Legal responsibility is unclear after a pickup crossed the centerline and smashed into an oncoming semi-truck.
According to investigators, a 58-year-old man was towing a trailer with a pickup truck when he inexplicably crossed from the northbound side of Highway 121 onto the southbound side. He then slammed almost head-on into an oncoming big rig. The coroner declared the Arkansas driver dead at the scene.
The wreck happened between Beech Grove and Freeman.
Determining Liability in a Car Wreck Claim
In wrong-way crashes like the one in the above story, insurance companies usually assign fault to the wrong-way driver. But there is often a difference between fault at the scene and legal responsibility for damages.
Legal issues, such as the last clear chance rule, often come into play. All drivers have a duty of reasonable care. Another driver’s conduct or misconduct does not alter this responsibility. The duty of reasonable care requires drivers to avoid accidents when possible. So, the failure to avoid an accident could be a breach of care, and therefore negligent.
This video is a good example. The wrong-way driver was clearly visible for several seconds and was not driving erratically. Yet the state trooper did little or nothing to avoid the wreck and actually turned toward the oncoming car. Given these facts, the state trooper, and not the wrong-way driver, might have been legally responsible for this wreck.
There are usually evidence issues as well. The Big Three pieces of evidence in a car wreck case are usually the police accident report, medical bills, and witness statements. But witness statements are often unreliable. Some witnesses are potentially biased. Others are legally incompetent, perhaps because they were not wearing prescription eyeglasses.
To fill in the gap, a Lexington personal injury lawyer often relies on a vehicle’s Event Data Recorder. Many people do not know that their car has a black box, but it does. Capacity varies by make and model, but most EDRs measure and record information like:
- Steering angle,
- Engine RPM,
- Brake application, and
- Vehicle speed.
A computer is never biased. And, assuming the gadget was working properly, it is always competent to testify. Furthermore, electronic evidence usually resonates well with tech-savvy Fayette County jurors.
Third Party Liability
Establishing first party liability is sometimes only part of the struggle. Frequently, although the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is legally responsible for the wreck, a third party is financially responsible for damages.
If a truck driver, taxi driver, bus driver, Uber driver, or other commercial operator causes a crash, the respondeat superior rule typically applies. This legal doctrine holds employers responsible for damages if:
- Employee: In tax court, truck drivers are usually independent contractors or owner operators. But in negligence court, truck drivers are employees. The shipping company or other company controls these drivers, in terms of things like cargo carried.
- Foreseeable: The accident must be a foreseeable result of the driver-employer relationship. If the tortfeasor broke into the garage and stole a vehicle, an accident is probably not foreseeable.
- Scope of Employment: Normally, if an act benefits the employer in any way, that act is within the scope of employment. For example, if workers are hurt during a company picnic, that injury occurred within the scope of employment. Picnics make workers happy, at least in most cases, and so the employer benefits from them.
The respondeat superior theory only applies if the truck driver or other driver was negligent. This determination largely depends on the items discussed above.
Resolving a Car Crash Claim
Many football teams get off to fast starts but cannot close the deal. Unfortunately, many Lexington personal injury attorneys are the same way. They do the work to establish liability, but they are unable to obtain fair compensation in the end.
Most car crash claims, and most court cases in general, settle out of court. These settlement negotiations could be informal or formal.
Informal settlement talks usually begin once medical treatment is at least substantially complete. If settlement negotiations begin too early, the settlement might not accurately reflect all current and future medical expenses. It’s almost impossible to reopen a closed case. So, if the settlement is insufficient, the victim might be financially responsible for excess medical bills.
Mediation, which is a formal settlement negotiation, usually happens after discovery is at least substantially complete. A mediator, who is usually an unaffiliated Lexington personal injury attorney, works with both sides and tries to facilitate a settlement. If both parties negotiate in good faith, mediation is usually successful.
Car crashes are complex legal matters. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.