In a case that raises some complex points, a man is dead after a vehicle briefly crossed over the center line.

According to police, 21-year-old Charles Hoagland, of Scottsburg, Indiana, was northbound on Highway 715 when he suddenly veered over the center line and collided with 35-year old Matthew Dobbs, of Winchester. Hoagland was declared dead at the scene. Dobbs was rushed to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.

The crash is still under investigation.

Wrong-Way Crashes

These wrecks are fairly common on the two-lane, semi-rural roads which crisscross much of Kentucky. Since the force of the collision is doubled, these victims often sustain serious injuries, including:

  • Head Injuries: Seatbelts and airbags provide considerable protection in many cases. But a high speed, head-on car wreck produces so much force that no restraint system can possibly absorb it. So, victims often slam their heads on solid objects. Additionally, the violent motion causes the brain to smash against the inside of the skull.
  • Broken Bones: Accidental fall broken bones normally heal quickly and completely. But car crashes usually crush bones instead of merely breaking them. As a result, doctors must often use metal screws or pins to set these bones. Then, even after extensive physical therapy, some permanent loss of use is almost inevitable.
  • Internal Injuries: Exsanguination (excessive blood loss) is usually the official cause of death in wrong-way crashes. These same forces cause internal organs to bleed profusely. This bleeding is difficult to detect and difficult to stop.

Additionally, since many of these wrecks occur far from large cities, medical help is usually further away. A few extra ticks of the clock make these injuries even more difficult to treat.

Following serious injuries like these, the medical bills alone often exceed $100,000. Attorneys usually have professional partnerships with medical providers. So, these providers agree to defer their fees until the case is resolved. As a bonus, an attorney can usually reduce the amount of the medical bills. That means victims keep more of their settlement money.

Establishing Liability

Victim/plaintiffs must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). In wrong-way crash cases, that could mean negligence per se or the ordinary negligence doctrine.

Negligence per se is the violation of a safety statute, such as driving on the wrong side of the road. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) could be liable for damages as a matter of law if:

  • They violate a safety law, and
  • That violation substantially causes injury.

Negligence per se might be subject to some of the defenses outlined below. 

Emergency responders often, but do not always, issue citations following car crashes. Some responders consider these incidents to be civil disputes, and they do not want to get involved.

So, wrong-way wrecks often involve the ordinary negligence doctrine. Most drivers have a duty of reasonable care. They must drive defensively, avoid accidents if possible, and obey the rules of the road. Crossing the center line, even for passing, clearly violates that duty. If that breach causes injury, the tortfeasor could be liable for damages.

These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in some extreme cases.

Insurance Company Defenses

Emergency responders almost always assign fault to the driver who illegally crossed the center line. But this determination often does not hold up in court. Frequently, there is a difference between fault at the scene and liability for damages.

The last clear chance doctrine is a good example. Assume Ollie crosses the center line as Stan is approaching in the opposite direction. If Stan does nothing to avoid the wreck, Stan could be legally responsible for damages, even though he did not break a traffic law.

This legal loophole only applies if the driver had the last clear chance to avoid the crash. Therefore, this defense is difficult to establish if Ollie quickly crossed the center line or was driving erratically prior to the crash. 

The insurance company bears the burden of proof, and the burden of persuasion, on this point. First, the insurance company must convince the judge that the defense legally applies. Then, lawyers must convince jurors of the same thing.

The comparative fault defense sometimes comes up in these claims as well. This doctrine shifts part of the responsibility for a crash from the tortfeasor to the victim. For example, one vehicle might cross the center line while another one is speeding. But even if this defense applies, victims are still usually entitled to a proportionate share of damages.

So, if you were hurt in a wreck, always have a Lexington personal injury attorney evaluate your claim.

Head-on collisions often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act.