damages they may be able to seek.
PROVING DAMAGES CAN BE COMPLICATED
In a lawsuit, the victim has the responsibility to prove the existence and amount of damages. That is not always a straightforward task. It can be critical to have an experienced car accident attorney on your side to make sure you have assembled and presented the right kind of evidence to ensure you have the best chance at recovering the maximum award.
Economic/”special” damages, as we explained above, represent the hard costs an accident inflicts on the victim and/or the victim’s family. Lawyers often rely on documentation to prove these damages, such as medical bills that show how much money an injury has cost, or pay stubs from the victim’s job to show what the victim was able to earn before the accident left him with a disability. An experienced lawyer may also find it necessary to consult an expert, such as an accountant or financial planner, to figure out the “present value” of any costs the victim reasonably expects to bear in the future, such as wages the victim can no longer hope to earn, or the expense of long-term therapies and treatments. (“Present value” represents the amount of money you’d need to put into an interest-bearing account today to be sure you’d have enough money, after earning interest, to cover those future expenses and losses when they arise later.)
When it comes to proving medical damages, a doctor, specialist, or other healthcare provider oftentimes must offer expert medical testimony at a deposition or trial to prove the existence and extent of injuries. An expert medical provider may testify about the accident victim’s medical treatment, the permanent nature of the injuries sustained, and objective findings generated from medical observations and permanency evaluations. All of this expert medical testimony can potentially increase the amount of compensation an accident victim might receive The injured accident victim also has the burden of connecting injuries and damages to the car accident. In other words, the injured plaintiff must show that the injuries and damages sustained would not have occurred but for the accident. That generally requires testimony from an expert medical provider, such as a treating doctor or medical specialist.
Proving non-economic/”general” damages can be even more complicated. How do you put a number on “pain and suffering,” or on the difficulty of facing life without the companionship of a beloved family member who died tragically, or on the trauma of losing an arm, or the use of one’s legs? There is no easy answer. It will depend on factors that might even seem cold and uncaring to the victim: the victim’s age and activity level, the type of injury, how difficult life is going to be after the accident. As with economic damages, lawyers may rely on experts to help explain these damages. But, ultimately, “general” damages often come down to a subjective determination of how “bad” the accident, injury, or loss was.
Which is not to say lawyers are shooting in the dark when it comes to general damages. The experienced team at The Levin Firm has represented enough clients in auto accident cases to be able to make reasonable estimates of what general damages may be realistic. Their extensive knowledge is essential to ensure a client’s claim seeks the right amount of money and to decide whether a settlement offer is fair.
Pennsylvania “Full Tort” vs. “Limited Tort” Insurance Options Affect The Damages You Might Recover
As we described above, there are two general categories of damages that a car accident victim might be able to recover: economic/”special” and non-economic/”general”. Under Pennsylvania law, however, drivers with cars registered in Pennsylvania must make a choice when they purchase car insurance that will affect whether they can recover non-economic/”general” damages.
As in most states, by law Pennsylvania drivers must carry a minimum amount of auto insurance that covers their liability to others they may injure while behind the wheel. When purchasing that insurance, drivers can choose between two types of policy: “full tort” and “limited tort.” Both types cover liability to others when the driver is at fault. But, when a driver purchases a “limited tort” policy, she agrees that if she gets injured in an accident that’s another driver’s fault, she will have limited rights to seek non-economic/”general” damages from the other driver. If she chooses a “full liability” policy, in contrast, she will have full rights to seek non-economic/”general” damages from the at-fault driver.
Pennsylvania law allows for these two kinds of insurance as a way to reduce the cost of car insurance and to reduce large damage awards in car accident cases. “Limited tort” policies are less expensive because they make it more difficult for the driver to recover potentially large “pain and suffering” and other non-economic/”general” damages after an accident. When enough people on the road opt for “limited tort” policies, it reduces insurance companies’ costs. “Full tort” policies are more expensive, because they have no such restriction, and the more people who opt for this kind of policy create greater financial exposure for insurance companies.
If you are a Pennsylvania driver who has been injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault, in other words, whether you have a “full tort” or “limited tort” auto insurance policy may impact the amount of damages you can recover, and/or how difficult it will be to recover damages. In your initial consultation with an experienced Philadelphia motor vehicle accident attorney, the attorney will want to find out which type of policy you carry. It is helpful to know this when you have that first meeting.
But remember, just because you have a “limited tort” auto insurance policy doesn’t mean you cannot recover substantial damages for injuries you suffer in a car accident, or for a tragic loss. In fact, there are some significant exceptions built into the “limited tort” rules that could still allow you to recover non-economic/”general” damages such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and punitive damages. For example, “limited tort” doesn’t limit non-economic/”general” damages your family can recover if you are killed in a car accident, and it doesn’t limit what you can recover if a car accident leaves you severely disabled or disfigured. The team at The Levin Firm knows the ins-and-outs of these exceptions to “limited tort” rules, and has the skill to make sure you recover the maximum compensation you deserve, whatever kind of car insurance policy you carry.
HOW INSURANCE COMPANIES DISPUTE LIABILITY IN PHILADELPHIA CAR ACCIDENT CASES
Because most drivers on Pennsylvania roads carry auto insurance, insurance companies tend to play a huge role in car accident cases in which a victim seeks damages from another driver who was at fault. Typically, a victim who gets injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by another driver will look to that other driver’s insurance to pay for damages, and the other driver’s insurance company will often pay for that other driver’s defense lawyer. The victim’s lawyer’s job frequently involves negotiating with the other driver’s insurance company, either directly with an insurance company employee or indirectly with a lawyer who specializes in representing insured, at-fault drivers (known as an “insurance defense” lawyer).
Generally speaking, it’s a good thing that insurance companies are there to help compensate victims of auto accidents. That’s one of the major purposes of buying the purpose of buying insurance, after all – to protect yourself against being personally liable to someone you hurt by being negligent. But, because insurance companies are essentially huge reserves of money that may be tapped to pay for a car accident victim’s injuries, they are not easy targets.
Insurance companies, obviously, are in the business of making money. In the most basic sense, they make a profit by collecting more money in premiums from policyholders than they pay out in benefits to people covered by their policies. No matter what they say in their television commercials, insurance companies are never excited to pay money to injured people, especially when the injured person isn’t their customer but instead is a victim of their customer’s negligence or wrongful actions. Insurance companies’ business depends on limiting the number of people they must pay benefits to and the amount of those benefits. They do that by trying to pick apart the insurance claims that injured people make.
Insurance “adjusters” are the insurance company employees who investigate insurance claims and decide whether and how much to pay out on a claim. Many insurance adjusters only investigate car accidents and have lots of experience in spotting ways to minimize how much money the insurance company has to pay. It can be very important for victims seeking compensation from someone else who is covered by an insurance policy to have a lawyer on their side to interact with these adjusters, so that the adjusters do not take advantage. Some typical tactics insurance adjusters use to limit the insurance company’s exposure include:
Offering quick settlements that are too low in exchange for a liability waiver, hoping the victim will not yet be represented by a lawyer and will be in financial distress. Insurance adjusters know that “fast money” can be attractive to people who are strapped for cash and grieving or struggling to come to terms with a life-changing injury. If insurance adjusters see a chance to take advantage of that vulnerability in order to limit the insurance company’s financial exposure, then they will.
Questioning the extent of the victim’s injuries and/or whether the victim is trying to recover damages for an injury that the car accident didn’t actually cause (for example, a pre-existing back injury). If an insurance company can show that the victim is making the injury sound worse than it actually is, or that the victim didn’t sustain the injury in the accident but instead got hurt somewhere else or for some other reason, then the insurance company may be able to escape liability for paying for the costs and “pain and suffering” of the injury.
Trying to pin the fault for the accident on the victim. Remember that under Pennsylvania’s “modified comparative negligence” rules, the victim’s damages (i.e., the payment the victim can recover from the insurance company) will be reduced by the percentage of fault the victim bears for causing the accident. What’s more, if the victim is more than 50% at fault for the accident, then the victim can’t recover any damages. This gives insurance companies a large financial incentive to blame the victim for an accident, and they’ll do everything in their power to find ways to do so.
These are just a few of the techniques insurance adjusters may use against vulnerable accident victims. The best defense against these tactics is to have a lawyer on your side right away after you sustain injuries in a car accident, so that you have an experienced negotiator to handle discussions with the insurance adjuster or insurance defense attorney from the get-go. Not only will a skilled car accident attorney know how to void the tricks and pitfalls that insurance adjusters try to use to minimize damages, but the attorney will also be able to spot when an insurance company is acting in bad faith and hold them to account, if need be. Under Pennsylvania law, an insurance company that acts in bad faith toward an insured party (including a victim of a policy holder’s negligence) may be liable to the victim for additional damages, including punitive damages and attorney fees. Examples of bad faith can include purposefully ignoring evidence of a covered claim or delaying payment on a valid claim.
Sometimes, it’s not just the other driver’s insurance company that a car accident victim and his lawyer may have to contend with. In cases like the ones mentioned above where a non-driver is at fault for causing an accident, an insurance company representing the non-driver (such as an insurer for an auto parts company, or the property liability insurance carrier for a restaurant) may also come into the picture. Oftentimes, these insurance companies will fight doubly hard, because their customers’ (and their own) liability exposure may be far larger than to a single car accident victim.
In short, in car accident cases, it’s a good thing that insurance exists to help pay damages to victims of someone’s negligence. But, don’t be fooled. The at-fault party’s insurance company is never on your side. Insurance adjusters will do everything in their power to deny or limit the benefits they must pay. When it comes to proving the existence and severity of personal injuries, and in particular, catastrophic injuries and damages, the accident victim has the burden of proof, and insurance adjusters will use this burden to their advantage. Whenever an accident victim seeks compensation for serious injuries and damages, the insurance company will likely downplay the seriousness and extent of the injuries and will look for other possible causes of the injuries or impairments.
