How Insurance Companies Dispute Liability In Philadelphia Car Accident Cases
Because most drivers on Pennsylvania roads carry auto insurance, insurance companies tend to play a huge role in car accident cases in which a victim seeks damages from another driver who was at fault. Typically, a victim who gets injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by another driver will look to that other driver’s insurance to pay for damages, and the other driver’s insurance company will often pay for that other driver’s defense lawyer.
The victim’s lawyer’s job frequently involves negotiating with the other driver’s insurance company, either directly with an insurance company employee or indirectly with a lawyer who specializes in representing insured, at-fault drivers (known as an insurance defense lawyer).
Understanding the Basics of Insurance Companies
Generally speaking, it’s a good thing that insurance companies are there to help compensate victims of auto accidents. That’s one of the major purposes of buying insurance, after all—to protect yourself against being personally liable to someone you hurt through negligence. However, because insurance companies are essentially huge reserves of money that may be tapped to pay for a car accident victim’s injuries, they are not easy targets.
Insurance companies, obviously, are in the business of making money. In the most basic sense, they make a profit by collecting more money in premiums from policyholders than they pay out in benefits to people covered by their policies. No matter what they say in their television commercials, insurance companies are never excited to pay money to injured people, especially when the injured person isn’t their customer but instead is a victim of their customer’s negligence or wrongful actions.
Insurance companies’ business depends on limiting the number of people they must pay benefits to and the amount of those benefits. They do that by trying to pick apart the insurance claims that injured people make.
Insurance adjusters are the insurance company employees who investigate insurance claims and decide whether and how much to pay out on a claim. Many insurance adjusters only investigate car accidents and have lots of experience in spotting ways to minimize how much money the insurance company has to pay.
Insurance Adjuster Tactics
Victims seeking compensation from someone else who is covered by an insurance policy need have a lawyer on their side to interact with these adjusters, so that the adjusters do not take advantage. Some typical tactics insurance adjusters use to limit the insurance company’s exposure include:
- Offering quick, low settlements in exchange for a liability waiver, hoping the victim will not yet have a lawyer and is in financial distress. Insurance adjusters know that fast money can feel attractive to people who are strapped for cash and grieving or struggling to come to terms with a life-changing injury. If insurance adjusters see a chance to take advantage of that vulnerability to limit the insurance company’s financial exposure, then they will. If an insurance adjuster for the other driver or someone else’s insurance company calls offering quick money, that’s most likely a sign that you have a claim worth significantly more than what they’re putting on the table. Tempting as it might feel to take the money and put the whole car accident behind you, don’t. That money comes with strings that may tie up your ability to recover additional money later. Politely decline the offer and refer the insurance adjuster to your attorney. The adjuster has no obligation whatsoever to act in your best interests. Your lawyer does.
- Questioning the extent of the victim’s injuries and/or whether the victim is trying to recover damages for an injury that the car accident didn’t actually cause (for example, a preexisting back injury). If an insurance company can show that the victim is making the injury sound worse than it actually is, or that the victim didn’t sustain the injury in the accident but instead got hurt somewhere else or for some other reason, then the insurance company may try to escape liability for paying for the costs and pain and suffering of the injury.
- Trying to pin the fault for the accident on the victim. Pennsylvania’s modified comparative negligence rules give insurance companies a large financial incentive to blame the victim for an accident, and they’ll do everything in their power to find ways to do so. At the Levin Firm, we know those tricks and how to fight back against them.
Do Not Give an Insurance Adjuster a Recorded Statement
Insurance adjusters are not your friends. Their mission is to limit the financial exposure of their insurance company. They’ve spoken with thousands of people just like you. They don’t want to pay you. They will use techniques they’ve honed to try to get you to admit you were at least partially at fault for the accident.
An insurance adjuster will try to get you to give a recorded statement. Do not agree to one. Recorded conversations with insurance adjusters are an ambush, and you’re the target. Politely decline to give a recorded statement and refer the insurance adjuster to your lawyer. Stick to your guns, even if the adjuster tries to bully you by telling you that you have a legal obligation to give a recorded statement or by trying to make you feel guilty for declining the conversation.
It is absolutely reasonable and responsible for you to ask for the opportunity to review their request with your lawyer first. Your attorney will advise you whether you have any obligation to speak with the adjuster. In our experience, most of the time that obligation doesn’t exist.
These are just a few of the techniques insurance adjusters may use against vulnerable accident victims. The best defense against these tactics is to have a lawyer on your side right away after you sustain injuries in a car accident, so that you have an experienced negotiator to handle discussions with the insurance adjuster or insurance defense attorney from the get-go.
When Insurance Companies Act in Bad Faith
Not only will a skilled car accident attorney know how to avoid the tricks and pitfalls that insurance adjusters try to use to minimize damages, but the attorney will also spot when an insurance company is acting in bad faith and hold them to account, if need be.
Under Pennsylvania law, an insurance company that acts in bad faith toward an insured party (including a victim of a policyholder’s negligence) may be liable to the victim for additional damages, including punitive damages and attorney fees. Examples of bad faith can include purposefully ignoring evidence of a covered claim or delaying payment on a valid claim.
When Multiple Insurance Companies Are Involved
Sometimes, it’s not just the other driver’s insurance company that a car accident victim and his lawyer may have to contend with.
In cases like the ones mentioned above where a non-driver is at fault for causing an accident, an insurance company representing the non-driver (such as an insurer for an auto parts company, or the property liability insurance carrier for a restaurant) may also come into the picture. Oftentimes, these insurance companies will fight doubly hard because their customers’ (and their own) liability exposure may be far larger than to a single car accident victim.
Insurance Companies Are Never On Your Side
In short, in car accident cases, insurance exists to help pay damages to victims of someone’s negligence. But don’t be fooled. The at-fault party’s insurance company is never on your side. Insurance adjusters will do everything in their power to deny or limit the benefits they must pay.
When it comes to proving the existence and severity of personal injuries, and in particular, catastrophic injuries and damages, the accident victim has the burden of proof, and insurance adjusters will use this burden to their advantage. Whenever an accident victim seeks compensation for serious injuries and damages, the insurance company will likely downplay the seriousness and extent of the injuries and will look for other possible causes of the injuries or impairments.
Call The Levin Firm When a Car Accident Devastates Your Life
From connecting with a client’s personal tragedy to identifying the at-fault parties in an accident, from gathering evidence to proving negligence or strict liability and negotiating with insurance adjusters and defense lawyers, The Levin Firm is a Philadelphia-area law firm committed to serving the needs of motor vehicle accident victims and their families. We have years of experience and a track record of results, having recovered millions of dollars for our car accident clients.
If a motor vehicle accident has devastated your life, either by leaving you with a serious injury or by tragically taking a loved one from you, our team of skilled, compassionate attorneys is here to help. Call us today at (215) 825-5183 or toll-free at (877) 825-8542, or contact or chat with us online, to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team and discuss whether we can help you recover the compensation you deserve.
What to Do After a Car Accident
After a car accident can be a harrowing experience. In the immediate aftermath of a wreck, it is only natural for those involved to feel shaken up, disoriented, and confused about what to do next. Unfortunately, those are also the moments when the decisions an accident victim makes can have the most significant consequences. Accident victims can preserve their legal right to recover damages later on. Victims should try to avoid other actions at all costs, as they may hinder the chances of recovering compensation.
Research shows that planning for an emergency, even one that has a low probability of actually happening, can bring significant benefits when a crisis arises. Just thinking about what you’d do in the stressful moments after a car accident can make a tremendous difference in the quality of decisions you make. With that in mind, here are some of the most important considerations for the minutes, hours, days, and weeks after a car accident. Get to know them. They may make a huge impact on your life and the lives of those you love.
Tips for Before Emergency Responders Arrive
The unexpected trauma of a car accident causes immediate physical changes to anyone involved in it, even those who do not sustain a serious injury in the crash. A cocktail of hormones, principally adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, floods the body, increasing the heart rate and blood flow to the brain, and releasing sugar and glucose directly into the bloodstream. This causes victims to feel hyper-alert and their bodies to suppress localized pain.
Some victims experience an acute stress reaction (commonly called shock) in which they dissociate from sensations and emotions, as if in a dream. Victims who have sustained a blow or jolt to the head may experience immediate symptoms of a concussion, from confusion to a loss of consciousness. Victims with acute physical trauma may be at risk of blood loss, acute organ failure, and medical shock (a life-threatening condition not to be confused with the psychological shock associated with an acute stress reaction).
In these moments, the actions you take and decisions you make may mean the difference between life and death.
