Much of the country was on lockdown for much of 2020, so one would think that the number of vehicle collisions would have declined significantly. Instead, the figure hit a 13-year high. What’s up with that?
Because of decreased traffic, oil prices plummeted and auto insurance companies issued refunds to customers. Yet traffic deaths increased 13 percent in 2020, the largest single-year increase since 1924. Experts believe that excessive speed might be the culprit. In many places, empty roads were more like drag racing strips. Furthermore, police in most areas stopped issuing speeding tickets during the height of the pandemic.
Due to the alarming uptick, the National Safety Council recently asked President Joe Biden to set a goal of zero traffic deaths by 2050.
Obtaining Compensation in Vehicle Collision Matters
The concept of individual responsibility for mistakes and miscalculations goes back thousands of years. Strangely, however, this concept did not make it into the law until relatively recently.
One of the first reported cases in this area came from England. 1837’s Vaughan v. Menlove was a dispute between two homeowners. Back then, most homes in England had thatched roofs. The slightest spark could cause a major fire. So, builders usually took great care when designing chimneys and other such implements. But not Menlove. His chimney was apparently too close to the property line.
Several neighbors warned him of the danger, but according to court documents, Menlove ignored the risk and said “‘he would chance it.’” Because of his negligence, “the rick at length burst into flames from the spontaneous heating of its materials; the flames communicated to the Defendant’s barn and stables, and thence to the Plaintiff’s cottages, which were entirely destroyed.”
The court’s message was clear. People may take risks with their own safety, but these risks cannot affect other people. Eventually, this message became the duty of reasonable care. Property owners and drivers alike must take all necessary precautions to avoid an accident. A negligence case does not “blame” anyone for a car wreck. Instead, negligence is about taking responsibility for the fallout of one’s action. That fallout could be a fire which destroys your neighbor’s house or a vehicle collision which causes injury.
Today, excessive speed is one of the most common causes of vehicle collisions in Kentucky. Speed increases the risk of a collision as well as the force in a collision.
Common Insurance Company Defenses
Unsafe speed was also the foundation of Davies v. Mann. This 1842 case introduced the principle of comparative fault. Today, comparative fault, or contributory negligence, is probably the most common insurance company defense in car wreck claims.
Davies apparently allowed his donkey to take a snack break at the side of the road. While the animal grazed, Mann’s wagon, “with a team of three horses, coming down a slight descent, at what the witness termed a smartish pace, ran against the ass, knocked it down, and the wheels passing over it, it died soon after.”
The jury ruled in favor of Davies and his dead ass. But the court overruled that decision. “[A]lthough the ass may have been wrongfully there, still the defendant was bound to go along the road at such a pace as would be likely to prevent mischief.”
Judges and lawmakers modified this doctrine in different ways over the years. Today, Kentucky is a pure comparative fault state. When disputes like Davies v. Mann arise, jurors must apportion fault between the donkey owner and the wagon driver on a percentage basis. The victim’s fault, if any, reduces the tortfeasor’s (negligent actor’s) liability.
Assume Donna is speeding when Brenda makes an illegal turn and hits her. Donna’s damages were $100,000. At trial, jurors determine that Donna was 80 percent responsible for the crash. In most states, Donna would receive nothing, because she was more than 50 percent at fault. But since Kentucky is a pure comparative fault state, Brenda must pay Donna $20,000.
Other insurance company defenses include sudden emergency and last clear chance. The sudden emergency defense often comes up in jaywalking pedestrian injury claims. Many insurance companies bring up the last clear chance rule in head-on and rear-end vehicle collision claims.
Your Claim for Damages
Most negligence claims, including vehicle collision claims, begin with a demand letter. A Lexington personal injury attorney demands a sum of money in exchange for a liability waiver. In other words, the letter says “we won’t sue if you pay us X.” In Kentucky, “X” is usually compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
If there is no question about liability, the insurance company has a legal duty to promptly settle the matter. However, because of the aforementioned defenses, there is almost always some question in this area. So, most car wreck claims go to the next level.
The next level is filing legal paperwork. Most insurance companies file procedural motions which try to convince a judge to throw the claim out of court. However, if there is any evidence to support the claim, these motions almost always fail.
The discovery phase is next. Kentucky law requires both parties to lay their cards on the table, regarding all their claims and defenses. During discovery, most victims must give depositions, submit to medical examinations, and produce documents.
Many cases settle out of court at this point. If they don’t, the judge usually refers them to mediation. During mediation, the parties negotiate with each other through a third-party mediator. If both sides negotiate in good faith, which means they are willing to compromise on certain issues, mediation normally succeeds.
We all make mistakes, and we are all responsible for the mistakes we make. 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 money or insurance. #goodelawyers