Call The Levin Firm When a Car Accident Devastates Your Life
From connecting with a client’s personal tragedy, to identifying the at-fault parties in an accident, to gathering evidence, to proving negligence or strict liability, to negotiating with insurance adjusters and defense lawyers, The Levin Firm is a Philadelphia-area law firm committed to serving the needs of motor vehicle accident victims and their families. We have years of experience and a track record of results, having recovered damages totaling millions of dollars for our car accident clients.
If a motor vehicle accident has devastated your life, either by leaving you with a serious injury or by tragically taking a loved one from you, our team of skilled, compassionate attorneys are here to help. Call us today at (215) 825-5183 or toll-free at (877) 825-8542, or contact or chat with us online, to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team and discuss whether we can help you recover compensation you deserve.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT
A car accident can be a harrowing experience. In the immediate aftermath of a wreck, it is only natural for those involved to feel shaken up, disoriented, and confused about what to do next. Unfortunately, those are also the moments when the decisions an accident victim makes can have the most significant consequences. There are actions accident victims can take that will help preserve their legal right to recover damages later on. There are also actions victims should try to avoid at all costs, as they may hinder the chances of recovering compensation.
Research shows that planning for an emergency, even one that has a low probability of actually happening, can have significant benefits when a crisis arises. Just thinking about what you’d do in the stressful moments after a car accident can make a tremendous difference in the quality of decisions you make. With that in mind, here are some of the most important considerations for the minutes, hours, days, and weeks after a car accident. Get to know them; they may have a huge impact on your life and the lives of those you love.
TIPS FOR BEFORE EMERGENCY RESPONDERS ARRIVE
The unexpected trauma of a car accident causes immediate physical changes to anyone involved in it, even those who do not sustain a serious injury has occurred. A cocktail of hormones, principally adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, floods the body, increasing the heart rate and blood flow to the brain, and releasing sugar and glucose directly into the bloodstream, causing victims to feel hyper-alert and their bodies to suppress localized pain. Some victims experience an acute stress reaction (commonly called “shock”) in which they dissociate from sensations and emotions, as if in a dream. Victims who have sustained a blow or jolt to the head may experience immediate symptoms of a concussion, from confusion to a loss of consciousness. Victims with acute physical trauma may be at risk of blood loss, acute organ failure, and medical shock (a life-threatening condition not to be confused with the psychological “shock” associated with an acute stress reaction).
In these moments, the actions you take and decisions you make may mean the difference between life and death.
MOVE YOURSELF AND OTHERS TO SAFETY
Just as airlines tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone with theirs, your first priority after an accident should be to ensure your own immediate safety, and then to help others do the same. If your car is still operable, move it to the shoulder and stay in it until help arrives. If it isn’t, get yourself and others out of the vehicle and, if possible, set up flares or some other type of warning to other motorists. Stay as far from the roadway as practical to ensure that you are not at risk of an explosion or secondary collision. If you perceive that one of the other drivers or victims is a danger to you or others, keep your distance. If someone tries to flee the scene, do not risk your own safety to detain them, but take note of anything that might help identify them later.
CHECK ON OTHERS AND GIVE FIRST AID IF SAFE TO DO SO
Review the condition of everyone who has been able to move to safety. Is anyone obviously hurt or bleeding? If so, take any appropriate first-aid measures or delegate someone to do so, preferably someone who has received at least basic training in emergency first aid and/or life-saving (who will, by virtue of that training, have immunity from legal liability to the person they help in most circumstances). Has anyone been unable to move to safety? If so, check to see if you can move them without putting their, and your own, health at risk. Be smart. Risking your life to save someone else’s may be heroic, but it can also be foolish if you have not carefully evaluated the situation with a clear head and awareness of the dangers.
ALERT EMERGENCY RESPONDERS
Pennsylvania law requires you to alert the police of any accident in which someone has been injured or killed, or a vehicle has been so badly damaged that it cannot be operated safely.
But, even if neither of those conditions is obviously present, it is still a good idea as soon you have addressed your immediate safety concerns to call (or designate someone else to call) 911 to alert emergency responders to the fact that an accident has occurred. The emergency response line will alert police, fire, and emergency medical personnel to respond to the scene, ensuring that any injuries that victims have sustained receive medical attention, that the road can be closed or traffic flow limited to reduce the risk of secondary accidents, that any hazardous materials, fires, or other unsafe conditions can be addressed, and that anyone who has violated the law can be detained. In addition, summoning emergency responders to the scene will ensure officials generate a report detailing the circumstances of the accident and its immediate aftermath. This report can be extremely important later on if the events surrounding your accident come into dispute.
Have the person who calls 911 stay on the line with the operator until help arrives, so that responders have the most complete and accurate information possible. This ensures first responders bring or call appropriate equipment to the scene and know of any risks to their own safety. Because 911 calls are recorded, it may also provide a contemporaneous account of what happened at the accident scene should any of that information become important to your lawyers later.
The Benefits of Calling the Police
As an accident victim, there may be significant benefits involved in calling the police to investigate your accident—besides the obvious benefit of being in compliance with Pennsylvania law. Under a legal doctrine known as “negligence per se”, individuals who are in violation of the law may be held liable for any injuries they cause as a result of that violation without any further showing of evidence by the victim. Put more plainly, if the other driver in your accident was breaking a traffic rule and receives a citation, that may be sufficient evidence for you to obtain compensation for your accident-related injuries and losses.
When you call the police after an accident, you ensure that they will they will interview the people involved and any witnesses that may have seen the accident take place. That is their duty under Pennsylvania law. They will also make a determination as to whether any laws were violated. If the police officers believe laws were broken, they will usually issue citations to the drivers who broke the law. In addition, they will likely perform sobriety testing on any drivers they suspect are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and arrest them if there is probable cause to do so. Finally, they will write a thorough report of the accident that collects and summarizes all of this information, which may be used later as evidence of what occurred.
Tips for When Emergency Responders Arrive
As the initial surge of adrenaline wears off, car accident victims may begin to feel jittery or nauseous. The pain of an injury, initially suppressed by the body’s “fight or flight” reaction to stress, will begin to emerge, sometimes intensely. Victims may feel a surge of strong, even seemingly uncontrollable emotion, including fear, anger, or sadness. Victims who did not initially experience an acute stress reaction may begin to experience one now. Victims of a mild concussion or brain injury may begin to feel its effects.
Just as you begin entering these emotional and physical states, emergency responders arrive on the scene. Follow these tips to help make good decisions about your interactions with them even as the after-shock of the accident begins to set in.
Always Say “Yes” to Being Evaluated by Emergency Medical Personnel
Some people can walk away from car accidents relatively unscathed while others sustain life-threatening injuries in a matter of seconds. In some cases, it will be obvious that a victim needs to be immediately taken to the hospital in an ambulance for emergency treatment and stabilization. However, other victims may not realize how badly they need medical attention.
Because of the physiological and emotional response most people have to being in a car accident, it can be very difficult for them to evaluate their own health condition at the scene of the accident. The effects of adrenaline and other hormones may trick them into thinking they’re “fine” when, in fact, they’re not.
That’s why you should always say “yes” to being examined by emergency medical personnel at the scene of the accident. EMTs are trained to spot injuries and health complications that people may not readily report or may not even know they have. They can look for the telltale signs of a person in distress, from dangerously high blood pressure (a risk factor for heart attack and stroke) to broken blood vessels in their eyes (a signal of concussion).
Agreeing to be checked out by an EMT doesn’t automatically mean you are going to be heading to the hospital. Of course, if the EMT thinks your injuries are serious enough to warrant an ambulance ride, you should heed that advice. But even if medical responders evaluate you and conclude you are stable and in no need of a trip to the emergency department, they still may identify symptoms that can be signals of more serious injuries, and, at the very least, they can give you instructions about what signs to watch out for that could indicate you need immediate medical treatment. In addition, agreeing to be evaluated by an EMT will usually result in another record being created of your condition immediately after the accident, which may prove useful later on down the road.
Never Admit Responsibility or Try to Assign Fault
Following an accident, many stressed victims may blurt out to other parties or police that they “were not paying attention” or that they “did not see the other car.” Though they may simply be expressing remorse, it is virtually always a mistake to admit even the slightest fault immediately following a car accident. Anything an accident victim says will likely end up in law enforcement’s account of the incident, making it harder to contest later.
What’s more, those statements might not even be true, and not because you’d have any reason to tell a lie. The simple fact is that your perspective of how an accident happened is just that – one person’s perspective. You don’t know all of the facts. There’s no way you could. It may feel like you should have seen another car that came out of nowhere, but maybe that’s because the other car ran a red light, not that you weren’t paying attention. It may seem like you overreacted to a situation by slamming on your brakes before getting rear-ended, but maybe the car that hit you was speeding. You just can’t know.
As we discussed above, identifying who might have been at “fault” for an accident can be a complicated process and often requires the expertise of skilled lawyers and expert witnesses. In the moments after an accident it’s not your job to try and shortcut that process. Your job is to give first responders the facts, and only the facts. Save apologies, self-criticism, and assigning blame for later.
One more reason not to accept responsibility or blame yourself in statements to police is that insurance adjusters will almost certainly use any admission of possible blame to try to limit the amount of damages they’re obligated to pay you. In the worst case, statements blaming yourself could unintentionally prevent you from recovering compensation at all. Remember, even if you were partially at fault for causing an accident, you may still be able to recover damages for your losses from other at-fault parties. By staying away from any statement suggesting you are at fault for an accident, you will avoid compromising any potential legal claims you may have.
Document and Collect Information at the Scene
Follow this tip only after you have been evaluated by emergency medical responders and they have cleared you. Otherwise, delegate this responsibility to someone else you trust.
As you may have guessed from some of the discussion above, evidence collected at an accident scene can be some of the most valuable in proving a legal claim seeking damages for someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions. Police and other first responders will, no doubt, collect evidence at the scene. But their first priority is public safety. If you are able, it can be a huge help to your own legal interests if you collect evidence at the scene, too.
