When motorists hit deer on the road and passengers are injured, the collisions raise a number of legal questions.
Deer mating season, which lasts from October through December, is the most dangerous time of the year for drivers, according to AAA. In Kentucky in 2019, almost 3,100 vehicle-deer collisions caused over 170 serious injuries and killed three people. Sometimes the collision itself causes these injuries and property damage. Other times, drivers swerve to avoid deer and either lose control of their vehicles or strike oncoming vehicles. Auto insurance policies usually cover claims related to collisions with a deer, guard rail, or telephone pole.
Nationwide, 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions kill or seriously injure tens of thousands of people.
Animal-Related Injuries in Kentucky
People accidentally leave the lights on. They do not accidentally collide with animals who are standing in the middle of the road. Some factors in these incidents include:
- Warnings: Most lonely stretches of roadway where deer and other animals sometimes roam onto the road usually have warning signs. Many drivers ignore these signs. Additionally, many drivers ignore other warning signs such as animals in pastures by the road.
- Speeding: Excessive velocity increases the risk of a collision and the force in a collision. Speed multiplies stopping distance, shortening the time speeding drives have to react to an emergency. Additionally, speed multiplies the force in a collision. It transforms non-injury “fender benders” into serious injury collisions.
- Distraction: Many people drive with one eye on the road and one eye on a device or something other than the road. Especially at night in a rural area, that’s a very dangerous habit.
These things could establish negligence, or a lack of care, in a collision. If that’s the case, a Lexington personal injury attorney might be able to obtain substantial compensation for victims, subject to insurance company defenses, like the one discussed below.
Passenger injury claims involve some emotional issues as well. Generally, the passenger knew the driver and therefore hesitates to file a claim. But negligence actions do not “blame” people for accidents. They simply hold drivers accountable for the mistakes they make.
The Sudden Emergency Defense
It is certainly unusual to see a deer or other animal in a traffic lane. However, for the sudden emergency defense to hold up in court, insurance companies must establish more than an out-of-the-ordinary event.
This clip from the classic 1995 movie Tommy Boy illustrates both prongs of the sudden emergency defense, which are:
- Reasonable reaction to
- A sudden emergency.
Because it is a completely unexpected situation, the hood fly-up is a sudden emergency. A deer on the road, on the other hand, does not fall into this category, particularly if there were warning signs in the area.
However, in a hypothetical lawsuit based on this clip, the sudden emergency defense would not hold up in court. Tommy did not react reasonably. Instead, he drove recklessly and even crossed the center line.
Apropos of nothing, Richard’s car was in such bad shape because, in a previous scene, one of our intrepid brake pad salesmen indeed struck a deer. They not-so-wisely stuffed the deer in the back seat. It turns out the deer was merely stunned and it nearly destroyed Richard’s car in a desperate bid for freedom.
Back to the blog. The insurance company bears the burden of proof, and the burden of persuasion, in affirmative defenses like sudden emergency. Lawyers must convince the judge the defense legally applies. Then, they must persuade jurors that a sudden emergency justified the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) conduct.
Other insurance company defenses in situations like these include contributory negligence. This legal doctrine shifts blame for the accident from the tortfeasor to the victim. It’s not easy to blame a dead deer for a car crash, but insurance company lawyers have done stranger things to reduce or deny compensation to victims.
Damages in a vehicle collision claim usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. These awards are normally income tax-free.
Vehicle collision victims are entitled to significant compensation. 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.