When you spend day in and day out driving, whether it is to and from work or running errands around town, it is easy to become desensitized to the risk associated with it. However, a car accident can abruptly remind you of the dangers you expose yourself to every time you travel in a car. In some cases, you might suffer that danger through no fault of your own. When you are injured in a car accident, there are a number of costs associated. Financial costs like medical bills and missed wages are paired with more emotional and psychological costs like pain and suffering.
The burden of these costs should fall upon those who were at fault for the accident, or more specifically, their insurance company. The problem, though, with insurance companies is that they generally don’t like to pay out everything they owe. After all, they are in the business of making a profit, and what they pay you works against their bottom line. That means to get what you are owed often requires putting pressure on these companies either in negotiation or in court. At the Tatum Law Firm, we help our clients seek what they’re owed from a position of strength.
When you think of a car accident, a pretty standard two-car accident might come to mind — something like a fender-bender, a crash at an intersection, or even a head-on collision. While those are the majority of cases, accidents involving other types of vehicles, as well as situations like a defective part potentially making a vehicle uncontrollable, can also occur. The variations in the kinds of accidents can have some effect on who could be held liable and how your lawyer will investigate and argue the claim. Some of these potential accident types include:
Many people might believe that only one of the drivers involved in an accident can be held liable for a car accident. That isn’t the case. To be held liable, a person or entity must be at fault for an accident that results in injuries. Most of the time, this may be one of the drivers involved, but that doesn’t happen in every situation. Car accidents could be triggered by a variety of causes, and that can lead to a wide range of possible defendants in a claim. One of the things that your lawyer will do is examine the accident from many different angles to understand who is most likely to be held at fault. Some of the possible defendants include:
A car accident claim is ultimately a personal injury claim. This means proving fault, or negligence, for a car accident will follow the same process as any standard personal injury claim. Only after fault has been established will you be able to seek damages that cover the costs coming from that accident. To prove fault for an accident, a variety of different sources of evidence can be called upon, including police reports, photos and video, and eyewitness testimony. In some cases, it may even be relevant to call expert witnesses to testify on their understanding of the accident and who may be at fault. Whatever evidence is used, though, the court must be persuaded of three things.
The first element of negligence that must be shown is that, in the given circumstance, the defendant had a duty to care. What this means is that the defendant must reasonably be seen as needing to take into consideration how their actions and behavior might affect the people around them. They had a duty to not act recklessly and to take reasonable precautions to protect others who could be impacted by their actions.
In the case of car accidents, this is generally not a difficult thing to establish. Those operating a vehicle have a duty to care how their use of the vehicle might impact others. The same is true of others involved in the operation of motor vehicles, whether they be employers of drivers, manufacturers of vehicles and parts, or the government entities responsible for building and maintaining the roads.
The second element that’s necessary to prove negligence is to show that the defendant committed a breach of duty. This means that they, in some way, failed to live up to the duty that was expected of them. This could be through an action they took, such as driving recklessly, or an action they failed to take, such as not properly signaling when turning or changing lanes.
Generally, a breach of duty means the defendant failed to act as a reasonably careful person would have given the same set of circumstances. With a car accident, things like failing to follow the rules of the road or generally dangerous driving could be a way of establishing a breach. In other situations, a breach of duty could be failing to manufacture a functional part or vehicle, not properly installing a part, setting unreasonable expectations of driver employees, or failing to maintain roads, signs, or traffic lights.
The final component of proving fault is demonstrating that the breach of duty directly led to the injuries suffered. This typically involves drawing a causal line from the breach through to injury. This makes this final element of negligence a two-part process in most cases.
First, it must be shown how the breach led to an accident. This might seem like a given, but that’s not always the case. For instance, if a car speeds through an intersection and they are slammed into by another vehicle running a red light, the first driver may have committed a breach of duty, but it can hardly be considered to be the cause of the accident. Your lawyer must be able to demonstrate how the breach directly led to the accident.
Second, it must be demonstrated that the accident led directly to the injuries that were suffered. This is why it is crucial to get a medical examination as quickly as you can after the accident. The injuries also must not have been present before the accident. There is, though, some gray area around the aggravation of a prior injury.
When you are awarded compensation in a car accident claim, it is known as damages. These are meant to cover the costs that a person incurs because of their injuries. To prove that you should receive damages for a particular cost, you must prove that it comes from the injury. There is an extension of the causal line that is established by proving negligence. Once that causal line connects from the breach of duty to the accident to the injury and to the costs associated with the injury, full liability is established, and damages can be awarded. This is why you must keep good track of the doctor’s diagnosis, medical bills, and anything else that can prove the costs you are accruing because of the injuries. In most car accident cases, the damages awarded will be grouped into two categories:
There is another kind of damages that could be awarded, although it is not common in the case of a car accident. If the court believes there was something egregious or malicious about what the defendant did, the court may award punitive damages. These damages are meant to act as a punishment for the behavior of the defendant and serve as a deterrent against conducting that behavior in the future. In a car accident case, for instance, punitive damages could be awarded if the driver was drunk or driving particularly recklessly.