We have all seen crime scene investigation shows on TV. After you have been checked out by EMTs and before you leave the accident scene, think of yourself as one of the characters from those shows and collect every bit of information you can think of that might be useful in figuring out who was at fault for an accident. Your smartphone – particularly its camera and notepad app – is the perfect tool to help you do this. But, remember, the actual first responders have a job to do. Do not get in their way or make their tasks more difficult.
Here are some of the types of information it may be helpful for you to collect.
VEHICLE LICENSE PLATE NUMBERS.
Snap a picture or take a video of every license plate you see, with enough distance to make it clear which vehicle the license plate is attached to. Start with the vehicles involved in the accident, then any vehicles that stopped to help, then emergency response vehicles.
VEHICLE CONDITION AND DETAILS.
After capturing license plates, take pictures or video of the condition of all vehicles involved in the accident. There’s no limit to how many pictures or how much footage you should take. Keep snapping or filming until you’re sure you’ve captured every vehicle from every angle. Be sure to get pictures of any unique identifying characteristics of the vehicles, such as company logos, Department of Transportation identification numbers on commercial vehicles, bumper stickers, and inspection stickers.
IMAGES OF THE SCENE AND SURROUNDINGS.
Next capture photos or video (shooting horizontally, not vertically) of the accident scene and surroundings, so long as you stay out of the way of emergency responders doing their jobs. Record skid marks, broken glass, debris, lighting, road surface, obvious hazards, visual obstructions, and road signs. Get shots from the exact viewpoint you had from behind the wheel of your car, from where you think the other driver was, from where pedestrians or witnesses might have been. If you’re taking video, narrate as you go to give yourself and your lawyer a reference point for what you are shooting and why. But, remember, do not blame yourself or make statements about what you should have done. Stick to the facts.
The names, contact information, and insurance information for all drivers and passengers involved in the accident. Write down or record everybody’s name and contact information, and snap a picture of any other driver’s auto insurance card. The driver of the other vehicle must give you this information under Pennsylvania law (and, conversely, you must give the same information about yourself to the other driver).
Contact information and accounts of other witnesses. Depending upon where an accident occurs, there may have been other people who saw what happened. If it’s apparent to you that someone saw the accident, get their contact information and a brief statement from them about what they saw. But, don’t spend too much time searching for witnesses. This can be done later if necessary, and it’s more important you document the scene. (For example, if another driver saw the accident happen and stopped to help, a photo of that driver’s license plate will probably be enough to track him down if you don’t have the chance to speak with him.)
The location of video surveillance cameras. Some of the most useful evidence of an accident can come from video surveillance cameras that captured the accident through a shop window or from the corner of a parking lot. If you can, take note of any video cameras you see and of the names of any business operating around the accident site. Even if you don’t see obvious surveillance cameras doesn’t mean they aren’t there. If you do see a camera and it’s possible to speak with someone on the premises, get contact information and specifically request that the video be preserved. (Some security cameras only save footage for a short period of time before deleting it.)
The purpose of all of this documenting and recording is to capture everything as it was in the moments after the accident. Memories fade and evidence can be lost or destroyed. The more information that’s preserved immediately, the higher the chances justice can be served and you can recover any compensation you deserve.
In collecting the information above, however, there are a few things you should not do. We’ve covered two of them already: do not make statements blaming yourself, and do not get in the way of emergency responders doing their jobs. In addition, do not leave the accident scene until you’ve been told you can do so by an emergency responder. Do not move or disturb any debris – leave everything just as you see it. And, do not photograph or record injured people without their informed consent. (In certain circumstances it may not be legal to record without an injured person’s permission, and even if it’s legally permissible, it runs a real risk of causing you to appear callous or creepy).
Finally, once you have collected this information, do not share it with anyone without first speaking with an attorney. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you decide when, how, to whom, and for what purpose this information may be disseminated. For the time being, make a backup copy of any pictures, videos, and notes and then wait until you’ve received a lawyer’s advice before doing anything else with the information you’ve collected.
TIPS FOR THE DAYS (AND WEEKS) AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT
The days and weeks after a car accident can be especially difficult. Even those who escaped the accident without serious injury may feel aches and pains and experience traumatic flashbacks to the fear and confusion of the accident. While most people understandably want to put a car accident behind them as quickly as possible, there are some steps they should take to protect their health and legal rights in most cases. Obviously, car accident victims who sustain serious injuries may not be able to accomplish these tasks all by themselves and may need to delegate them to a spouse or family member.
See Your Doctor
Even if you had an EMT check you out at the accident scene and you did not need an ambulance ride to the emergency department, in the day or two following a car accident you should schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or visit a walk-in urgent care clinic for a check-up. EMTs do the important work of spotting immediate injuries and health complications at an accident scene to ensure that no one in need of critical care goes without it. Emergency responders are not, however, a substitute for a physician who knows you, who can perform a thorough evaluation of your condition with the benefit of your health records as a guide, and who can order testing to follow up on any areas of concern.
Visiting your primary care doctor ensures you protect your health and receive treatment tailored to your health needs. It protects you against seemingly minor injuries from an accident, such as aches and pains, escalating into more serious, potentially life-threatening conditions. It gives you a chance to have a calm discussion about the accident, instead of one influenced by the adrenaline and other stress hormones coursing through your body after an accident. And, it creates a thorough, detailed record of your condition post-accident, which can be useful both as evidence of any injuries you sustained as well as of the fact that you’ve been diligent about caring for yourself. By creating this record, you make it far more difficult for an insurance adjuster to claim you did not suffer an injury in the accident.
Be sure to keep any record of a co-pay or self-insurance fee you had to pay for this follow-up, as it may count toward economic/”special” damages you may be able to recover.
Follow Medical Instructions and Take Care of Yourself
Whether you sustained an obvious injury or your doctor found something that wasn’t initially apparent, it’s important you follow medical advice and do what’s necessary to heal. That may feel difficult if you’re an active person by nature or if you need to return to work to pay bills. But you don’t want to end up in even worse condition. Also, insurance adjusters and, if it comes to this, a judge or jury, will hold it against you if you fail to follow medical advice. Not following a treatment plan may be seen as an indication that you are irresponsible, and could lead people to conclude that it’s more likely than not you bore some of the responsibility for the accident.
CALL A LAWYER IF THE ACCIDENT LEFT YOU INJURED OR WITH A LOSS
If your accident left you injured, grieving a loss, or dealing with significant property damage, make an appointment to speak with a skilled Philadelphia car accident lawyer. The sooner you bring an attorney onto your team after an accident, the higher the likelihood you will be able to recover the maximum compensation you deserve from the parties at fault. That’s because a lawyer can immediately take charge of dealing with all of the legal and administrative aspects of recovering compensation for you, while you focus on the important task of healing from physical and emotional injury and adapting to life after the accident.
• Among other roles an experienced Philadelphia car accident lawyer can fill, your attorney may:
• Investigate the facts and circumstances of your accident to determine whether there is any evidence of negligence or wrongful conduct on the part of other drivers, government entities, auto manufacturers or others.
• Collect and preserve evidence, and track down and obtain witness statements, that may be helpful to prove other parties’ fault.
• Conduct legal research to identify potential claims you may have the right to make against at-fault parties.
• Determine your current and future economic and noneconomic damages, including by reviewing your paperwork and working with expert witnesses.
• Make a demand on at-fault parties and file a lawsuit in the appropriate jurisdiction on your behalf, if necessary.
• Even if you suspect a settlement from the other driver’s insurance company may be available to compensate you for your damages, it can be especially important to have a lawyer on your side to review any settlement offers you receive before you accept them. This is critical for two reasons:
• You may have undervalued your losses and may not realize a settlement offer you receive from an insurance company is inadequate; and
Accepting an offer from an insurance company may result in you waiving the right to file a legal claim or to seek additional compensation for your injuries and losses.
An attorney can protect your rights by taking over all of your communications and negotiations with insurance companies, helping you to avoid the tricks and traps they may deploy to try to get you to take a lowball, “quick money” settlement offer in the days and weeks after the accident.
BE CAREFUL TALKING TO INSURANCE COMPANIES
In the days and weeks after an accident, insurance adjusters representing the interests of the other parties involved in the accident may try to contact you directly. They will want to discuss the facts and circumstances of your accident, which might sound reasonable under the circumstances. They may even seem friendly and empathetic, encouraging you to pour your heart out to them about what happened.
But beware. Insurance adjusters, as we’ve said before, are not your friends. Their mission is to limit the financial exposure of their insurance company. They’ve spoken with thousands of people just like you. They don’t want to pay you. They will use techniques they’ve honed to try to get you to admit you were at least partially at fault for the accident.
DO NOT give an insurance adjuster a recorded statement.
An insurance adjuster will try to get you to give a recorded statement. Do not agree to one. Recorded conversations with insurance adjusters are an ambush and you’re the target. Politely decline to give a recorded statement and refer the insurance adjuster to your lawyer. Stick to your guns, even if the adjuster tries to bully you by telling you that you have a legal obligation to give a recorded statement or by trying to make you feel guilty for declining the conversation. It is absolutely reasonable and responsible for you to ask for the opportunity to review their request with your lawyer first. Your attorney will be able to advise you whether you do have any obligation to speak with the adjuster. In our experience, most of the time that obligation doesn’t exist.
DO NOT ACCEPT AN AGREEMENT OR PAYMENT FROM AN INSURANCE COMPANY ON YOUR OWN.
We can’t repeat this enough. Insurance companies are in the business of not paying a dollar more than they can avoid paying. If an insurance adjuster for the other driver’s or someone else’s insurance company calls offering quick money, that’s most likely a sign that you have a claim worth significantly more than what they’re putting on the table. Tempting as it might be to take the money and put the whole car accident behind you, don’t. That money comes with strings that may tie up your ability to recover additional money later. Politely decline the offer and refer the insurance adjuster to your attorney. As above, hold your ground if the adjuster gets aggressive or tries to sweet-talk you into saying “yes” before you speak with your lawyer. The adjuster has no obligation whatsoever to act in your best interests. Your lawyer does.