Move Yourself and Others to Safety
- Just as airlines tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone with theirs, make your first priority after an accident to ensure your own immediate safety, and then to help others do the same.
- If your car is still operable, move it to the shoulder and stay in it until help arrives. If it isn’t, get yourself and others out of the vehicle and, if possible, set up flares or other warnings to other motorists.
- Stay as far from the roadway as practical to ensure that you are not at risk of an explosion or secondary collision.
- If you perceive that one of the other drivers or victims is a danger to you or others, keep your distance.
- If someone tries to flee the scene, do not risk your own safety to detain them, but take note of anything that might help identify them later.
Check on Others and Give First Aid if It Is Safe to Do So
- Review the condition of everyone who could move to safety. Is anyone obviously hurt or bleeding? If so, take any appropriate first-aid measures or delegate someone to do so, preferably someone who has received at least basic training in emergency first aid and/or lifesaving (who will, by virtue of that training, have immunity from legal liability to the person they help in most circumstances).
- Was anyone unable to move to safety? If so, check to see if you can move them without putting their, and your own, health at risk.
- Be smart. Risking your life to save someone else’s may seem heroic, but it can also be foolish if you have not carefully evaluated the situation with a clear head and awareness of the dangers.
Alert Emergency Responders
- Pennsylvania law requires you to alert the police of any accident in which someone was injured or killed, or a vehicle was so badly damaged that it cannot operate safely.
- However, even if neither of those conditions is obviously present, it is still a good idea as soon you have addressed your immediate safety concerns to call (or designate someone else to call) 911 to alert emergency responders that an accident has occurred.
- The emergency response line will alert police, fire, and emergency medical personnel to respond to the scene. They will ensure that any injuries that victims have sustained receive medical attention and close the road or limit traffic flow to reduce the risk of secondary accidents. They will also address any hazardous materials, fires, or other unsafe conditions, and detain anyone who violated the law.
- In addition, summoning emergency responders to the scene will ensure that officials generate a report detailing the circumstances of the accident and its immediate aftermath. This report can prove extremely important later on if the events surrounding your accident come into dispute.
- Have the person who calls 911 stay on the line with the operator until help arrives, so that responders have the most complete and accurate information possible. This ensures that first responders bring or call appropriate equipment to the scene and know of any risks to their own safety.
- Because 911 calls are recorded, it may also provide a contemporaneous account of what happened at the accident scene should any of that information become important to your lawyers later on.
The Benefits of Calling the Police
As an accident victim, you may receive significant benefits by calling the police to investigate your accident—besides the obvious benefit of complying with Pennsylvania law. Under a legal doctrine known as negligence per se, individuals who violate the law may bear liability for any injuries they cause as a result of that violation without any further showing of evidence by the victim. Put more plainly, if the other driver in your accident was breaking a traffic rule and received a citation, that may be sufficient evidence for you to obtain compensation for your accident-related injuries and losses.
When you call the police after an accident, you ensure that:
- They will interview the people involved and any witnesses who may have seen the accident take place. That is their duty under Pennsylvania law.
- They will also make a determination as to whether any laws were violated. If the police officers believe laws were broken, they will usually issue citations to the drivers who broke the law.
- In addition, they will likely perform sobriety testing on any drivers they suspect are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and arrest them if they find probable cause to do so.
- Finally, they will write a thorough report about the accident that collects and summarizes all of this information, which you may use later as evidence of what occurred.
Tips for When Emergency Responders Arrive
As the initial surge of adrenaline wears off, car accident victims may begin to feel jittery or nauseated. The pain of an injury, initially suppressed by the body’s fight or flight reaction to stress, will begin to emerge, sometimes intensely. Victims may feel a surge of strong, even seemingly uncontrollable emotions, including fear, anger, or sadness. Victims who did not initially experience an acute stress reaction may begin to experience one now. Victims of a mild concussion or brain injury may begin to feel its effects.
Just as you begin entering these emotional and physical states, emergency responders arrive on the scene. Follow these tips to help make good decisions about your interactions with them even as the aftershock of the accident begins to set in.
Always Say “Yes” to an Evaluation by Emergency Medical Personnel
Some people can walk away from car accidents relatively unscathed while others sustain life-threatening injuries in a matter of seconds. In some cases, a victim obviously needs immediate transportation to the hospital in an ambulance for emergency treatment and stabilization. However, other victims may not realize how badly they need medical attention.
Because of the physiological and emotional response most people have to a car accident, they cannot accurately evaluate their own health conditions at the scene of the accident. The effects of adrenaline and other hormones may trick them into thinking they’re fine when, in fact, they’re not.
That’s why you should always say “Yes” when emergency medical personnel ask to examine you at the scene of the accident. EMTs are trained to spot injuries and health complications that people may not readily report or may not even know they have. They can look for the telltale signs of a person in distress, from dangerously high blood pressure (a risk factor for heart attack and stroke) to broken blood vessels in their eyes (a signal of concussion).
Agreeing to an EMT exam doesn’t automatically mean you are going to head to the hospital. Of course, if the EMT thinks your injuries are serious enough to warrant an ambulance ride, you should heed that advice. But even if medical responders evaluate you and conclude you are stable and in no need of a trip to the emergency department, they still may identify symptoms of more serious injuries, and, at the very least, they can give you instructions about what signs to watch out for that could indicate you need immediate medical treatment. In addition, agreeing an EMT evaluation will usually result in another record of your condition immediately after the accident, which may prove useful later on down the road.
Never Admit Responsibility or Try to Assign Fault
Following an accident, many stressed victims may blurt out to other parties or police that they were not paying attention or that they did not see the other car. Though they may simply express remorse, it is always a mistake to admit even the slightest fault immediately following a car accident. Anything an accident victim says will likely end up in law enforcement’s account of the incident, making it harder to contest later.
What’s more, those statements might not even be true, and not because you’d have any reason to tell a lie. The simple fact is that your perspective of how an accident happened is just that—one person’s perspective. You don’t know all of the facts. There’s no way you could. It may feel like you should have seen another car that came out of nowhere, but maybe that’s because the other car ran a red light, not because you weren’t paying attention. It may seem like you overreacted to a situation by slamming on your brakes before getting rear-ended, but maybe the car that hit you was speeding. You just can’t know.
As we discussed above, identifying who might have been at fault for an accident can be a complicated process and often requires the work of skilled lawyers and expert witnesses. In the moments after an accident, it’s not your job to try to shortcut that process. Your job is to give first responders the facts, and only the facts. Save apologies, self-criticism, and assigning blame for later.
One more reason not to accept responsibility or blame yourself in statements to police is that insurance adjusters will almost certainly use any admission of possible blame to try to limit the amount of damages they’re obligated to pay you. In the worst case, statements blaming yourself could unintentionally prevent you from recovering compensation at all.
Remember, even if you were partially at fault for causing an accident, you may still recover damages for your losses from other at-fault parties. By staying away from any statement suggesting you are at fault for an accident, you will avoid compromising any of your potential legal claims.
Document and Collect Information at the Scene
Follow this tip only after emergency medical responders evaluate and clear you. Otherwise, delegate this responsibility to someone else you trust.
As you may have guessed from some of the discussion above, evidence collected at an accident scene can be some of the most valuable in proving a legal claim seeking damages for someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions. Police and other first responders will, no doubt, collect evidence at the scene. But their first priority is public safety. If you are able, you can help your own legal interests if you collect evidence at the scene, too.
We have all seen crime scene investigation shows on TV. After EMTs check you out and before you leave the accident scene, think of yourself as one of the characters from those shows and collect every bit of information you can think of that might figure out who was at fault for an accident. Your smartphone—particularly its camera and notepad app—is the perfect tool to help you do this. But, remember, the actual first responders have a job to do. Do not get in their way or make their tasks more difficult.
Here is some helpful information you should try to collect:
- Vehicle license plate numbers: Snap a picture or take a video of every license plate you see, with enough distance to make it clear which vehicle the license plate is attached to. Start with the vehicles involved in the accident, then any vehicles that stopped to help, then emergency response vehicles.
- Vehicle condition and details: After capturing license plates, take pictures or video of the condition of all vehicles involved in the accident. There’s no limit to how many pictures or how much footage you should take. Keep snapping or filming until you’re sure you’ve captured every vehicle from every angle. Be sure to get pictures of any unique identifying characteristics of the vehicles, such as company logos, Department of Transportation identification numbers on commercial vehicles, bumper stickers, and inspection stickers.