It’s also possible that some kind of corporate negligence might lead to punitive damages. Examples might include trying to cover up a defect that led to an accident or having wildly unreasonable expectations for deliveries.
One of the more challenging aspects of a car accident claim in North Carolina is the legal doctrine of pure contributory negligence. There are some cases where both parties may share the blame for an injury. In most states, if the plaintiff is found to be 20% at fault, that means they can only receive 80% of the damages they requested. This is not how it works in North Carolina.
If the plaintiff in a personal injury case, including car accidents, is found to have any fault at all in North Carolina, then they are prevented from recovering any damages. This means in any car accident in which a driver shares even just 1% of the fault, they are unable to find restitution.
This legal doctrine is certainly a hurdle that must be prepared for in these claims. Working with a quality legal team is essential as they can prepare for the kinds of details the defendant might use to try and prove the plaintiff’s fault. It’s worth noting that when making this argument, the burden of proof is shifted to the defendant as they must be able to prove the elements of negligence that were previously described. Your lawyer must be prepared to make the case for the negligence of the other party while defending against claims that you were negligent.
While pure contributory negligence can be a challenge for car accident claims in North Carolina, it doesn’t make winning a claim impossible. It just means there is a little more preparation involved and a little more caution required. Claims of plaintiff negligence, though, can often be fought back against and keep your right to collect damages protected.
The time to file a claim in a personal injury case is finite. The statute of limitations, which determines how long after an injury occurs that you can file a claim, is three years. The reasoning behind this kind of limit is that over time, evidence can become harder to find and less reliable. For instance, witness testimony is not as reliable as time passes.
There can be some variation on the three-year limit based on circumstances like the party a claim is being filed against, when the injuries were discovered, or if the victim was a minor. It is generally not a good idea to rely on that possibility, though. The sooner you contact a lawyer, the better. It gives them more time to investigate your claim.
Working with a skilled, experienced personal injury lawyer can sometimes be the difference between not getting a successful outcome or receiving what you’re owed. We have a firm grasp of what the court is looking for when arguing negligence and defending against accusations of contributory negligence. We can help frame your case in a way that puts forth a strong argument on your behalf.
One of the most important things we do for our clients is a thorough investigation of their car accidents. We must examine the situation to discover where liability exists. While it often is the other driver, it may be that another party is at fault. Attempting to find restitution from the wrong party could lead to a waste of time and money, so it’s critical that we identify the correct liable party from the start.
Part of our investigation process is gathering evidence regarding the accident. We try to identify two different kinds of evidence throughout the process. Some evidence will serve the purpose of establishing negligence on the part of the defendant. Just as important, though, given that North Carolina is a pure contributory negligence state, is the evidence that serves to defend against a counter-argument of negligence on your part. We gather all the evidence and prepare to argue for your side and defend you as well.
During this process, we can negotiate on your behalf with the insurance company. There can be some benefits to not going to court and coming to an agreement with them instead. While the potential for a higher payout may exist with a successful court case, there is the risk that you might not get anything, even though there is good evidence on your side. Anytime you leave anything in the hands of the court, there is a possibility they may rule against you. This risk is higher in a pure contributory negligence state, like North Carolina, where if you can be shown to have any fault at all, you may not be awarded any damages.
Sometimes, an acceptable settlement just isn’t a possibility. In these cases, it’s our job as lawyers to represent you through the personal injury claim process. This means putting together and filing the initial claim, as well as making the case for you in court if necessary. We can present the argument for negligence and how the damages you’re seeking arose from that negligence. It also means defending you against claims of your own negligence in the accident. If it comes down to a court battle, we will fight hard to see you get everything that you deserve.
Your chances at a successful claim are better when you work with a quality personal injury lawyer. At the Tatum Law Firm, we believe we have the qualities that you want in an attorney representing you. We understand, though, that you aren’t just going to take our word for it and would need to sit down with us before you’re ready to trust us with your case.
How you handle things both immediately and in the aftermath of a car accident can be critical to the success of your case. Of course, depending on the extent of your injuries, there is only so much that can be done right after an accident. However, to whatever extent you can or are able to have someone help, it can be valuable to your claim to do a few things after an accident. Some of the things that you can help your claim include:
We understand the stress that comes with someone causing you to sustain injuries in a car accident. You might have concerns about your injuries and the costs of medical care like physical therapy if needed. There are also vehicle repairs or replacements. Additionally, if the injuries are serious, you might be uncertain about what the future is going to look like. One thing that you shouldn’t have to worry about is the financial aspect of all of these factors. Sadly, though, the insurance companies who are responsible for providing compensation in these kinds of situations often fail to live up to their responsibilities. It is beneficial to have an attorney negotiating with them on your behalf to ensure you get the financial support you deserve.
At the Tatum Law Firm, we work with victims of car accidents to get them the compensation they need. This may mean negotiating a settlement with the insurance company with the credible threat of a claim being filed against them and the evidence found in our investigation. However, if they are unwilling to come to an agreement that fairly compensates you, then we are prepared to challenge them in court. Given the details of North Carolina’s pure contributory negligence policy, you need a lawyer who refuses to give an inch when it comes to your case. Contact us today for a consultation and to get started on the path to making your life after an accident easier.