Save Any Doubts About Who Was At Fault For Your Attorney
After an accident, lots of people will ask you what happened. They’ll be asking mostly because they care about you. You’ll be tempted to respond and give them a full account. Try as hard as you can not to, particularly when it comes to talking about who was at fault. The only person you should share your thoughts with about who was at fault in the accident is your attorney. Unlike most other conversations in your life, conversations with your attorney about who you think was at fault in an accident are absolutely confidential. Other people who may have the right to keep what you tell them confidential include your spouse, medical providers, and clergy. But, if you want to be absolutely sure that some casual comment you make about who might have been at fault doesn’t come back and bite you, keep all of your thoughts to yourself and mention them only in a setting where it’s just you and your attorney talking.
Stay Off Of Social Media, Please
The past decade has seen an unprecedented explosion in the amount of information people share online about their lives. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media platforms enable us to open up our lives for public or semi-private consumption. When you’ve been the victim of a car accident, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The problem with social media is that people tend to portray their happiest selves there. It’s very difficult to give an accurate picture of life in short paragraphs and videos. Our natural instinct is to smile in pictures and now our keyboards even give us the ability to send smiley emojis. How we actually feel can be radically different from how our life looks on social media.
For accident victims, that tendency to showcase our “best” selves can cause huge problems in the course of pursuing damages from at-fault parties, because perceptions matter. Even if you keep your social media accounts private, anything you post to them may become available to parties in a lawsuit in which you seek damages for your car accident injuries. (And, you can get in trouble for deleting posts, too.) Since social media came onto the scene, car accident lawyers and their clients have learned the hard way that nothing can devastate a claim for “pain and suffering” damages quicker than a smiling Instagram post or a smiley-emoji-filled Tweet. Judges, insurance adjusters, opposing attorneys, and juries see those “happy” social media posts and think: “that doesn’t look like ‘pain and suffering’ to me.” It might not be fair, but that’s how it is.
So, as tempting as it may be to share details about your life on social media while you recover from a car accident and seek compensation for damages, please don’t. To borrow a familiar phrase, anything you post can and will be used against you.
File a Written Report with the Police
Many people don’t know this, but Pennsylvania law requires drivers and/or vehicle owners to file a written report with the police within five days of any car accident to which police were not called. Now, as we’ve written above, it’s a good idea to call emergency responders to any accident scene for lots of reasons, one of which is that the police will investigate and prepare their own written report that can be used as evidence later on. But if, for whatever reason, that did not happen, then within five days of the accident you must file a written report to the police on your own. The report is confidential and, unlike an official report written by the police who investigate an accident, it cannot be used as evidence.
NEED ADVICE? CALL THE LEVIN FIRM
At The Levin Firm, we focus on giving the best possible advice to our clients who have suffered injuries and tragic losses in motor vehicle accidents. We have “seen it all,” so to speak, and always take the time to speak with our clients and address their needs and concerns. Call us today or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
CAUSES OF CAR ACCIDENTS
Here at The Levin Firm, we have represented clients in motor vehicle accident matters spanning an enormous range of fact patterns. Our clients have been involved in single-car, two-car, and multi-car accidents, accidents involving small and large trucks, buses, cyclists and pedestrians. Every car accident has one or more cause, some common, some very unusual. In this section, we cover the most typical causes of motor vehicle accidents we handle. If you do not see a description that fits your accident, however, that doesn’t mean we’re not interested. Our firm represents victims of Philadelphia motor vehicle accidents, no matter how those accident happened.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each day nine people are killed and more than a thousand people are injured on American roads because of distracted driving. In 2015, 3,477 individuals tragically lost their lives because a driver was distracted, and 391,000 people were injured in distracted driving incidents. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) further reports that in 2016, approximately 481,000 vehicles drove on American roads while their drivers held a cell phone to his or her ear, and hundreds of thousands more were operated by drivers scrolling or swiping on their phones behind the wheel.
These numbers are alarming, especially because distracted driving is almost completely preventable in the majority of situations. Experts consider distracted driving a significant public health problem in the United States.
Distracted drivers should be held accountable for their careless actions. Fortunately, Pennsylvania law allow victims of auto accidents to recover from any party who caused an accident and injuries by acting in a negligent or reckless manner. In many cases, victims can recover significant compensation for their losses, which can include medical expenses, lost income, property damage, and physical and emotional pain and suffering.
Categories of driving distractions
According to the CDC and other organizations, there are three primary categories of dangerous driving distractions:
• VISUAL – any activity that causes you to take your eyes from the road ahead of you
• MANUAL – any activity that causes you to take your hands away from the steering wheel
• COGNITIVE – any activity that takes your mental focus off of driving
Many activities fit more than one category, making them even more dangerous. For example, reaching for a cell phone and dialing a number will take your hand off the wheel and your eyes off the road, so this would be classified as a visual-manual distraction.
Common dangerous distractions
Though most drivers are fully aware of the dangers of distracted driving, many of them continue to engage in a wide variety of potentially risky activities while behind the wheel on a regular basis. Some of the most common forms of driver distractions include the following:
- Eating or drinking
- Placing a voice call or talking on the phone
- Adjusting the radio or music system
- Listening to audiobooks or podcasts
- Attending to passengers in the back seat
- Holding a conversation with a passenger
- Using a handheld mobile device to read or send messages
- Browsing the internet
- Setting a GPS
- Reading (either electronically or in print)
- Applying makeup
- Other personal grooming
While some of these activities may seem relatively harmless, even the slightest distraction for a fraction of a second may be enough to cause a serious collision and result in devastating injuries. Many drivers do not realize that listening to an audiobook or simply talking to a passenger may significantly distract their focus from the road until it is too late. Drivers may additionally believe that hands-free technology will make using their mobile phone safe, though experts report it is still quite risky due to cognitive distractions.
Texting and technology
With the surge in mobile personal technology over the last two decades, the main focus of anti-distracted driving advocacy groups has been on technological communications while driving. First, the focus was on stopping drivers from talking on their cell phones behind the wheel. However, soon a more concerning activity took primary focus.
Texting is widely considered to be the most dangerous of all driving distractions. The term “texting” is used generally to refer to a variety of actions on any type of interactive wireless communication device, which can include cell phones, smart phones, personal digital assistants, tablets, portable computers, or any related technological devices. Texting can generally include any of the following:
- Text messages or iMessages
- Instant messaging over Facebook or other websites
- Typing information into a web browser or search engine
- Any other type of text-based communication on a mobile device
Texting not only refers to the composition of one of the above messages by a driver, but also to reading incoming messages on a mobile device.
Texting is a top concern when it comes to distracted driving because both reading and writing messages involves all three categories of distraction—visual, manual, and cognitive. According to the NHTSA, it takes approximately five seconds for the average driver to read or send a message. This means that a driver traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour would drive 100 yards—the length of an entire football field—without looking at the road. Worse, though people tend to believe they can “multi-task” and both text and drive safely, study-after-study has shown that’s simply not the case. The human brain is not built to do a the more “automatic” task of driving down the highway and the very focused task of typing out a message at the same time.
Despite the alarming risks of this type of distraction, and despite state laws (including in Pennsylvania) making texting and driving illegal, the NHTSA’s crash statistics cited above estimate that at at given time during the day, more than 850,000 drivers in the United States are texting or otherwise using cell phones from behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. These drivers run a substantially higher risk of getting into an accident than other drivers. Distracted driving leads to reduced reaction time, inability to keep a vehicle in-lane, and catastrophic accidents resulting in serious injury and death. We are all at risk every time a driver looks at a cell phone while behind the wheel.
DRUNK AND DRUGGED DRIVING
Nearly forty years ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) riveted the nation’s attention on the issue of drunk driving as a killer on America’s roads. In the decades since, the public advocacy of MADD and similar organizations and the passage of impaired driving laws have made a dent in drunk driving and its close cousin, drugged driving, as a public health problem. Nevertheless, impaired driving remains a massive national problem.
To get a sense of the scope of the continuing danger of drunk and drugged driving, consider these statistics from the CDC:
In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
From 2003 to 2012, 4,663 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in Pennsylvania.
In 2016, more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. But, those arrests represent just one percent of the 111 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year!
Drugs other than alcohol (legal and illegal) are involved in about 16% of all motor vehicle crashes.
Most people are familiar with why drunk and drugged driving is so dangerous. Alcohol and drug impairment causes drivers to have slowed reaction times, to speed, to drive erratically, and to have reduced situational awareness, all of which can lead to devastating accidents. In Pennsylvania, drunk and drugged driving is illegal. Importantly, the laws against impaired driving in Pennsylvania extend to operating motor vehicles under the influence of legal, prescription drugs that have side effects similar to drug or alcohol intoxication.
When a drunk or drugged driver causes an accident in Pennsylvania, the driver will likely have legal liability to anyone his actions injure. (This may be the case even if the driver’s level of impairment was under the legal limit.) Although impaired driving is illegal, the driver’s insurance must cover liability to victims up to the policy limits. But, the driver is not the only party who may have liability to victims of a drunk or drugged driving incident. As we noted in the sections above, under Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Law, the owner of a bar or restaurant that serves a “visibly intoxicated” patron will have legal liability for injuries the patron causes behind the wheel. In addition, because it can be dangerous for someone to drive while under the influence of legal prescription medication, a pharmacy or medical professional who failed to warn a patient of intoxicating side effects may bear some fault for an accident those effects cause.
Oftentimes, weather-influenced road conditions play a significant role in causing motor vehicle accidents. Normally, we’re all inclined to give a driver the benefit of the doubt when his car slides off the road in a snowstorm or he rear-ends someone in a dense fog. But, sometimes there are reasons to take a closer look at the driver’s conduct.