- Images of the scene and surroundings: Next, capture photos or video (shooting horizontally, not vertically) of the accident scene and surroundings, so long as you stay out of the way of emergency responders doing their jobs. Record skidmarks, broken glass, debris, lighting, road surfaces, obvious hazards, visual obstructions, and road signs. Get shots from the exact viewpoint you had from behind the wheel of your car, from where you think the other driver was, from where pedestrians or witnesses might have been. If you’re taking video, narrate as you go to give yourself and your lawyer a reference point for what you are shooting and why. But, remember, do not blame yourself or make statements about what you should have done. Stick to the facts.
- Other driver’s information: Get the names, contact information, and insurance information for all drivers and passengers involved in the accident. Write down or record everybody’s name and contact information, and snap a picture of any other driver’s auto insurance card. The driver of the other vehicle must give you this information under Pennsylvania law (and, conversely, you must give the same information about yourself to the other driver).
- Contact information and accounts of other witnesses: Depending on where an accident occurs, other people may have seen what happened. If it’s apparent to you that someone saw the accident, get their contact information and a brief statement from them about what they saw. But don’t spend too much time searching for witnesses. This can be done later, if necessary, and it’s more important that you document the scene. (For example, if another driver saw the accident happen and stopped to help, a photo of that driver’s license plate will probably be enough to track him down if you don’t have the chance to speak with him.)
- The location of video surveillance cameras: Some of the most useful evidence of an accident can come from video surveillance cameras that captured the accident through a shop window or from the corner of a parking lot. If you can, take note of any video cameras you see and the names of any business operating around the accident site. Even if you don’t see obvious surveillance cameras, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. If you do see a camera and it’s possible to speak with someone on the premises, get contact information and specifically request they preserve the video. (Some security cameras only save footage for a short period of time before deleting it.)
The purpose of all of this documenting and recording is to capture everything as it was in the moments after the accident. Memories fade, and evidence can be lost or destroyed. The more information that you preserve immediately, the higher the chances are that you can recover all of the compensation you deserve.
In review: While collecting the information above:
- Do not make statements blaming yourself.
- Do not get in the way of emergency responders doing their jobs.
- Do not leave the accident scene until an emergency responder tells you that you can.
- Do not move or disturb any debris—leave everything just as you see it.
- Do not photograph or record injured people without their informed consent. (In certain circumstances it may not be legal to record without an injured person’s permission, and even if it’s legally permissible, it runs a real risk of causing you to appear callous or creepy).
- Finally, once you have collected this information, do not share it with anyone without first speaking with an attorney.
An experienced car accident lawyer can help you decide when, how, to whom, and for what purpose you may disseminate this information. For the time being, make a backup copy of any pictures, videos, and notes, then wait until you receive a lawyer’s advice before doing anything else with the information you collected.
Tips for the Days (and Weeks) After a Car Accident
The days and weeks after a car accident can bring many difficulties. Even those who escaped the accident without serious physical injuries may feel aches and pains and experience traumatic flashbacks to the fear and confusion of the accident. While most people understandably want to put a car accident behind them as quickly as possible, they should take steps to protect their health and legal rights in most cases. Obviously, car accident victims who sustain serious injuries may not accomplish these tasks all by themselves and may need to delegate them to a spouse or family member.
See Your Doctor
Even if you had an EMT check you out at the accident scene and you did not need an ambulance ride to the emergency department, in the day or two following a car accident you should schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or visit a walk-in urgent care clinic for a check-up. EMTs do the important work of spotting immediate injuries and health complications at an accident scene to ensure that no one in need of critical care goes without it. Emergency responders are not, however, a substitute for a physician who knows you, who can perform a thorough evaluation of your condition with the benefit of your health records as a guide, and who can order testing to follow up on any areas of concern.
Visiting your primary care doctor ensures you protect your health and receive treatment tailored to your health needs. It protects you against seemingly minor injuries from an accident, such as aches and pains that escalate into more serious, potentially life-threatening conditions. It gives you a chance to have a calm discussion about the accident, instead of one influenced by the adrenaline and other stress hormones coursing through your body after an accident. And it creates a thorough, detailed record of your condition post-accident, which can provide evidence of any injuries you sustained and that you took diligent care of yourself. By creating this record, you make it far more difficult for an insurance adjuster to claim you did not suffer an injury in the accident.
Be sure to keep any record of a copay or self-insurance fee you had to pay for this follow-up, as it may count toward economic/special damages you may recover.
Follow Medical Instructions and Take Care of Yourself
Whether you sustained an obvious injury or your doctor found something that wasn’t initially apparent, follow medical advice and do what’s necessary to heal. That may feel difficult if you’re an active person by nature or if you need to return to work to pay bills. But you don’t want to end up in an even worse condition.
Also, insurance adjusters and, if it comes to this, a judge or jury, will hold it against you if you fail to follow medical advice. They may see not following a treatment plan as an indication that you are irresponsible, and could lead people to conclude that you were not so seriously injured.
Call a Lawyer if the Accident Left You Injured or With a Loss
If your accident left you injured, grieving a loss, or dealing with significant property damage, make an appointment to speak with a skilled Philadelphia car accident lawyer. The sooner you bring an attorney onto your team after an accident, the higher the likelihood you will recover the maximum compensation you deserve from the parties at fault. That’s because a lawyer can immediately take charge of dealing with all of the legal and administrative aspects of recovering compensation for you, while you focus on the important task of healing from physical and emotional injury and adapting to life after the accident.
Among other roles an experienced Philadelphia car accident lawyer can fill, your attorney may:
- Investigate the facts and circumstances of your accident to find evidence of negligence or wrongful conduct on the part of other drivers, government entities, auto manufacturers, or others.
- Collect and preserve evidence, and track down and obtain witness statements, that may help prove other parties’ fault.
- Conduct legal research to identify potential claims you may have the right to make against at-fault parties.
- Determine your current and future economic and non-economic damages, including by reviewing your paperwork and working with expert witnesses.
- Make a demand on at-fault parties and file a lawsuit in the appropriate jurisdiction on your behalf, if necessary.
Even if you suspect a settlement from the other driver’s insurance company may be available to compensate you for your damages, have a lawyer review any settlement offers you receive before you accept them. This is critical for two reasons:
- You may have undervalued your losses—your long-term medical bills may cost you far more than you thought—and may not know if a settlement offer you receive from an insurance company is enough to pay for them.
- Accepting an offer from an insurance company may result in you waiving the right to file a legal claim or to seek additional compensation for your injuries and losses.
An attorney can protect your rights by taking over all of your communications and negotiations with insurance companies, helping you to avoid the tricks and traps they may deploy to try to get you to take a lowball, quick money settlement offer in the days and weeks after the accident.
Save Any Doubts About Who Was at Fault for Your Attorney
After an accident, lots of people will ask you what happened. They’ll ask mostly because they care about you. You’ll feel tempted to respond and give them a full account. Try as hard as you can not to, particularly when it comes to talking about whom was at fault. The only person you should share your thoughts with about who was at fault in the accident is your attorney.
Unlike most other conversations in your life, conversations with your attorney about whom you think was at fault in an accident are absolutely confidential. Other people who may have the right to keep what you tell them confidential include your spouse, medical providers, and clergy. But if you want to be absolutely sure that some casual comment you make about who might have been at fault doesn’t come back and bite you, keep all of your thoughts to yourself and mention them only in a setting where it’s just you and your attorney talking.
Stay off of Social Media, Please
The past decade has seen an unprecedented explosion in the amount of information people share online about their lives. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media platforms enable us to open up our lives for public or semi-private consumption. When you are the victim of a car accident, that’s not a good thing.
The problem with social media is that people tend to portray their happiest selves there. It’s very difficult to give an accurate picture of life in short paragraphs and videos. Our natural instinct is to smile in pictures, and now our keyboards even give us the ability to send smiley emojis. We can actually feel radically different from how our life looks on social media.
For accident victims, that tendency to showcase our best selves can cause huge problems in the course of pursuing damages from at-fault parties, because perceptions matter. Even if you keep your social media accounts private, anything you post to them may become available to parties in a lawsuit in which you seek damages for your car accident injuries. (And you can get in trouble for deleting posts, too.) Since social media came onto the scene, car accident lawyers and their clients have learned the hard way that nothing can devastate a claim for pain and suffering damages quicker than a smiling Instagram post or a smiley-emoji-filled Tweet. Judges, insurance adjusters, opposing attorneys, and juries see those “happy” social media posts and think: “That doesn’t look like ‘pain and suffering’ to me.” It might not be fair, but that’s how it is.
So, as tempting as it may feel to share details about your life on social media while you recover from a car accident and seek compensation for damages, please don’t. To borrow a familiar phrase, anything you post can and will be used against you.
