State police are still investigating a wreck which killed one man and seriously injured another person.
The wreck happened in Muhlenberg County on Highway 181. For some reason, a 46-year-old man crossed the center line and collided with another vehicle almost head-on. That man, who was driving a 2004 Altima, was declared dead at the scene. He was not wearing a seat belt.
Emergency responders used the Jaws of Life to free the other motorist from the wreckage of a 2013 Explorer. They then rushed him to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.
Car Crash Evidence
Lack of evidence is frequently an issue in car wrecks which occur on the semi-rural highways which crisscross much of Kentucky. Authorities can conform or rule out substance impairment with a simple toxicology test. After that, there might be few other leads for law enforcement to explore.
At that point, the criminal investigation often grinds to a halt, even in a fatal accident case. Many police officers see these wrecks as civil disputes between insurance companies. They do not want to get involved in them. It’s much easier to check the “inconclusive” box, lock the file away in a cabinet, and move on to higher priority areas.
Insurance companies love lack of evidence claims, because the victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof. Unless a Lexington personal injury attorney can establish negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not, victims or survivors usually receive little or no compensation.
So, attorneys often must pick up where law enforcement left off. This process begins with evaluating, and possibly using, the available evidence. Such proof usually includes the police accident report, medical bills, and eyewitness statements.
Witness statements are a good example of this evaluation process. The ideal eyewitness has no connection to either party, has a mind like a steel trap, had a front-row seat at the accident, and has 20-20 vision. Such ideal witnesses are very rare. In fact, we’ve never seen one in all our years of legal practice.
A deficiency in any area affects witness credibility. The actual effect varies. Sometimes, the judge allows the witness to testify, but skeptical jurors might not believe the witness’ testimony. Other times, the judge tells jurors about certain issues, like a witness’ ties to a party. That’s pretty much the kiss of death.
In extreme cases, judges prevent witnesses with questionable credibility from taking the stand at all.
One a lawyer identifies gaps, these holes must be filled. Frequently, electronic evidence does this job very nicely.
Almost all passenger vehicles have an Event Data Recorder, a gadget which resembles a commercial jet’s black box flight data recorder. These devices measure and record information like:
- Steering angle,
- Engine RPM,
- Brake application, and
- Vehicle speed.
As mentioned, eyewitnesses often have credibility problems. If the device was working properly, computers do not have credibility problems. Computers are never biased or wrong. Additionally, electronic evidence such as this usually resonates very well with tech-savvy Fayette County jurors.
The Seat Belt Defense
Evidence in a case must do more than establish a prima facie negligence claim. Attorneys must also use this proof to refute some common insurance company defenses, such as the seat belt defense. THis defense is particularly complex in Kentucky.
Like every state except New Hampshire, the Bluegrass State has a mandatory seat belt law. However, in civil court, vehicle occupants don’t have a legal duty to wear a seat belt, just like they don’t have a duty to wear fireproof suits or crash helmets. So, seat belt non-use is inadmissible, at least sort of. Insurance company lawyers may still use this issue to reduce or deny compensation to victims. This outcome is possible if:
- The victim breached the duty to care for one’s own safety, and
- That breach substantially caused injury.
A breach of duty means a lack of ordinary care. Many people don’t buckle their seat belts on short trips or the seat belt is so uncomfortable that it constitutes a driver distraction. Additionally, the insurance company must prove that the seat belt was working at the time. Seat belt safety recalls are common. Seat belt degradation, particularly regarding moving parts like the buckle, is even more common.
Next, the insurance company must prove that the victim’s failure to use a seat belt, as opposed to the other driver’s negligence, substantially caused the injury. This is a very fine point that usually relates back to witness credibility.
Insurance company lawyers must do more than cite safety statistics and wag their fingers at victims. They must prove that, if the victim was wearing a seat belt, the victim’s injuries would have been minor, at best. To establish this point, insurance companies usually rely on hired gun witnesses who give whatever testimony the insurance company pays them to give. That’s not exactly credible testimony.
Most car crash claims are complex, from both an evidentiary and legal standpoint. 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. #goodelawyers