On September 17, 2013 there was a serious motor vehicle accident on US Route 20 in Bellevue, Ohio where 36-year-old Tracy Albright was killed in the crash. According to reports, Ms. Albright was doing everything right – she was simply stopped at a traffic light – when another driver failed to pay attention and negligently slammed into the rear of Ms. Albright’s vehicle.
Other individuals harmed in the crash were the at-fault driver’s innocent passengers.
As a result of the car accident, the highway was closed and traffic backed up for miles.
The surviving family members and injured parties will unquestionably be entitled to damages to compensate them for the loss that they have sustained as a result of this accident.
Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.21(A) is Ohio’s “assured clear distance” law. The law states:
“No person shall operate a motor vehicle… at a speed greater or less than is reasonable or proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface, and width of the street or highway and any other conditions, and no person shall drive any motor vehicle… in and upon any street or highway at a greater speed than will permit the person to bring it to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead.”
All indications are that the at-fault driver in question violated this traffic law which in turn led to the accident. This means that the driver was “negligent per se.”
Negligence per se means “negligence in and of itself.” Under Ohio law, the violation of a specific safety statute (such as the assured clear distance law) is negligence per se. Therefore, in a civil lawsuit arising out of this accident, the victim’s family will be able to prove that the defendant was negligent by showing that the defendant broke the assured clear distance traffic law that was designed to prevent this type of crash. The family will not be required to show which negligent act or omission of the defendant caused the traffic accident. Rather, the violation of the traffic law is enough to prove the case and show that the family is entitled to damages.
Legal Issues Arising From This Accident
Several questions arise from accidents such as this incident involving a rear-end collision.
First, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will want to protect itself from paying out a lot of damages and will often do everything that it can to blame anyone else (or anything else) for the accident other than the at-fault driver. 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 at-fault driver. This is why it is critical for the victim’s family to obtain a lawyer to protect their interests immediately.
Second, the issue of the potential for punitive damages arises. Oftentimes in these types of accidents, the at-fault driver turns out to have been impaired. 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 punish and deter the driver (and other drivers) from making the same senseless mistake. Therefore, even if the at-fault driver was negligent per se, investigation as to whether the driver was impaired is still important, because these factors may open up the door to the victim’s family being able to recover punitive damages.
Third, no statements should be given to any insurance companies until after the victim’s family 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 killed in an accident. In fact, the adjuster’s goal is to use written or recorded statements concerning the accident 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 victim’s family should not sign any authorization for any insurance company until after speaking with an attorney. Signing authorizations will give the insurance company a “free pass” to obtain any and all information regarding the deceased’s 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 to minimize the value of any legal claim.
Fifth, in the event of settlement money to be held in trust for a child, the estate representative 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 adult 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 a grieving family. This is where a knowledgeable and experienced attorney can make all the difference and lighten the load for a family who has just experienced a catastrophic loss.
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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.