File a Written Report With the Police
Many people don’t know this, but Pennsylvania law requires drivers and/or vehicle owners to file a written report with the police within five days of any car accident to which police were not called.
Now, as we’ve written above, it’s a good idea to call emergency responders to any accident scene for lots of reasons, one of which is that the police will investigate and prepare their own written report that can be used as evidence later on. But if, for whatever reason, that did not happen, then within five days of the accident, you must file a written report to the police on your own. The report is confidential and, unlike an official report written by the police who investigate an accident, it cannot be used as evidence.
Need Advice? Call The Levin Firm
At The Levin Firm, we focus on giving the best possible advice to our clients who have suffered injuries and tragic losses in motor vehicle accidents. We have seen it all, so to speak, and always take the time to speak with our clients and address their needs and concerns. Call us today or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
Causes of Car Accidents
Here at The Levin Firm, we have represented clients in motor vehicle accidents spanning an enormous range of fact patterns. Our clients have been in single-car, two-car, and multi-car accidents, accidents involving small and large trucks, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians.
There are a lot of causes of car accidents, some common, some very unusual. In this section, we cover the most typical causes of motor vehicle accidents we handle. If you do not see a description that fits your accident, however, that doesn’t mean we cannot handle your case. Our firm represents victims of Philadelphia motor vehicle accidents no matter how those accidents happened.
The statistics on distracted driving are alarming, especially because distracted driving is almost completely preventable in the majority of situations. Experts consider distracted driving a significant public health problem in the United States.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each day nine people are killed and more than a thousand people are injured on American roads because of distracted driving.
- In 2015, 3,477 individuals tragically lost their lives because a driver was distracted, and 391,000 people were injured in distracted driving incidents.
- The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) further reports that in 2016, about 481,000 vehicles drove on American roads while drivers held cellphones to their ears, and hundreds of thousands more were operated by drivers scrolling or swiping on their phones behind the wheel.
- Between 600 and 700 distracted driving accidents took place in Philadelphia every year since 2008.
Victims of distracted drivers should hold them accountable for their careless actions. Fortunately, Pennsylvania law allows victims of auto accidents to recover from any party who caused an accident and injuries by acting in a negligent or reckless manner. In many cases, victims can recover significant compensation for their losses, which can include medical expenses, lost income, property damage, and physical and emotional pain and suffering.
Categories of Driving Distractions
The CDC and other organizations list three primary categories of dangerous driving distractions:
- Visual – Any activity that causes you to take your eyes from the road ahead of you
- Manual – Any activity that causes you to take your hands away from the steering wheel
- Cognitive – Any activity that takes your mental focus off of driving
Many activities fit more than one category, making them even more dangerous. For example, reaching for a cellphone and dialing a number will take your hand off the wheel and your eyes off the road while you concentrate on something other than driving, classifying it as a visual-manual-cognitive distraction.
Common Dangerous Distractions
Though most drivers are fully aware of the dangers of distracted driving, many of them regularly continue to engage in a wide variety of potentially risky activities while behind the wheel. Some of the most common forms of driver distractions include:
- Eating or drinking
- Placing a voice call or talking on the phone
- Adjusting the radio or music system
- Listening to audiobooks or podcasts
- Attending to passengers in the back seat
- Holding a conversation with a passenger
- Using a handheld mobile device to read or send messages
- Browsing the internet
- Setting a GPS
- Reading (either electronically or in print)
- Applying makeup
- Other personal grooming
While some of these activities may seem relatively harmless, even the slightest distraction for a fraction of a second may cause a serious collision and result in devastating injuries. Many drivers do not realize that listening to an audiobook or simply talking to a passenger may significantly distract their focus from the road until it is too late. Drivers may additionally believe that hands-free technology will make using their mobile phone safe, though experts report it is still quite risky due to cognitive distractions.
Texting and Technology
With the surge in mobile personal technology over the last two decades, the main focus of anti-distracted driving advocacy groups has been on technological communications while driving. First, the focus was on stopping drivers from talking on their cellphones behind the wheel. However, soon a more concerning activity took primary focus.
Texting is widely considered the most dangerous of all driving distractions. Texting can generally include:
- Text messages or iMessages
- Instant messaging over Facebook or other websites
- Typing information into a web browser or search engine
- Any other type of text-based communication on a mobile device
Texting not only refers to the composition of one of the above messages by a driver, but also to reading incoming messages on a mobile device.
Texting is a top concern when it comes to distracted driving because both reading and writing messages involves all three categories of distraction—visual, manual, and cognitive.
According to the NHTSA, it takes about five seconds for the average driver to read or send a message. This means that a driver traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour would drive 100 yards—the length of an entire football field—without looking at the road.
Worse, though people tend to believe they can multitask and both text and drive safely, study after study has shown that’s simply not the case. The human brain is not built to do the more automatic task of driving down the highway and the very focused task of typing out a message at the same time.
Despite the alarming risks of texting, and despite state laws (including in Pennsylvania) making texting and driving illegal, the NHTSA’s crash statistics cited above estimate that at any given time during the day, more than 850,000 drivers in the United States are texting or otherwise using cellphones from behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. These drivers run a substantially higher risk of getting into an accident than other drivers.
Distracted driving leads to reduced reaction time, inability to keep a vehicle in-lane, and catastrophic accidents resulting in serious injury and death. We are all at risk every time a driver looks at a cellphone while behind the wheel.
Drunk and Drugged Driving
Nearly 40 years ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) riveted the nation’s attention on the issue of drunk driving as a killer on America’s roads. In the decades since, the public advocacy of MADD and similar organizations and the passage of impaired driving laws have made a dent in drunk driving and its close cousin, drugged driving, as a public health problem. Nevertheless, impaired driving remains a massive national problem.
To get a sense of the scope of the continuing danger of drunk and drugged driving, consider these statistics from the CDC:
- In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
- From 2003 to 2012, 4,663 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in Pennsylvania.
- In 2016, more than one-million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. However, those arrests represent just 1 percent of the 111 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year!
- Drugs other than alcohol (legal and illegal) are involved in about 16 percent of all motor vehicle crashes.
In Pennsylvania, drunk and drugged driving is illegal—nevertheless, about 1,500 crashes involved impaired or drunk drivers in Philadelphia in a single year alone. Importantly, the laws against impaired driving in Pennsylvania extend to operating motor vehicles under the influence of legal, prescription drugs that have side effects similar to drug or alcohol intoxication.
Dangers of Driving While Intoxicated
Most people are familiar with why drunk and drugged driving is so dangerous. Alcohol and drug impairment cause drivers to:
- Have slowed reaction times
- Drive erratically
- Suffer from reduced situational awareness
All of these can lead to devastating accidents.
Liability After a Drunk Driving Accident
When a drunk or drugged driver causes an accident in Pennsylvania, the driver will likely have legal liability to anyone his actions injure. (This may be the case even if the driver’s level of impairment was under the legal limit.)
Although impaired driving is illegal, the driver’s insurance must cover liability to victims up to the policy limits. However, the driver is not the only party who may have liability to victims of a drunk or drugged driving incident.
As we noted in the sections above, under Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Law, the owner of a bar or restaurant that serves a visibly intoxicated patron will have legal liability for injuries the patron causes behind the wheel.
FAQ about Drunk Driving Accidents
I believe a driver was drunk after an accident – what do I do?
As with any accident, you always want to call 911 right away so that law enforcement authorities will come to the scene. Calling 911 is especially important if you have been injured or if you suspect that the accident involved an intoxicated driver. Police officers will question the driver and may perform a breathalyzer test or field sobriety test to confirm suspicions of impaired driving. If officers determine the driver was over the legal limit, they will not only include that in their police report but will likely arrest the driver so they will face criminal charges. While any legal claim you bring will be separate from a criminal case, having an arrest and criminal conviction can only help your case.
If you are injured, seek medical treatment immediately so that you have an official record of your diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Your medical records will be essential in proving your damages down the road.
How do I bring a Drunk Driving Accident Claim?
In a few cases, your injuries and the damage to your vehicle may be minor enough that you can obtain compensation simply through an insurance claim. If you receive an offer for an insurance settlement, you should always review the offer with a skilled car accident lawyer before you agree to or sign anything.
If your injuries are serious, however, insurance offers will likely not be enough to cover all of your accident-related losses. In this situation, you will need to file a lawsuit for personal injury with the civil courts in your county. You will have to prove that the driver was negligent in order to prevail in your case, though a drunk driving conviction can serve of automatic proof of such negligence.