Bad weather conditions call for caution behind the wheel. A road that’s safe to travel at 60 miles per hour on a sunny day may be dangerous at 30 miles per hour in a torrential downpour. Drivers who operate their vehicles in poor weather conditions as if the roads were dry and clear may be acting negligent or reckless, and may bear legal liability for any accidents and injuries they cause. Do not assume that just because the weather was terrible when your accident happened that the driver who collided with you should be let off the hook.
Here are some of the most common weather conditions that contribute to motor vehicle accidents in the Philadelphia area.
According to the City of Philadelphia, our area receives about twenty inches of snow accumulation annually, enough to expect several days per year when local drivers must contend with snow-covered streets and highways. This PennDOT winter travel guide offers some good advice about the sort of precautions drivers should take in winter conditions. Any of the following driving behaviors on a snow-covered road could be considered negligent and may lead to an accident:
• Following too close to the car ahead;
• Making sudden stops and starts;
• Using cruise control;
• Failing to remove snow from windshield, windows, and mirrors; and
• Failing to remove snow from car surfaces, such that it flies off and blinds other drivers.
If you were involved in an accident on a snowy road, pay attention to whether the other driver(s) were following PennDOT’s safe winter driving advice. If they weren’t, then they may have legal liability to you for your injuries.
Like snow, ice is another winter weather driving condition that can lead to catastrophic accidents. In fact, ice may be even more dangerous than snow because drivers may sometimes have difficulty spotting it. Roadways that look wet but are actually frozen, commonly called “black ice,” result in some of the worst accidents on local roads.
Anyone who has ever hit a patch of black ice knows it’s scary. Even at low speed, a driver can totally lose control of a car. When black ice contributes to a motor vehicle accident, the question to ask isn’t whether a driver should have been able to control his vehicle on the ice, but instead whether he was going too fast to minimize the amount of harm a collision would cause. It is one thing for two cars to collide on an ice-covered road while each are creeping along at 10 or 15 miles per hour. That kind of accident will cause damage to both cars, but it’s unlikely to result in catastrophic injuries or death, and most of the time insurance companies will chalk it up to everybody being equally “at fault.”
It’s an entirely different case, however, if a driver ignores the danger of icy roads altogether, and drives on a black ice-covered street as if it’s just a little wet. Whenever temperatures hover around freezing and roads are wet, ice is a concern. A driver who fails to exercise extreme caution in those conditions may be acting negligent.
Did you know that the first ten minutes after it begins to rain are the most dangerous for driving? According to AAA, that’s because oil and other debris that may make the road slick rise up off the road in that time frame, making for dangerous driving conditions. Drivers have less traction and reduced visibility when it’s raining. Caution is a must, especially in Philadelphia where we receive over 40 inches of rain per year on average.
Under Pennsylvania law, drivers must turn on their headlights whenever they’re using their wipers. This makes them visible to other drivers under conditions in which a car without its lights on may “blend” into the background and be difficult to spot. Using headlights, however, is not the only precaution Pennsylvania drivers must take to keep themselves and others on the road safe on a rainy day. Similar to snowy conditions, safe driving in the rain requires keeping a safe distance, reducing speed, and avoiding cruise control. Drivers who ignore these rules risk losing control of their vehicles, particularly when driving through standing water. It’s also potentially a sign of negligence when drivers fail to maintain their cars for safe rainy-weather driving, such as by ensuring their tires have adequate tread and their wipers are effective.
If you sustained injuries in a motor vehicle accident that happened on a rainy day, whether a drizzle was falling or it was raining cats and dogs, do not assume that means the other driver could not have avoided the accident. Speak with an experienced Philadelphia car accident attorney to help determine if the driver did not exercise appropriate precautions to keep other drivers, passenger, cyclists, and pedestrians safe.
Philadelphia is a city on two rivers, the Delaware and the Schuylkill, and thanks to their influence we have our share of foggy days in the City of Brotherly Love. Driving in fog is no fun. One common mistake drivers make is to try and use their bright headlights in fog, which only makes its effect worse by reflecting the light back at them. Fog requires low headlights and very slow speeds. When drivers ignore those safety tips, rear end collisions commonly result.
As with other weather-related car accidents, you should not assume that fog made the accident in which you suffered an injury inevitable. There is a “safe” way to drive in almost any condition, and if the other driver failed to drive responsibly, then she may be liable to you for your injuries.
AGGRESSIVE DRIVING AND ROAD RAGE
Driving or riding in a motor vehicle comes with an inherent risk of accidents and injuries. These risks significantly increase, however, when other drivers on the road act in an irresponsible manner. While some drivers simply make a mistake, others may purposefully decide to drive in a dangerous manner. If an intentionally dangerous driver causes an accident, all injured victims have the right to recover for their losses from that driver.
AGGRESSIVE DRIVING BEHAVIORS
All drivers may become impatient at some point. Traffic, stop lights, and slow drivers can always be frustrating, especially if you are in a hurry or running late. However, it is highly important to not let your impatience and frustration lead to dangerous or even threatening driving behaviors. Even if you remain calm, though, there is still a chance that other aggressive drivers will cause an accident.
Aggressive driving behaviors include the following:
• Expressing anger and frustration/road rage. Aggressive drivers often yell at other drivers, make offensive or threatening gestures, excessively honk their horns or flash their lights, all of which can be dangerously distracting to other drivers.
• Violating traffic laws. Aggressive drivers tend to violate traffic laws in many different ways. For example, common behaviors include speeding, tailgating, unnecessary lane changes on a frequent basis, running red lights or stop signs, running cars off the road, passing on the wrong side, and more.
• Following cars off the road. In certain extreme cases of aggressive driving, a driver’s anger may lead them to follow another car off the road. Once they are in a parking lot or stopped in another area, the aggressive driver may get out and threaten to hurt the other driver, may display weapons, or may even become physically violent.
All of the above behaviors can result in collisions and other accidents that may result in physical injury or the tragic loss of life. Aggressive drivers may be held liable for the accidents they cause. When a driver intends his aggressive actions to harm another driver, there may be a greater likelihood of an award of punitive damages against the driver.
How to avoid aggressive driving accidents
While you cannot control the actions and emotions of other drivers, you can take certain steps to try to avoid harmful encounters. Here are some suggestions for avoiding aggressive driving accidents:
GIVE HIM SPACE. Whenever possible, get out of the path of an aggressive driver as quickly as possible. Move over a lane or even pull over if you can safely do so in order to let him pass you. You should not try to speed up or hold your own in a lane. If you simply allow the aggressive driver to pass by, hopefully he will not have an effect on you.
DO NOT RETALIATE. If another driver yells at you or makes any obscene or rude gestures, you should swallow your pride and avoid gesturing back. If you engage them in any way, it can only encourage their aggressive behavior and escalate the situation.
DO NOT HIT THE BRAKES. If an aggressive driver is tailgating you, you should never hit your brakes to try to scare the driver or get him to back off. Instead, you should allow the driver to pass you. Hitting the brakes unexpectedly can only increase the chances that the aggressive driver will crash into the back of your car.
REPORT THE DRIVER TO AUTHORITIES. When you see an aggressive driver on the road, pull off to a safe location and call 911. Aggressive driving is dangerous and may be criminal. Keep other drivers safe by reporting the aggressive driver’s conduct and giving law enforcement the opportunity to intervene.
Of course, aggressive drivers and road ragers aren’t the only people who commit traffic violations. Many of the accident victims we represent at The Levin Firm sustained injuries in wrecks caused by drivers who usually drive safely but made a careless mistake behind the wheel.
Most of the time, moving violations don’t end up causing catastrophic accidents. Anyone who has spent enough in the driver’s seat of a car or truck has probably broken a traffic law or two on occasion. Unfortunately, because it’s relatively rare to receive a citation for breaking those laws (because it happens so often and the police don’t have the resources to catch everyone), many drivers fall into habits of committing traffic violations, increasing the risk they pose to themselves and others on the road.
Here are some of the most common traffic violations Philadelphia-area drivers commit that, eventually, may end up causing a bad accident.
The tricky thing about speeding is that almost everyone seems to do it. Driving in excess of the posted speed limit is so common that the only time you see the majority of highway drivers traveling at or under a posted speed limit in good driving conditions is when they pass by a police officer with a radar gun. The rest of the time, nearly everyone seems to drive five to ten miles per hour over the limit.
According to a March 2018 survey of speeding conducting by the NHTSA, this casual acceptance of driving over the speed limit represents a major problem on U.S. roads. Speeding is a contributing factor in a high proportion of severe crashes. For every 10 miles per hour over 50 miles per hour a car travels, the chances double of its driver and passengers dying in the event of a crash. The NHTSA study makes particular note of the fact that while pushing the speed limit increases the severity of crashes on highways, 86% of fatal speeding-related accidents in 2016 happened on roads that were not interstate highways.
In other words, speeding is especially dangerous on neighborhood roads, city streets, and roads other than highways. Speeding may be evidence of negligent driving on a highway, but it is almost always evidence of negligence on those other roads and streets.
Running Red and Yellow Lights
Intersections are some of the most dangerous places on the road. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FWA), between 2010 and 2014, approximately one out of every four fatal car accidents on U.S. roads occurred at an intersection. Many of those accidents resulted from a driver running a red light. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that 811 people were killed in crashes at intersections in which drivers ran red lights in 2015, and that in 2015, an estimated 137,000 people were injured in red light running crashes.
One thing that makes intersections with traffic lights so dangerous is that yellow lights precede red lights. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) reports that yellow lights pose “one of the more dangerous obstacles that people encounter on the road” because they force drivers to make an uncertain decision in a second or less. Although some states treat yellow lights as the equivalent of a red, Pennsylvania’s driver’s manual is less definitive, advising drivers to “slow down and prepare to stop,” but allowing for drivers to proceed through an intersection if they determine they cannot safely stop in time. As a result, Pennsylvania drivers see yellow lights and must decide, often in the blink of an eye, “can I get through this light or should I slow down and wait?” APS reports that a survey by the car insurance industry suggests 85% of all drivers cannot identify the right answer to that dilemma. When they get the decision wrong, accidents happen.
