On May 31, 2013 there was a multi-car accident involving two semi-trucks on westbound Interstate 80, which is the Ohio Turnpike. Fortunately, injuries were not as bad as they could have been. However, one unfortunate victim was taken to Southwest General Hospital via ambulance. This individual may very well have a claim against the at-fault drivers and/or truckers that caused the accident and ensuing injuries. The accident caused traffic to back up for miles, and many motorists simply turned off their engines and got out of their cars to stretch their legs.
In the United States, about 40,000 people are killed in auto accidents each year, with another 3 million people being injured. Of the 3 million injures, 2 million of those end up being permanent. There are more than 6 million car accidents in the United States every year.
Legal Issues Arising From This Accident
Several questions arise from accidents such as this multi-car incident involving commercially owned and operated semi-trucks.
First, the issue of assigning fault and liability becomes of paramount importance. In these types of multi-car accidents, there is invariably a lot of “finger pointing” going on. Throw some semi-trucks into the mix and the situation often becomes rather complex. The truck drivers and trucking companies want to protect themselves and their highly valued Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL) and will often do everything they can to blame anyone else for the accident other than themselves or their drivers. Their claims adjusters, lawyers, and accident reconstructionists are on the job from day 1 – all in an effort to assign blame to anyone other than the truck driver and company. This is why it is critical for the injured victim to obtain a lawyer to protect his or her interests from day 1 as well.
Second, the issue of the potential for punitive damages arises. Oftentimes in these types of accidents, the at-fault truck driver turns out to have been sleep deprived, impaired, or otherwise not in compliance with basic safety standards and regulations. When such a driver causes an injury or death, the harmed parties may be entitled to recover punitive damages above and beyond any award of standard compensatory damages. These damages are awarded to deter the driver, company, and other drivers and companies from making the same mistake – and causing senseless injuries – again. The situation becomes more complicated when the at-fault party also dies and the harmed parties are pursuing assets from an estate.
Third, no statements should be given to any insurance companies until after the injured party has spoken with an attorney. Insurance company representatives will sound sympathetic, polite, helpful, and friendly on the phone, but they are not an advocate for the families of those harmed or killed in an accident. In fact, the adjuster’s goal is to use written or recorded statements in an effort to pay the least amount of money possible. Some insurance companies even give adjusters bonuses based on how little money they pay out on claims – especially potential high value wrongful death claims.
Fourth, the injured victim should not sign any authorization for any insurance company until he or she has spoken with an attorney. Signing authorizations will give the insurance company a “free pass” to obtain any and all information regarding confidential and private past medical records as well as other information that they should not be entitled to. They will then attempt to use this information against the injured victim.
Fifth, the injured victim will have to determine the best way to pay medical bills prior to settlement, whether through health insurance, the medical payments provision of an auto policy, direct payment to providers, or other methods that are available in some cases. Choosing the wrong option could literally cost the victim tens of thousands of dollars when it comes time to settle the case.
Sixth, in the event of an injured child, the parents will have to navigate the probate court process. (Ohio law requires that the probate court approve any settlement entered into on behalf of a minor in the state of Ohio.) Allocating the amount of money to be set aside for the child upon his or her eighteenth birthday versus the amount of money to be given to the parent caregivers is often a point of contention. An attorney can help guide the process through the court to an acceptable resolution.
These are just some of the legal issues that arise when there is an accident of this type. Unfortunately there are many more, and the situation can often seem hopelessly complicated and be a huge burden on an injured victim who just wants to focus on getting better. This is where a knowledgeable and experienced attorney can make all the difference and lighten the load for someone who has just sustained a serious injury.
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If you have questions about any of the legal issues raised in this blog, contact Dodosh Law Offices, LLC at (440) 298-2344. Or, you can fill out a contact form and Attorney Dodosh will get in touch with you.