Compensation for Your Losses
While it may feel good to have a sense of justice when you prevail in a lawsuit against a drunk driver, the primary purpose of such a case is to seek compensation for your various losses. Such losses generally include:
- Past medical bills and estimated future medical costs
- Past lost income and estimated future lost earnings
- Pain and suffering from your injuries
- Emotional trauma from your injuries and/or the accident
- Permanent disability
- Loss of enjoyment of your life
- Punitive damages, as are commonly awarded in serious drunk driving cases
It can be relatively simple to prove your past losses that are financial in nature. You can present your medical bills and paystubs that concretely show how much your medical treatments cost and how much income you lost during your recovery. It can be significantly more complex to prove your future losses and your intangible losses, however. In order to prove that, you deserve the amount you seek, you may need to enlist experts or use other resources that are reliable and persuasive to the court.
Can I also Sue the Bar or Restaurant that Served the Driver?
The ability to sue an establishment that served alcohol to a person who later caused a drunk driving accidents are based on “dram shop laws,” which vary from state to state.2 In Pennsylvania, you can hold a liquor-selling establishment liable for any injuries you suffered in two specific scenarios:
- The establishment served alcohol to a person younger than the drinking age of 21 years old and that person caused your injuries; or
- The establishment served alcohol to a person who was visibly intoxicated and that person caused your injuries.
Drivers Who Don’t Accommodate for Bad Weather
Oftentimes, weather-influenced road conditions play a significant role in causing motor vehicle accidents. Normally, we’re all inclined to give a driver the benefit of the doubt when a car slides off the road in a snowstorm or rear-ends someone in a dense fog. However, sometimes there are reasons to take a closer look at the driver’s conduct.
Bad weather conditions call for caution behind the wheel. A road that’s safe to travel at 60 miles per hour in spring weather may be dangerous at 30 miles per hour in a torrential downpour. Drivers who operate their vehicles in poor weather conditions as if the roads were dry and clear may act negligently or recklessly, and they may bear legal liability for any accidents and injuries they cause. Do not assume that just because the weather was terrible when your accident happened that you should let the driver who collided with you off the hook.
Here are some of the most common weather conditions that contribute to motor vehicle accidents in the Philadelphia area.
According to the City of Philadelphia, our area receives about 20 inches of snow accumulation annually, enough to expect several days per year when local drivers must contend with snow-covered streets and highways. The PennDOT winter travel guide offers good advice about the precautions drivers should take in winter conditions. Any of the following driving behaviors on a snow-covered road could constitute negligence and may lead to accidents:
- Following too close to the car ahead
- Making sudden stops and starts
- Using cruise control
- Failing to remove snow from windshields, windows, and mirrors
- Failing to remove snow from car surfaces, such that it flies off and blinds other drivers
If you were in an accident on a snowy road, pay attention to whether the other driver(s) were following PennDOT’s safe winter driving advice. If they weren’t, then they may have legal liability to you for your injuries.
Like snow, ice is another winter weather driving condition that can lead to catastrophic accidents. In fact, ice may present even more dangers than snow because drivers may sometimes have difficulty spotting it. Roadways that look wet but are actually frozen—a condition commonly called black ice—results in some of the worst accidents on local roads.
Anyone who has ever hit a patch of black ice knows it’s scary. Even at low speed, a driver can lose control of a car. When black ice contributes to a motor vehicle accident, the question to ask is whether he was ignoring the danger of icy roads altogether and driving on a black ice-covered street as if it’s just a little wet. Whenever temperatures hover around freezing and roads are wet, ice is a concern. A driver who fails to exercise extreme caution in those conditions may act negligently.
Did you know that the first 10 minutes after it begins to rain are the most dangerous for driving? According to AAA, that’s because oil and other debris that may make the road slick rise up off the road in that time frame, making for dangerous driving conditions. Drivers have less traction and reduced visibility when it’s raining. Caution is a must, especially in Philadelphia, where we receive more than 40 inches of rain per year on average.
Under Pennsylvania law, drivers must turn on their headlights whenever they’re using their wipers. This makes them visible to other drivers under conditions in which a car without its lights on may blend into the background and prove difficult to spot.
Using headlights, however, is not the only precaution Pennsylvania drivers must take to keep themselves and others on the road safe on a rainy day. Similar to snowy conditions, safe driving in the rain requires keeping a safe distance, reducing speed, and avoiding cruise control.
Drivers who ignore these rules risk losing control of their vehicles, particularly when driving through standing water. It’s also a sign of negligence when drivers fail to maintain their cars for safe rainy-weather driving, such as by ensuring their tires have adequate tread and they have effective wipers.
If you sustained injuries in a motor vehicle accident on a rainy day, whether a drizzle was falling or it was raining cats and dogs, do not assume that means the other driver could not have avoided the accident. Speak with an experienced Philadelphia car accident attorney to help determine whether the driver did not exercise appropriate precautions to keep other drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians safe.
Philadelphia is a city on two rivers, the Delaware and the Schuylkill, and thanks to their influence, we have our share of foggy days in the City of Brotherly Love.
Driving in fog is no fun. One common mistake drivers make is to use their bright headlights in fog, which only makes its effects worse by reflecting the light back at them. Fog requires low headlights and very slow speeds. When drivers ignore those safety tips, rear-end collisions commonly result.
As with other weather-related car accidents, you should not assume that fog made the accident in which you suffered an injury inevitable. There is a safe way to drive in almost any condition, and if the other driver failed to drive responsibly, then she may be liable to you for your injuries.
Aggressive Driving and Road Rage
Driving or riding in a motor vehicle comes with an inherent risk of accidents and injuries. These risks significantly increase, however, when other drivers on the road act in an irresponsible manner. While some drivers simply make a mistake, others may purposefully decide to drive in a dangerous manner. If an intentionally dangerous driver causes an accident, all injured victims have the right to recover for their losses from that driver.
Aggressive Driving Behaviors
All drivers may grow impatient at some point. Traffic, stoplights, and slow drivers can always frustrate you, especially if you are in a hurry or running late. However, some drivers allow their impatience and frustration to lead to dangerous or even threatening driving behaviors.
Aggressive driving behaviors include:
- Expressing anger and frustration/road rage. Aggressive drivers often yell at other drivers, make offensive or threatening gestures, or excessively honk their horns or flash their lights, all of which can present dangerous distractions to other drivers.
- Violating traffic laws. Aggressive drivers tend to break traffic laws in many different ways. For example, common behaviors include speeding, tailgating, frequent and unnecessary lane changes, running red lights or stop signs, running cars off the road, passing on the wrong side, and more.
- Following cars off the road. In certain extreme cases of aggressive driving, a driver’s anger may lead them to follow another car off the road. Once they are in a parking lot or stopped in another area, the aggressive driver may get out and threaten to hurt the other driver, may display weapons, or may even become physically violent.
All of the above behaviors can result in collisions and other accidents that may result in physical injury or the tragic loss of life. Aggressive drivers may face liability for the accidents they cause. When a driver intends his aggressive actions to harm another driver, a greater likelihood of punitive damages against the driver may arise.
How to Avoid Aggressive Driving Accidents
While you cannot control the actions and emotions of other drivers, you can try to avoid harmful encounters. Here are some suggestions for avoiding aggressive driving accidents:
- Give the aggressive driver space. Whenever possible, get out of the path of an aggressive driver as quickly as possible. Move over a lane or even pull over if you can safely do so to let him pass you. Never try to speed up or hold your own in a lane. If you simply allow the aggressive driver to pass by, hopefully he will not have an effect on you.
- Do not retaliate. If another driver yells at you or makes any obscene or rude gestures, swallow your pride and avoid gesturing back. If you engage them in any way, it can encourage their aggressive behavior and escalate the situation.
- Do not hit the brakes. If an aggressive driver is tailgating you, never hit your brakes to try to scare the driver or get him to back off. Instead, allow the driver to pass you. Hitting the brakes unexpectedly can only increase the chances that the aggressive driver will crash into the back of your car.
- Report the driver to authorities. When you see an aggressive driver on the road, pull off to a safe location and call 911. Aggressive driving is dangerous and potentially criminal. Keep other drivers safe by reporting the aggressive driver’s conduct and giving law enforcement the opportunity to intervene.
Many of the accident victims we represent at The Levin Firm sustained injuries in wrecks caused by drivers who usually drive safely but made a careless mistake behind the wheel.
Most of the time, moving violations don’t end up causing catastrophic accidents. Anyone who has spent enough time in the driver’s seat of a car or truck has probably broken a traffic law or two on occasion. Unfortunately, because it’s relatively rare to receive a citation for breaking those laws (because it happens so often and the police don’t have the resources to catch everyone), many drivers fall into habits of committing traffic violations, increasing the risk they pose to themselves and others on the road.