Stop Sign Intersection Violations
Intersections controlled by stop signs, instead of traffic lights, also pose a danger to drivers on Philadelphia roads. The IIHS reports that “one-third” of all intersection crashes in the United States, and more than 40 percent of the fatal ones, occur at intersections controlled by stop signs,” totaling roughly 700,000 crashes at stop signs every year. You might think that these accidents mostly involve drivers who fail to stop or do a so-called “rolling stop”. But IIHS found that only 17% of drivers involved in these crashes admitted to not having stopped. Most drivers insisted they did stop but that they didn’t see the other car coming.
It turns out, in other words, that driver decision-making is the real danger of stop-sign intersections. Drivers in Pennsylvania aren’t just required to stop at a stop sign, they must also judge for themselves when it’s safe to proceed (similar to the way drivers must judge whether to slow down or speed up when a traffic light turns yellow). Drivers don’t always make the best decisions, nor do road conditions always make it easy for them to do so. A driver who mis-judges when it’s safe to proceed through an intersection with a stop sign may be negligent, but so might local governments and road agencies that have an obligation to keep stop sign intersections free from visual obstacles that make it difficult for drivers to see oncoming and crossing traffic.
If you were injured in an accident at a stop sign intersection, an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney can help identify who might have been at fault.
In a 2008 report to Congress, the NHTSA identified turns as one of the more common “pre-crash” events involved in motor vehicle accidents on U.S. roads. Left turns were the most common of those, followed by right turns, and then U-turns. These accidents occur at intersections most often, but also when crossing a lane of oncoming traffic, such as turning left into a shopping center parking lot. The risk of improper turn accidents rises when drivers fail to use turn signals or drive in poor weather conditions.
Left turn accidents can be particularly deadly, especially when they involve collisions between a turning vehicle and a motorcycle. These “t-bone” collisions, in which one vehicle collides perpendicular to the other vehicle, exert catastrophic forces on drivers of both vehicles, often resulting in severe injuries and death.
Drivers rightly expect road surfaces to be kept clear of debris, potholes, and other hazards that could cause them to lose control, and for other vehicles to be of appropriate size and weight to travel on a particular road. At the very least, drivers need road crews or other drivers to warn them of hazards that do exist. Unfortunately, sometimes the parties responsible fail to give adequate warnings and fail to maintain or repair roads to keep them safe for travel. Some common man-made road hazards that drivers should receive warnings about, but often do not, include:
- Raised obstructions such as manhole covers;
- Crumbling road shoulders;
- Road surface changes, such as from paved to dirt, or smooth to grooved;
- Lack of lane markings or road signs;
- Slick surfaces resulting from spills;
- Wide or extra-long cargo loads;
- Sharp curves and inclines; and
- Visual obstructions.
Of course, it’s not always possible to give drivers warnings about hazards, particularly right after they’ve arisen. So, it’s also important for parties responsible for keeping our road surfaces safe and clear to take precautions to prevent hazards from appearing out of nowhere. That can mean cutting overhanging limbs away from roads to reduce the chance of them falling in a storm, and ensuring roads have adequate structural support to prevent subsurface conditions from undermining their integrity.
Drivers who have sustained injuries in accidents caused by road hazards often blame themselves for not seeing a hazard soon enough to stop or steer around it. But the fact is, drivers can’t reasonably be expected to avoid hazards that the average person would not anticipate in the first place. When an accident occurs because of a road hazard, an experienced car accident attorney’s job is to figure out who had responsibility for making sure the hazard did not exist and/or for warning drivers about the hazard so they could take reasonable precautions. Often, those parties include local governments and road departments, private landowners, and the owners of vehicles that caused the damage or hazard in the roadway.
Unsure of What Caused Your Car Accident? Call The Levin Firm.
At the Levin Firm, our attorneys have years of experience identifying the causes of motor vehicle accidents that have devastated our clients’ lives. We have the know-how to investigate and litigate the cause of any accident. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss the causes that contributed to your motor vehicle accident.
TYPES OF CAR ACCIDENTS
Just as our firm handles motor vehicle accidents caused by a wide variety of factors, we also represent clients who sustained their injuries and losses in every conceivable type of car accident. Here are some of the most common types of collisions and wrecks for which our team helps our clients recover compensation.Vehicle-on-Vehicle Accidents
According to an analysis by the Insurance Information Institute (III) (from data collected by the NHTSA), 70% of all crashes on U.S. roads in 2015 involved collisions between two or more vehicles in motion, totaling more than 4.4 million accidents that year. Here are the most common types of collisions reported by III, and account for 69.5% of all accidents in which someone gets injured, and 38% of accidents in which someone dies. Below, we detail the three most dangerous types of vehicle-on-vehicle collisions.
According to III, one-third of all U.S. car accidents in 2015 were rear-end collisions, making them by far the most common type of accident and also the most likely to result in an injury to drivers, passengers, or others.
Rear-end collisions occur when the front end of one motor vehicle collides with the back end of another motor vehicle. This type of accident is often referred to as a “fender bender” and is generally considered to be a relatively minor type of auto collision. However, while many rear-end collisions do happen at low speeds and cause little damage to the vehicles themselves, even “minor” accidents can cause severe injuries to drivers and passengers, particular in the form of back, neck, and brain trauma.
Of course, when rear end collisions happen at high speed, the results can be far deadlier. For instance, if two cars are traveling at highway speeds of 55 miles per hour or more and one car suddenly slams on its brakes, the rear car may not have time to brake at all before it crashes into the front car. This means that a vehicle driving at fast speeds may hit a completely or nearly stopped car with almost no warning. You can likely imagine the extent of the damage and injury this may cause to occupants of both vehicles.
Rear-end collisions and commercial trucks
Rear-end accidents only become more severe when a commercial truck is involved. If a commercial truck collides into the back of a small passenger vehicle, the 80,000-pound truck often has enough weight to simply drive over and crush the small car. This is commonly referred to as an override accident and is usually deadly. In addition, if a small car collides with the back of a commercial truck, it can often actually get stuck under the back of the trailer. This is referred to as an underride accident and can instantly kill any motorists in the front of the car if the windshield collides directly with the back of the truck. Though trucks are required to have underride guards to prevent this type of accidents, many of these guards are not effective enough at keeping cars from driving under the trailer.
Rear-end accidents on bicycles and motorcycles
Rear-end collisions can also be particularly catastrophic when they involve a bicycle or motorcycle. Whether the car hits the back of the cycle or vice versa, the rider more often than flips forward off of the bike. After being thrown from the bike, the rider often hits the car or other objects before usually landing hard on the ground. These multiple impacts usually take a heavy toll, because bikers have little to protect them other than a helmet. While helmets do reduce the risk of death in an accident, they do not eliminate it, particularly when an accident occurs at high-speed. For these reasons and more, bicyclists and motorcyclists are at risk for catastrophic injuries and death in rear-end collisions.
The second-most common collision in 2015, according to III, was the type in which vehicles collided at an angle, such as when one car “t-bones” another car at an intersection. Angular collisions made for 21% of all accidents on U.S. roads in 2015, and were the most fatal category accident of all types (representing 18% of all fatalities, ahead of pedestrian accidents and nearly double that of head-on collisions).
One reason angular crashes are so deadly is that they subject human bodies to violent, twisting impacts that cause significant internal trauma and limit the effectiveness of motor vehicle safety systems like airbags and shoulder restraints. Another reason is that angular crashes, particularly 90-degree “t-bone” collisions, have the potential to crush drivers or passengers sitting nearest to the point of impact. Unlike in a head-on collision in which the front end of a car absorbs a significant amount of force by crumpling, doors and windows contain mere inches of material separating drivers and passengers from an outside force. Angular crashes may also have a higher likelihood of involving at least one vehicle traveling at high speed, because they include accidents in which a driver turns into the path of oncoming traffic without seeing it.
Head-on collisions represent a relatively rare type of vehicle-on-vehicle accident, according to III, but they account for a disproportionately large share of traffic fatalities. That is likely because the force of a head on collision is enormous; two cars traveling at 45 miles per hour colliding head-on impart roughly the same amount of force on each other at impact as a single car driving into a wall at 90 mph.
Fortunately, auto makers have been designing cars and trucks to withstand head-on collisions for years. The standard safety features of most cars on the road today include front crumple zones, airbags, and seatbelts, all of which are particularly effective in head-on collisions. Unfortunately, because of the massive forces involved in a head-on collision, any failure of these systems can result in catastrophic injuries. Anyone not wearing a seatbelt in a head-on collision runs a high risk of being ejected from the vehicle and killed or becoming trapped in an life-threatening position inside of a mangled wreck. Even when all of the safety systems work perfectly, a head-on collision at highway speed involves such an extreme force that drivers and passengers may not survive the impact.
Although vehicle-on-vehicle collisions like the ones above made up 70% of all accidents, and 69.5% of all accidents resulting in non-fatal injuries, on U.S. roads in 2015, you may be surprised to learn that they were not the most deadly broad category of accidents overall. Instead, over 60% of all fatalities on U.S. roads in 2015 resulted from accidents involving just one vehicle. Here are the most dangerous types of single-vehicle accidents that we handle here at The Levin Firm.
Collisions with Fixed Objects
Drivers who lose control and strike a fixed object run a high risk of losing their lives. According to III, 31% of all fatal accidents in 2015 involved vehicles striking fixed features like ditches, trees, telephone poles, bridge abutments, and embankments, despite those accidents totaling less than 15% of all traffic accidents that year.
The reason these accidents are so deadly is because the object they strike is fixed, meaning the vehicle and its occupants tend to absorb most of the force of the impact. Fixed-object collisions also often happen off of the road surface, increasing the likelihood of an impact at an odd angle or against an object with an unusual shape, reducing the effectiveness of vehicle safety features like airbags and crumple zones.
