A 23-year-old man, who was driving his mother’s car, is dead after he collided head-on with another vehicle.
Few other details were available. According to police and witnesses, Nicholas Coon crossed the center line for unknown reasons and smacked into a Chevrolet Avalanche. Investigators used social media to identify the owner of Coon’s vehicle. That person turned out to be an employee of the hospital where Coon was subsequently declared dead.
Officials said he was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.
First Party Liability
If you or a loved one was hurt or killed in a crash, always have a Lexington personal injury attorney evaluate your claim, even if a first responder said the other driver was not at fault. That’s because there is often a difference between fault at the scene and liability for damages.
A fatal head-on crash is a good example. When emergency responders interview the principles for their reports, they obviously only hear one side of the story. And, there are many reasons a vehicle could drift over the center line. Operator negligence is only one of these reasons.
Defective products often play a central role in head-on crashes. Modern cars have a number of sensors and other moving parts. If anything goes wrong, the malfunction could have a snowball effect. Drivers are not legally responsible for such crashes. Instead, the product maker could be liable for damages as a matter of law.
The last clear chance doctrine sometimes comes into play as well. All drivers have a duty of reasonable care, which includes a duty to avoid accidents. So, if Driver A saw Driver B cross the center line, Driver A had a duty to avoid a wreck, perhaps by changing speeds or lanes. If Driver A simply lets the wreck unfold, Driver A could be legally responsible for damages, even though Driver B, who crossed the center line, would almost certainly be faulted for the crash.
The damages in a car crash case usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Civil damages do not “blame” anyone for a wreck. Instead, damages hold tortfeasors (negligent drivers) responsible for the mistakes they make.
Third Party Liability
Frequently, the tortfeasor is not the only party financially responsible for damages. The negligent entrustment doctrine usually applies if owners allow incompetent operators to use their motor vehicles, and these operators subsequently cause car crashes. Evidence of incompetency includes:
- No drivers’ license,
- Safety-suspended drivers’ license,
- Expired license,
- A poor driving record,
- Driving in violation of a license restriction (e.g. without required glasses), or
- Operating an unfamiliar vehicle (e.g. driving a Hummer when the operator is used to a Civic).
In court, victim/plaintiffs must establish both driver incompetency and the owner’s knowledge of that incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). In some of the aforementioned situations, such as lack of a drivers’ license, both elements are rather easy to establish. In others, such as a poor driving record, either or both elements could be problematic.
Fortunately, a preponderance of the evidence is the lowest standard of proof in Kentucky. Picture two empty glasses sitting side by side. If someone adds an eyedropper full of liquid to the glass on the left, it has more water than the glass on the right. That’s a picture of a preponderance of the evidence.
The Seatbelt Defense
Kentucky has a traffic law and a civil law regarding seatbelt use. Like most states, the traffic law is rather straightforward. Every vehicle occupant in the Bluegrass State must be properly restrained. That could be a carseat, a booster seat, or a seatbelt.
The civil law, however, is rather complex. Failure to use a seatbelt is not contributory negligence as such. However, if the victim was not properly restrained, the jury can decide if that failure was a breach of the aforementioned duty of reasonable care and if that breach substantially caused the victim’s injuries.
As for a breach of duty, the aforementioned product defects often play a part here as well. Some seatbelts do not latch properly. Others do not stay latched during crashes. Additionally, many Fayette County jurors might consider failure to wear a seatbelt unwise, but not a breach of a legal duty.
Furthermore, the insurance company must produce a doctor who testifies that the failure to wear a seatbelt, and not the tortfeasor’s negligence, substantially caused the victim’s damages. The insurance company has the burden of proof, and the burden of persuasion, on this point.
Vehicle collisions are usually very complex cases. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.