Here are some of the most common traffic violations Philadelphia-area drivers commit that, eventually, may end up causing a bad accident.
The tricky thing about speeding is that almost everyone seems to do it. Driving in excess of the posted speed limit is so common that the only time you see the majority of highway drivers traveling at or under a posted speed limit in good driving conditions is when they pass a police officer with a radar gun. The rest of the time, nearly everyone seems to drive five to 10 miles per hour over the limit.
According to a March 2018 survey of speeding conducted by the NHTSA, this casual acceptance of driving over the speed limit represents a major problem on U.S. roads. Speeding is a contributing factor in a high proportion of severe crashes. For every 10 miles per hour over 50 miles per hour a car travels, the chances double of its driver and passengers dying in the event of a crash. The NHTSA study makes particular note that while pushing the speed limit increases the severity of crashes on highways, 86 percent of fatal speeding-related accidents were not on interstate highways.
In other words, speeding is not just dangerous on highways, it’s especially dangerous on neighborhood roads, city streets, and other roads—and it’s almost always evidence of negligence.
Running Red and Yellow Lights
Intersections are some of the most dangerous places on the road. One thing that makes intersections with traffic lights so dangerous is that yellow lights precede red lights. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) reports that yellow lights pose “one of the more dangerous obstacles that people encounter on the road” because they force drivers to make an uncertain decision in a second or less.
Although some states treat yellow lights as the equivalent of a red, Pennsylvania’s driver’s manual is less definitive, advising drivers to “slow down and prepare to stop,” but allowing for drivers to proceed through an intersection if they determine they cannot safely stop in time. As a result, Pennsylvania drivers see yellow lights and must decide, often in the blink of an eye, “Can I get through this light, or should I slow down and wait?”
APS reports that a survey by the car insurance industry suggests 85 percent of all drivers cannot identify the right answer to that dilemma. Far too often, they think yellow lights mean, “Hurry up.” When they get the decision wrong, accidents can injure innocent people.
Stop Sign Intersection Violations
Intersections controlled by stop signs, instead of traffic lights, also pose a danger to drivers on Philadelphia roads. The IIHS reports that “one-third of all intersection crashes in the United States, and more than 40 percent of the fatal ones, occur at intersections controlled by stop signs,” totaling roughly 700,000 crashes at stop signs every year.
You might think that these accidents mostly involve drivers who fail to stop or do a so-called rolling stop. But IIHS found that only 17 percent of drivers involved in these crashes admitted to not having stopped. Most drivers insisted they did stop but that they didn’t see the other car coming. It turns out, in other words, that driver decision-making is the real danger of stop-sign intersections.
Philadelphia drivers aren’t just required to stop at stop signs, they must also judge for themselves when it’s safe to proceed (similar to the way drivers must judge whether to slow down or speed up when a traffic light turns yellow). Drivers don’t always make the best decisions, nor do road conditions always make it easy for them to do so.
A driver who misjudges when it’s safe to proceed through an intersection with a stop sign may be negligent, but so might local governments and road agencies that have an obligation to keep stop sign intersections free from visual obstacles that make it difficult for drivers to see oncoming and crossing traffic.
If you were injured in an accident at a stop sign intersection, an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney can help identify who might have been at fault.
Turns are one of the more common pre-crash events in motor vehicle accidents on U.S. roads. Left turns are typically the most common of those, followed by right turns, and then U-turns.
These accidents occur at intersections most often, but also when crossing a lane of oncoming traffic, such as turning left into a shopping center parking lot. The risk of improper turn accidents rises when drivers fail to use turn signals or drive in poor weather conditions.
Left turn accidents can present especially deadly situations, especially when they involve collisions between a turning vehicle and a motorcycle. These T-bone collisions, in which one vehicle collides perpendicular to the other vehicle, exert catastrophic forces on drivers of both vehicles, often resulting in severe injuries and death.
Drivers rightly expect road surfaces to remain clear of debris, potholes, and other hazards that could cause them to lose control, and for other vehicles to be of appropriate size and weight to travel on a particular road. At the very least, drivers need road crews or other drivers to warn them of hazards.
Unfortunately, sometimes the parties responsible fail to give adequate warnings and fail to maintain or repair roads to keep them safe for travel. Some common man-made road hazards that drivers should receive warnings about, but often do not, include:
- Raised obstructions such as manhole covers
- Crumbling road shoulders
- Road surface changes, such as from paved to dirt, or smooth to grooved
- Lack of lane markings or road signs
- Slick surfaces resulting from spills
- Wide or extra-long cargo loads
- Sharp curves and inclines
- Visual obstructions
Of course, it’s not always possible to give drivers warnings about hazards, particularly right after they’ve arisen. So the parties responsible for keeping our road surfaces safe and clear must take precautions to prevent hazards from appearing out of nowhere. That can mean cutting overhanging limbs away from roads to reduce the chance of them falling in a storm, and ensuring roads have adequate structural support to prevent subsurface conditions from undermining their integrity.
Drivers who have sustained injuries in accidents caused by road hazards often blame themselves for not seeing a hazard soon enough to stop or steer around it. But the fact is, drivers can’t reasonably expect to avoid hazards that the average person would not anticipate in the first place.
When an accident occurs because of a road hazard, an experienced car accident attorney’s job is to figure out who had responsibility for making sure the hazard did not exist and/or for warning drivers about the hazard so they could take reasonable precautions. Often, those parties include local governments and road departments, private landowners, and the owners of vehicles that caused the damage or hazard in the roadway.
Unsure of What Caused Your Car Accident? Call The Levin Firm.
At The Levin Firm, our attorneys have years of experience identifying the causes of motor vehicle accidents that have devastated our clients’ lives. We have the know-how to investigate and litigate the cause of any accident. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss the causes that contributed to your motor vehicle accident.
Types of Car Accidents
Just as our firm handles motor vehicle accidents caused by a wide variety of factors, we also represent clients who sustained their injuries and losses in every conceivable type of car accident. Here are some of the most common types of collisions and wrecks for which our team helps our clients recover compensation.
Rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of accident and also the most likely to result in an injury to drivers, passengers, or others. Rear-end collisions occur when the front end of one motor vehicle collides with the back end of another motor vehicle.
This type of accident is often referred to as a fender bender, and is generally considered a relatively minor type of auto collision. However, even “minor” low-speed accidents can cause severe injuries to drivers and passengers, particular in the form of back, neck, and brain trauma.
Of course, when rear-end collisions happen at high speeds, far deadlier results can ensue. For instance, if two cars travel at highway speeds of 55 miles per hour or more and one car suddenly slams on its brakes, the rear car may not have time to brake at all before it crashes into the front car. This means that a vehicle driving at fast speeds may hit a completely or nearly stopped car with almost no warning. You can imagine the extent of the damage and injuries this may cause to occupants of both vehicles.
Rear-End Collisions and Commercial Trucks
Rear-end accidents only become more severe when a commercial truck is involved. If a commercial truck collides into the back of a small passenger vehicle, the 80,000-pound truck often has enough weight to simply drive over and crush the small car. This is commonly referred to as an override accident—and it’s usually deadly.
In addition, if a small car collides with the back of a commercial truck, it can get stuck under the back of the trailer. This is referred to as an underride accident, and can instantly kill any motorists in the front of the car if the windshield collides directly with the back of the truck. Though trucks are required to have underride guards to prevent this type of accident, many of these guards are not effective at keeping cars from driving under the trailer.
Angular collisions, such as when one car T-bones another car at an intersection, are considered the most fatal category accident.
Angular crashes are so deadly because they subject human bodies to violent, twisting impacts that cause significant internal trauma and limit the effectiveness of motor vehicle safety systems like airbags and shoulder restraints. Another reason is that angular crashes, particularly 90-degree T-bone collisions, have the potential to crush drivers or passengers sitting nearest to the point of impact.
Unlike in a head-on collision, in which the front end of a car absorbs a significant amount of force by crumpling, doors and windows contain mere inches of material separating drivers and passengers from an outside force. Older vehicles don’t have side airbags to cushion the impact.
Angular crashes may also have a higher likelihood of involving at least one vehicle traveling at high speed, because drivers can turn into the path of oncoming traffic without seeing it.
Head-on crashes represent a relatively rare type of vehicle-on-vehicle accident, but they account for a disproportionately large share of traffic fatalities because the force of a head-on collision is enormous. Two cars traveling at 45 miles per hour colliding head-on impart roughly the same amount of force on each other at impact as a single car driving into a wall at 90 miles per hour.