When vehicles strike pedestrians, pedestrians usually suffer catastrophic and/or fatal injuries. Pedestrian accidents were the second-most-fatal traffic incident in 2015, according to III. Intersections pose particular dangers to pedestrians, because of the risk people on foot take in entering a roadway and relying on drivers to stop at lights or signs and yield the right-of-way.
Drivers who strike pedestrians almost invariably bear the fault and legal liability for the accident. They are not, however, the only ones potentially responsible for a pedestrian’s injuries or tragic death. Road, crosswalk, and vehicle design can also contribute to pedestrian accidents, and an experienced car accident attorney will investigate those potential sources of recovery.
Although they made up just 1% of all accidents on U.S. roads in 2015, rollover accidents were the fourth deadliest incident, accounting for nearly 9% of all traffic deaths. Rollover accidents happen when something triggers a car or truck to roll onto its side, onto its roof, or even roll several times. When a rollover occurs, all occupants of the vehicle may experience many different points of impact and risk being ejected from the vehicle. Despite side airbags, seat belts, and other safety features, victims of rollover accidents often suffer severe injuries.
Investigating and litigating a rollover accident can be challenging. Cars don’t roll over very often and when they do they sustain severe damage. Because of how unusual a rollover should be, the fact that it happened may be an indication of a catastrophic failure of an auto part or of a very unusual road condition. In either case, proving how the rollover occurred and who should bear fault may require significant levels of expertise and diligence. Victims of rollover accidents should take care to consult with an experienced Philadelphia car accident attorney.
Hit & Run Accidents
Under Pennsylvania law, it is illegal for a driver involved in a car accident resulting in injury, death, or significant vehicle damage to leave the accident scene before law enforcement arrives. It is also illegal for a driver involved in any other kind of accident to leave the scene before exchanging information and giving necessary aid.
Victims of hit-and-run accidents face what may feel like a hopeless situation: waiting for law enforcement to identify the person who committed the violation and then holding that person accountable for injuries and losses. Oftentimes, drivers flee accident scenes because they fear the consequences of their actions. When they do so because they were driving a work vehicle and fear losing their job, their employer may well have liability to the accident victims. Consult with a skilled car accident attorney to help determine who may be responsible for compensating you when you’ve been the victim of a hit-and-run.
Ever since ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft burst onto the scene a few years ago, Philadelphians have embraced the efficiency and convenience of summoning a private car to take them where they need to go. Unfortunately, the advent of ridesharing has also introduced new and tricky problems for victims of accidents involving ride-sharing vehicles. For example, the insurance coverage available to victims of an Uber or Lyft driver’s negligence may depend on whether the driver was transporting a passenger (or on his way to pick one up) at the time of an accident. Many victims of ride-sharing accidents also assume that the companies themselves will bear liability for a driver’s negligence, but because Uber and Lyft treat drivers as independent contractors that may not be the case.
If you have sustained injuries in an accident involving an Uber or Lyft driver, whether as a ride-share passenger, as the driver or passenger in another car, or as a pedestrian or cyclist, having experienced legal counsel by your side can be important. The laws concerning liability for Uber and Lyft drivers continue to evolve, posing a challenge to victims and their families.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists
Pennsylvania law requires auto insurance companies to offer drivers the option of purchasing insurance against uninsured and underinsured motorists. When drivers purchase this form of insurance, their own insurance policy covers them in the event of an accident in which the other driver is at fault but does not have any or enough insurance to cover the damages the accident caused. This coverage can also protect drivers who sustain injuries and losses in a hit-and-run accident in which the authorities never apprehend the offending driver.
Making an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim against your own insurance policy can involve complications and may require that you take specific steps to preserve your right to compensation, such as by filing a written police report and putting your insurance carrier on notice of the accident. An attorney with experience representing victims of Philadelphia car accidents can help review the fine print of your insurance coverage and ensure you follow the process to the letter. An attorney can also help you identify any other potential sources of recovery.
CALL ON THE LEVIN FIRM FOR ALL TYPES OF CAR ACCIDENTS
At The Levin Firm, clients come to us after all types of car accidents. No matter whether your accident involved one, two, or ten vehicles, we have the experience and know-how to help you recover the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.
COMMON INJURIES IN CAR ACCIDENTS
Motor vehicle accidents exert violent and unnatural forces on the human body, resulting in all manner of injuries and disabilities. The compassionate, skilled team at The Levin Firm makes it our mission to understand the details of every injury our clients have suffered to ensure our efforts help them heal to the greatest extent possible. We work with top experts in the medical field to estimate the costs and lifelong burdens associated with our clients’ injuries. Here are some of the more common injuries from which we help our motor vehicle accident clients recover.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a highly common injury in auto accidents. Many TBI victims will spend time unconscious or in varying states of consciousness due to their injuries. The following in some information about how a TBI can affect consciousness.
TBIs, occur when a bump, blow, or jolt to the head results in a disruption in normal brain function. In addition, an object that penetrates the skull can also result in a traumatic brain injury. The CDC estimates that approximately 1.7 million people sustain a TBI each year in the United States. While minor traumatic brain injuries are self-resolving and require little medical intervention, they still have the potential to leave victims with significant complications that may keep them from working or affect their quality of life. In addition, when TBIs are more severe, they can result in serious medical issues that can include the following:
• Problems with speech
• Cognitive problems
• Memory issues
• Difficulty with motor control
• Inability to engage in daily tasks without assistance
The most serious TBI can cause catastrophic health outcomes for victims and their families. These include:
Coma and Medically Induced Coma
Coma is perhaps the most commonly-known state of unconsciousness. If a person is in a coma, she is asleep and cannot be awakened, even due to pain or other extreme stimuli. A typical coma lasts for a few days to a few weeks. However, some people never emerge from a coma and others emerge with serious cognitive impairments. Many victims of moderate to severe brain injury will spend some time in a coma. In fact, the seriousness of a brain injury is often gauged by the length of unconsciousness. Even if a TBI does not cause a coma, doctors may give TBI victims anesthetics to medically induce a coma to limit brain function and reduce life-threatening brain swelling until they are stabilized.
Persistent Vegetative State
When a person “wakes up” from a coma, he may still remain in a state of limited consciousness. The most severe of these is a persistent vegetative state. In this state, a victim can sleep and wake up, but has no conscious awareness of the world around him. Though his eyes may move and he may appear to jump at a loud noise, he is not able to respond consciously to stimuli in the environment.
Minimally Responsive State
Like the persistent vegetative state, a victim in a minimally responsive state has a sleep-wake cycle. While she still has highly limited awareness of her surroundings and limited ability to respond, she may be able to follow instructions for very simple tasks to blink or nod, for example. However, she often will not be able to follow commands every time, as her responsiveness level may be inconsistent. She may also appear to cry or smile, but not necessarily in response to anything in their environment.
The is one of the most frightening potential outcomes of brain injury, but fortunately it is also rare. A victim with locked-in syndrome has no control over any voluntary muscle movement, including use of the vocal chords, so the victim cannot move or speak apart from often being able to move his eyes. He is, however, fully cognitively aware of his self and surroundings, though he cannot independently communicate thoughts or respond. Victims with locked-in syndrome can live for a long time like this as their organs often continue to function properly. They may require costly equipment and computers to translate eye movements into words if they want to communicate and will require full-time care for their basic needs.
Brain death occurs when all of the brain functioning stops and is deemed irreversible. Victims will not regain consciousness and typically are pronounced dead.
Though brain injury victims who are in a coma or another state of unconsciousness may eventually emerge from that state, recovering to a point of full-consciousness and cognitive ability can take a long time. No matter how severe a TBI is, doctors often have difficulty predicting how long a victim’s recovery will take or what the best possible outcome will be. This puts family members in an extremely difficult position, especially if their loved one is in a coma or a persistent vegetative state. The quality of life for their loved one is extremely low and they may want to consider taking her off of life support. However, this is a very difficult decision to make due to the possibility she may someday wake up.
To make matters worse, care for an unconscious loved one can be very costly. With the help of an experienced auto accident attorney, however, families may be able to obtain sufficient compensation to ensure their loved one has the best possible care and chance of emerging from unconsciousness and recovering as much as possible.
Spinal Cord Injuries
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center reports that there are approximately 17,700 new cases of spinal cord injuries each year in the United States. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of spinal cord injury in the U.S., accounting for over 38% of all new cases annually. The lifetime costs of dealing with a spinal cord injury routinely run into the millions of dollars.
Doctors classify spinal cord injuries into two broad categories:
Incomplete spinal cord injuries. A spinal cord injury is characterized as incomplete when the victim has some feeling or mobility below the site of the injury.
Complete spinal cord injuries. A spinal cord injury is characterized as complete when the victims has no feeling or mobility below the site of the injury.
The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that allows the brain to communicate with the rest of the body. As a result, any injury to the spinal cord or damage to the vertebrae that protect the spinal cord can result in serious complications. These may include complete or partial paralysis, loss of feeling, muscle weakness, and loss of full range of motion. In addition, people who sustain spinal cord injuries may also suffer from additional complications, including:
- Bladder control problems
- Bowel control problems
- Pressure sores
- Problems with circulation
- Issues with respiration
- Muscle tone problems
- An overall decline in fitness and wellness
- Issues with sexual health
These and other issues that may occur after a spinal cord injury can substantially affect a person’s quality of life and may keep them from working for a significant period of time. As a result, individuals who suspect that they have sustained a spinal cord injury should seek emergency medical treatment as soon as possible. In many cases, early intervention can significantly improve the ultimate outcome of a spinal cord injury.
Even when car accident victims escape spinal cord injury, they may still sustain debilitating damage to their backs in the form of crushed or displaced discs, nerve injury, and muscle and tissue damage. Back injuries are particularly common in rear-end and angular collisions, when drivers and passengers experience an unexpected, sometimes-twisting, jolt.