Fortunately, automakers have designed cars and trucks to withstand head-on collisions for years. The standard safety features of most cars on the road today include front crumple zones, airbags, and seatbelts, all of which are particularly effective in head-on collisions. Unfortunately, because of the massive forces involved in a head-on collision, any failure of these systems can result in catastrophic injuries.
Anyone not wearing a seatbelt in a head-on collision runs a risk of death after ejection from the vehicle or becoming trapped in a life-threatening position inside a mangled wreck. Even when all of the safety systems work perfectly, a head-on collision at highway speed involves such an extreme force that drivers and passengers may not survive the impact.
Although vehicle-on-vehicle collisions like the ones above tend to make up a majority of all accidents, and accidents resulting in non-fatal injuries, they are not typically the most deadly broad category of accidents overall. Instead, the majority of all fatalities on U.S. roads tend to result from accidents involving just one vehicle. Here are the most dangerous types of single-vehicle accidents that we handle here at The Levin Firm.
Collisions With Fixed Objects
Drivers who lose control and strike a fixed object run a high risk of losing their lives. Many fatal accidents involve vehicles striking fixed features like ditches, trees, telephone poles, bridge abutments, and embankments.
The reason these accidents are so deadly is because with a fixed object, the vehicle and its occupants tend to absorb most of the force of the impact. Fixed-object collisions often happen off of the road surface, increasing the likelihood of an impact at an odd angle or against an object with an unusual shape, reducing the effectiveness of vehicle safety features like airbags and crumple zones.
Although they do not account for a large percentage of total accidents on U.S. roads each year, rollover accidents are some of the deadliest. Rollover accidents happen when something triggers a car or truck to roll onto its side, onto its roof, or even roll several times. During the cause of a rollover accident, all occupants of the vehicle may experience many different points of impact and risk ejection from the vehicle. Despite side airbags, seat belts, and other safety features, victims of rollover accidents often suffer severe injuries.
Cars don’t roll over very often, and when they do, they sustain severe damage. Rollovers may indicate a catastrophic failure of an auto part or of a very unusual road condition. In either case, proving how the rollover occurred and who should bear fault may require significant levels of experience and diligence. Victims of rollover accidents should consult an experienced Philadelphia car accident attorney who can investigate and litigate these challenging cases.
Hit and Run Accidents
Under Pennsylvania law, it is illegal for a driver in a car accident resulting in injury, death, or significant vehicle damage to leave the accident scene before law enforcement arrives. It is also illegal for a driver in any other kind of accident to leave the scene before exchanging information and giving necessary aid.
Victims of hit-and-run accidents face what may feel like a hopeless situation: waiting for law enforcement to identify the person who committed the violation and then holding that person accountable for injuries and losses.
Drivers may flee accident scenes because they fear the consequences of their actions. When they do so because they were driving a work vehicle and fear losing a job, the employer may well bear liability to the accident victims. Consult a skilled car accident attorney to help determine who may be responsible for compensating you when you are the victim of a hit-and-run.
Ever since ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft burst onto the scene a few years ago, Philadelphians have embraced the efficiency and convenience of summoning a private car to take them where they need to go. Unfortunately, the advent of ridesharing has also introduced new and tricky problems for victims of accidents involving ridesharing vehicles.
For example, the insurance coverage available to victims of an Uber or Lyft driver’s negligence may depend on whether the driver was transporting a passenger (or on his way to pick one up) at the time of an accident. Many victims of ridesharing accidents also assume that the companies themselves will pay for a driver’s negligence, but because Uber and Lyft treat drivers as independent contractors, that may not happen.
If you sustained injuries in an accident involving an Uber or Lyft driver, whether as a rideshare passenger, as the driver or passenger in another car, or as a pedestrian or cyclist, hire experienced legal counsel. The laws concerning liability for Uber and Lyft drivers continue to evolve, posing a challenge to victims and their families.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists
Pennsylvania law requires auto insurance companies to offer drivers the option of purchasing insurance against uninsured and underinsured motorists. When drivers purchase this insurance, their own policy covers them in the event of an accident in which the other driver is at fault but does not have any or enough insurance to cover the damages the accident caused. This coverage can also protect drivers who sustain injuries and losses in a hit-and-run accident in which the authorities never apprehend the offending driver.
Making an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim against your own insurance policy may require that you take specific steps to preserve your right to compensation, such as by filing a written police report and putting your insurance carrier on notice of the accident. An attorney with experience representing victims of Philadelphia car accidents can help review the fine print of your insurance coverage and ensure you follow the process to the letter. An attorney can also help you identify any other potential sources of recovery.
Call on The Levin Firm for All Types of Car Accidents
At The Levin Firm, clients come to us after all types of car accidents. No matter whether your accident involved one, two, or 10 vehicles, we have the experience and know-how to help you fight for the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.
Common Injuries in Car Accidents
Motor vehicle accidents exert violent and unnatural forces on the human body, resulting in all manner of injuries and disabilities. The compassionate, skilled team at The Levin Firm makes it our mission to understand the details of every injury our clients have suffered to ensure that our efforts help them heal to the greatest extent possible. We work with top experts in the medical field to estimate the costs and lifelong burdens associated with our clients’ injuries.
Here are some of the more common injuries from which we help our motor vehicle accident clients recover.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a highly common injury in auto accidents. Many TBI victims will spend time unconscious or in varying states of consciousness due to their injuries.
TBIs occur when a bump, blow, or jolt to the head results in a disruption in normal brain function. In addition, an object that penetrates the skull can result in a traumatic brain injury. The CDC estimates that about 1.7 million people sustain a TBI each year in the United States.
Even minor traumatic brain injuries have the potential to leave victims with significant complications that may keep them from working or affect their quality of life. TBIs can result in serious medical issues, including:
- Problems with speech
- Cognitive problems
- Memory issues
- Difficulty with motor control
- Inability to engage in daily tasks without assistance
The most serious TBIs can cause catastrophic health outcomes for victims and their families. These include:
- Coma and medically induced coma: Coma is perhaps the most commonly known state of unconsciousness. A person in a coma cannot awaken, even from pain or other extreme stimuli. Some people never emerge from a coma and others emerge with serious cognitive impairments. Even if a TBI itself does not cause a coma, doctors may give TBI victims anesthetics to medically induce a coma to limit brain function and reduce life-threatening brain swelling until they stabilize.
- Persistent vegetative state: When a person emerges from a coma, the victim may still remain in a state of limited consciousness. The most severe of these is a persistent vegetative state, where a victim can sleep and wake up, but has no conscious awareness of the world around him. Though his eyes may move and he may appear to jump at a loud noise, he is not able to respond consciously to stimuli in the environment.
- Minimally responsive state: Like the persistent vegetative state, a victim in a minimally responsive state has a sleep-wake cycle. While she still has highly limited awareness of her surroundings and limited ability to respond, she may follow instructions for very simple tasks—to blink or nod, for example. However, she often will not follow commands every time, as her responsiveness level may be inconsistent. She may also appear to cry or smile, but not necessarily in response to anything in the environment.
- Locked-in syndrome: One of the most frightening potential outcomes of brain injury is fortunately rare. A victim with locked-in syndrome has no control over any voluntary muscle movement, including use of the vocal chords, so the victim cannot move or speak apart from being able to move his eyes. He is, however, fully cognitively aware of his self and surroundings, though he cannot independently communicate thoughts or respond. Victims with locked-in syndrome can live for a long time like this, as their organs often continue to function properly. They may require costly equipment and computers to translate eye movements into words if they want to communicate and will require full-time care for their basic needs.
- Brain death: Brain death occurs when all of the brain functioning stops and doctors deem it irreversible. Victims will not regain consciousness and typically are pronounced dead.
Though brain injury victims who are in a coma or another state of unconsciousness may eventually emerge from that state, recovering to a point of full-consciousness and cognitive ability can take a long time—if significant recovery happens at all.
No matter how severe a TBI is, doctors often have difficulty predicting how long a victim’s recovery will take or the best possible outcome. This puts family members in an extremely difficult position, especially if their loved one is in a coma or a persistent vegetative state. They may want to consider taking their loved one off of life support due to her extremely low quality of life for. However, this is a difficult decision to make.
To make matters worse, care for an unconscious loved one can cost millions of dollars. With the help of an experienced auto accident attorney, however, families may obtain sufficient compensation to ensure their loved one has the best possible care and chance of emerging from unconsciousness and recovering as much as possible.
Spinal Cord Injuries
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center reports about 17,700 new cases of spinal cord injuries each year in the United States. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of spinal cord injury in the country, accounting for more than 38 percent of all new cases annually. The lifetime costs of dealing with a spinal cord injury routinely run into the millions of dollars.
Doctors classify spinal cord injuries into two broad categories:
- Incomplete spinal cord injuries. A spinal cord injury is characterized as incomplete when the victim has some feeling or mobility below the site of the injury.
- Complete spinal cord injuries. A spinal cord injury is characterized as complete when the victim has no feeling or mobility below the site of the injury.
The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that allows the brain to communicate with the rest of the body. As a result, any injury to the spinal cord or damage to the vertebrae that protect the spinal cord can result in serious complications. These may include complete or partial paralysis, loss of feeling, muscle weakness, and loss of full range of motion. People who sustain spinal cord injuries may also suffer from additional complications, including:
- Bladder control problems
- Bowel control problems
- Pressure sores
- Problems with circulation
- Issues with respiration
- Muscle tone problems
- An overall decline in fitness and wellness
- Issues with sexual health
These and other symptoms of a spinal cord injury can substantially diminish a person’s quality of life and may keep them from working for a significant period of time. As a result, people who suspect that they have sustained a spinal cord injury should seek emergency medical treatment as soon as possible. In many cases, early intervention can significantly improve the ultimate outcome of a spinal cord injury.
Even when car accident victims escape spinal cord injuries, they may still sustain debilitating damage to their backs in the form of crushed or displaced discs, nerve injury, and muscle and tissue damage. Back injuries are particularly common in rear-end and angular collisions, when drivers and passengers experience an unexpected, sometimes twisting, jolt.
When left untreated, back injuries can become chronic conditions, severely harming victims’ quality of life. Back injuries routinely require multiple surgeries, extensive physical therapy, lengthy limitations on physical activity, and time away from work. Because of these impacts, back injuries impose significant costs on accident victims.
Head and Neck Injuries (or Whiplash)
“Whiplash” is not actually a single injury, but is instead the colloquial term for a range of injuries resulting from a sudden jerking or distortion of the neck, often resembling the cracking of a whip. This sudden motion can cause significant strain on the nerves, muscles, and vertebrae in the neck and back injuries can result in long-lasting damage.
Such injuries may leave a substantial effect on a victim’s life. Some signs and symptoms of whiplash include:
- Neck pain
- Unexplained headaches
- Numbness in your arms or hands
- Fatigue or insomnia
- Feeling of pins and needles
- Pain in or around the shoulder blades
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in your ears
- Cognitive difficulties, such as struggling to remember things or concentrate
While some whiplash symptoms make themselves immediately apparent, others may not manifest for several days. You should always visit a doctor as soon as you experience any whiplash symptoms in the days following an accident. Treatment for whiplash commonly involves pain management, including visits to pain specialists, injections, and muscle relaxants, as well as physical therapy techniques like myofascial release, muscle strengthening, and more. Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment may last for a long time.
Though whiplash is most often associated with rear-end accidents, this injury can occur in any type of collision. Whiplash can significantly affect your life and may even keep you from working, so never ignore this injury following a car accident.
Few car accident-related injuries inflict more acute suffering than burns. Burns cause extreme pain, not just when they happen but throughout the healing process. They also pose a heightened risk of infection, requiring intensive and diligent care to keep patients free from bacteria.
Even when treated successfully, burns often leave victims permanently scarred and disfigured. Burn victims often must contend with emotional pain and psychological trauma in addition to tending to their physical recovery.
Broken Bones and Fractures
Car accidents frequently leave victims with broken bones and fractures. Crumpling front-ends can leave drivers and front-seat passengers with broken ankles and leg bones. Ribs may fracture from the strain of a safety belt. Vehicle occupants may break their arms, wrists, or collarbones because they braced for an impact. Even facial bones can fracture from the sudden inflation of airbags or from slamming against a seat-back.
Fortunately, bones heal, though sometimes imperfectly and only after multiple surgeries. The violence of the impact of a car accident can cause bones to shatter, requiring complicated orthopedic repairs and surgical implants. Rehabilitation can take months and may prevent victims from returning to work for prolonged periods.
Soft Tissue Injury
Soft tissue injury refers to the range of contusions, sprains, tears, and other damage a car accident can inflict on victims’ muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Soft tissue injury may require orthopedic surgery and physical therapy.
Whatever Your Injury, The Levin Firm Helps You Recover
Clients come to The Levin Firm in the midst of recovering from a wide range of injuries. No matter how severe or how complicated those injuries are, our team takes the time to understand what our clients need to give them the best chance to heal. Contact The Levin Firm today for more information.
Car Accident Prevention Safety Tips
At The Levin Firm, we encourage victims of Philadelphia car accidents to give us a call to discuss how we might help them recover compensation they deserve for their injuries and losses. That said, we would prefer if our clients didn’t have to suffer at all.
Victims cannot avoid all motor vehicle accidents, but they can cut the risk of becoming a victim by following these tips.
Know Where You Are Going and How to Get There
Few driving experiences can cause more stress and anxiety than not knowing exactly where you are going or how to get there. Worse, your uncertainty behind the wheel makes your actions less predictable to other drivers, increasing the risk of an accident (even one that isn’t technically your fault).
Before you head out on a trip, even a short one, visualize where you are going and how you plan to get there. Just like pro athletes close their eyes and picture a winning performance before they ever set foot on the court, seeing a trip in your mind’s eye before you travel it can help keep you safe and alert for unexpected obstacles or conditions.
On longer trips, supplement your visualization by looking at a map and/or pre-programming your GPS so that you know what the route generally looks like, reducing the chances that an exit or turn will catch you off guard.
Put Your Phone Away
Screen addiction is a real and serious problem when it comes to the safety of American motorists. Too many drivers find the appearance of a text notification or the sound of an incoming call too irresistible to ignore. Don’t be one of those drivers.
- Put your phone on silent and stow it in a bag in the back seat.
- Keep it out of your eyesight.
- If you must keep it in front of you as a GPS device, make sure it’s in a holster at or near eye level, so that you do not need to take your hands off of the wheel or your eyes off the road to see the directions.
Do the Little Things to Keep Your Vehicle Safe
You can do simple things at pretty much any gas station to keep your car in safe operating condition.
- Check your tire pressure.
- Clean your windshield, windows, and mirrors.
- Refresh your wiper blades.
- Keep your wiper fluid reservoir full.
- Keep an emergency kit with first aid supplies and hazard warnings in the trunk.
- Immediately change any headlamp or turn signal lightbulbs that burned out.
These small steps can make a big difference in how visible your car is to others, how easily you can see the road ahead, how quickly and smoothly your car can stop or swerve to avoid a hazard, and how prepared you are to keep yourself and others safe in the event of an accident.
Drive as if Others Will Be Negligent
Yes, this basically means, be a defensive driver, but more than that, it means thinking actively behind the wheel about what could go wrong.
- When you pass another vehicle, be alert to the possibility the other driver doesn’t see you.
- Treat yellow lights as if they were red whenever possible.
- Assume wet roads are extra-slippery.
- Proceed with caution when you see an oncoming vehicle that looks as if it is planning to turn left.
By treating other drivers as potentially irresponsible, you give yourself extra time to react when they make poor decisions and you train your brain to stay active and aware of your surroundings behind the wheel.
Car Accident Statistics
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 37,133 people in the United States died in auto accidents in one year. Millions more were injured. Statistics like these demonstrate the risk of accidents and injuries that Americans face every time they climb into a motor vehicle.
As in the rest of America, car accidents are common in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation calculates that more than 128,000 accidents occurred in 2017 on Pennsylvania roads, injuring tens of thousands of drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians. About 9 percent of those accidents, and about 8 percent of all traffic-related deaths, occurred in Philadelphia.
If you are lucky, you will walk away from any accident that strikes you with minor injuries. Many Philadelphians, however, are not so lucky. The Levin Firm is ready to help them.
Talk to Our Experienced Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers Now
Philadelphia Car Accident Attorney | Gabriel Levin
Having read through the information above, you no doubt will recognize that investigating, litigating, and recovering damages for injuries sustained in car accidents involves significantly more effort than simply pointing a finger in the other driver’s direction. Not only can it present a challenge to prove that the other driver acted negligently, other parties may also bear some responsibility for your injuries and losses.
That’s why you need to seek the assistance of an experienced auto accident attorney in Philadelphia who knows how to handle the complexities of a motor vehicle accident case. Please contact the dedicated car accident lawyers at The Levin Firm today to get help on your case. A consultation is free, and we are ready to answer all your questions.