When left untreated, back injuries can become chronic conditions, severely harming victims’ quality of life. Back injuries routinely require multiple surgeries, extensive physical therapy, lengthy limitations on physical activity, and time away from work. Because of these impacts, back injuries impose significant cost on accident victims.
Head and Neck Injuries (a.k.a. “Whiplash”)
“Whiplash” is not actually a single injury, but is instead the colloquial term of a range of injuries resulting from a sudden jerking or other distortion of the neck, often resembling the cracking of a whip. This sudden motion often causes significant strain on the nerves, muscles, and vertebrae in the neck region and can result in long-lasting damage. Though whiplash injuries are often considered to relatively minor, such injuries may still have a substantial effect on a victim’s life. Some of the main signs and symptoms of whiplash include the following:
- Neck pain
- Unexplained headaches
- Numbness in your arms or hands
- Fatigue or insomnia
- Feeling of “pins and needles”
- Pain in or around the shoulder blades
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in your ears
- Cognitive difficulties, such as struggling to remember things or concentrate
While some signs and symptoms of whiplash may be almost immediately apparent, others may not manifest for several days. You should always visit a doctor as soon as you experience any type of whiplash symptoms in the days following an accident. Treatment for whiplash commonly involves pain management, including visits to pain specialists, injections, and muscle relaxants, as well as physical therapy techniques such as ultrasounds, myofascial release, strengthening, and more. Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment may last for a prolonged period of time.
Though whiplash is most often associated with rear-end accidents, this type of injury can occur in any type of collision. Whiplash can significantly affect your life and may even keep you from working, so this type of injury should never be ignored following a car accident.
Few car accident-related injuries inflict more acute suffering than burns. Burns cause extreme pain, not just when they happen but throughout the healing process. They also pose a heightened risk of infection, requiring intensive and diligent care to keep patients free from bacteria. Even when treated successfully, burns also leave victims permanently scarred and disfigured. Because of this scarring and disfigurement, victims of burns often must contend with emotional pain and psychological trauma in addition to tending to their physical recovery.
Broken Bones and Fractures
Car accidents frequently leave victims with broken bones and fractures. Crumpling front-ends can leave drivers and front-seat passengers with broken ankles and leg bones. Ribs may fracture from the strain of a safety belt. Vehicle occupants may break their arms, wrists, or collarbones because they braced for an impact. Even facial bones can fracture from the sudden inflation of airbags or from slamming against a seat-back.
Fortunately, bones heal, though sometimes imperfectly and only after multiple surgeries. The violence of the impact of a car accident can cause bones to shatter, requiring complicated orthopedic repair and surgical implants. Rehabilitation can take months, and may prevent victims from returning to work for a period of time.
Soft Tissue Injury
The term “soft tissue injury” refers to the range of contusions, sprains, tears, and other damage a car accident can inflict on victims’ muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Though many of these injuries tend to heal over time with rest and over-the-counter medication, more severe instances of soft tissue injury may require orthopedic surgery and physical therapy.
Whatever Your Injury, The Levin Firm Helps You Recover
Clients come to The Levin Firm in the midst of recovering from a wide range of injuries. No matter how severe or how complicated those injuries are, our team takes the time to understand what our clients need to give them the best chance to heal. Contact The Levin Firm today for more information.
Car Accident Prevention Safety Tips
At The Levin Firm, we encourage victims of a Philadelphia car accidents to give us a call to discuss how we might help them recover compensation they deserve for their injuries and losses. That being said, we would prefer it if our clients didn’t have to suffer at all. Not all motor vehicle accidents can be avoided. But, some can. Below we offer some tips for cutting your risk of becoming the victim of a motor vehicle accident.
Know Where You’re Going and How to Get There
Few driving experiences can cause more stress and anxiety than not knowing exactly where you’re going or how to get there. Worse, your uncertainty behind the wheel makes your actions less predictable to other drivers, increasing the risk of an accident (even one that isn’t technically your fault). Before you head out on a trip, even a short one, visualize where you are going and how you plan to get there. Just like pro athletes close their eyes and picture a winning performance before they ever set foot on the court, seeing a trip in your mind’s eye before you travel it can help keep you safe and alert for unexpected obstacles or conditions. On longer trips, supplement your visualization by looking at a map and/or pre-programming your GPS so that you know what the route generally looks like, reducing the chances that an exit or turn will catch you off guard.
Put Your Phone Away
Screen addiction is a real and serious problem when it comes to the safety of American motorists. Too many drivers find the appearance of a text notification or the sound of an incoming call too irresistible to ignore. Don’t be one of those drivers. Put your phone on silent and stow it in a bag in the back seat. Keep it out of your eyesight. If you must keep it in front of you as a GPS device, make sure it’s in a holster at or near eye level, so that you do not need to take your hands off of the wheel to see the directions.
Do the Little Things to Keep Your Vehicle Safe
There are simple things you can do at pretty much any gas station to keep your car in safe operating condition. Check your tire pressure. Clean your windshield, windows, and mirrors. Refresh your wiper blades. Keep your wiper fluid reservoir full. Keep an emergency kit with first aid supplies and hazard warnings in the trunk. Immediately change any headlamp or turn signal light bulbs that have burned out.
These small steps can make a big difference in how visible your car is to others, how easily you can see the road ahead, how quickly and smoothly your car can stop or swerve to avoid a hazard, and how prepared you are to keep yourself and others safe in the event of an accident.
DRIVE AS IF OTHERS WILL BE NEGLIGENT
Yes, this basically means be a “defensive driver,” but more than that, it means thinking actively behind the wheel about what could go wrong. When you pass another vehicle, be alert to the possibility the other driver doesn’t see you. Treat yellow lights as if they were red whenever possible. Assume wet roads are extra-slippery. Proceed with caution when you see an oncoming vehicle that looks as if it’s planning to turn left. By treating other drivers as potentially irresponsible, you give yourself extra time to react when they make poor decisions and you train your brain to stay active and aware of your surroundings behind the wheel.
WHY CHOOSE THE LEVIN FIRM
Having read through the information above, you no doubt will recognize that investigating, litigating, and recovering damages for injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents involves significantly more effort than simply pointing a finger in the other driver’s direction. Not only can it be a challenge to prove that the other driver acted negligent, there may be other parties who also bear some responsibility for your injuries and losses. For this reason, it can be imperative to seek the assistance of an experienced auto accident attorney in Philadelphia who knows how to handle the complexities of a motor vehicle accident case.
The Levin Firm represents clients injured in car accidents and the families of those tragically killed in car accidents. We are a full-service personal injury law firm. From the moment a client walks through our doors, our goal is to serve the client’s needs by achieving the maximum possible compensation for their injuries and losses. Every representation starts with our team getting to know all about our clients and their auto accident; how it has affected them physically, emotionally, and financially.
Then, we use our extensive resources and deep base of legal knowledge to investigate all of the circumstances surrounding our clients’ accidents. We aim to ensure that we have identified all of the parties from whom they may be entitled to recover damages, and to seek the maximum compensation allowable under the law. We frequently employ expert analysis or the services of accident reconstruction specialists to help guide our investigation.
Frequently, our clients need our help right away with communicating with insurance companies on their behalf. At The Levin Firm, our qualified lawyers are skilled negotiators who understand how to argue for the maximum possible insurance settlement, and how to protect clients against the techniques insurance adjusters may try to use to shift blame onto our clients in order to save the insurance company money. If possible, we will work with insurance adjusters to recover the full amount of compensation our client deserves.
If the driver who caused the accident and our client’s injuries does not have adequate insurance, the team at The Levin Firm also knows what it takes to seek compensation from our client’s own insurance company for an uninsured or underinsured claim. If our client lacks that insurance coverage, we also know how to investigate a matter to uncover other potential sources of recovery for our clients. We understand that many accidents do not have only one cause, and we work hard to identify parties whose negligent, reckless, or intentionally harmful actions led to our client’s suffering.
Although many cases can be resolved out of court via a settlement with liable parties and their insurance companies, sometimes we advise our clients that the best course of action is to take a claim to court to be decided by a judge and jury. We are trial lawyers through-and-through and are always prepared to argue our clients’ cases to a jury of their peers.
Still, we also recognize litigation can be a stressful process for our clients. That is why we pride ourselves at The Levin Firm in maintaining clear and frequent communication with our clients about exactly how their case is going. We guide our clients through every stage of the process of pursuing a claim in court, including:
• Preparing and filing a complaint that explains how our client has been injured and who we believe was responsible;
• Pursuing “discovery” in which we seek disclosure of information from the other parties, and respond to their requests from our client;
• Researching and drafting pretrial “motions” that ask the court to rule on critical issues before trial; and
• Presenting our client’s case to a jury.
As we said at the outset of this article, there is never a guarantee of how any client’s case will turn out or how much a case is “worth.” At The Levin Firm, we focus on doing our best to meet our clients’ needs for recovering from injuries and loss. We cannot promise that any client will recover millions, or even thousands, of dollars, but we can commit to work aggressively to recover every cent we believe, based on our analysis and experience, that our client deserves.
If you have suffered a severe injury in a Philadelphia auto accident that wasn’t your fault, your main concern should always be on recovering your physical and mental health. If an accident has tragically taken a loved one from you because of someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions, your priority may be grieving your loss and comforting your family. In neither case should you have to worry about how you will manage financially or deal with the legal and administrative burdens a car accident has forced on your shoulders.
The Levin Firm’s top priority is to carry that heavy load. We deal with insurance adjusters and the legal process for our Philadelphia-area clients, so that they can focus on their personal recovery from injury and tragedy. If an auto accident has devastated your life and wellbeing, the aggressive, skilled, caring legal advocates at The Levin Firm want to hear from you. You may be entitled to significant amounts of compensation if you act quickly and carefully. Call us today at (215) 825-5183 or toll-free at (877) 825-8542, or contact or chat with us online, to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.
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