Representative Case Summary
9-Year-Old Boy with Severe Injuries but Difficult Liability Facts
In many instances when people call to speak with me regarding whether they have a viable claim, the victim of the accident has severe injuries, but the person who apparently caused the accident doesn’t have enough liability insurance to fully compensate the injured person. The key in such a case is to carefully consider whether another person or corporate entity whose negligence may not be obvious may also have caused the accident.
In one such case, I represented a young child who was riding in a relative’s automobile in a rural area of Indiana when the relative stopped at a stop sign, looked both ways, and then started driving across an intersection. Unfortunately, due apparently to glare from a setting sun, the relative did not notice that a pick-up truck was approaching the intersection in a traffic lane which did not have a stop sign. As a consequence, the truck crashed into the passenger side of the car where the child was sitting, thus causing the child to be severely injured.
In considering the case, there was little dispute that the relative who was driving the car in which the child was a passenger was primarily responsible for the accident. However, the question was whether another person had any responsibility for the accident.
In interviewing several witnesses to this accident, they all stated that it appeared obvious that the driver of the car in which the child was a passenger did not see the oncoming truck as they started crossing the intersection. However, one of the witnesses also stated that the truck did not brake, swerve, or take other evasive action until only a few yards before the crash. Thus, if the truck driver had ample notice that the other car was going to pull into the intersection in front of him, why didn’t he do more to avoid the crash?
The first task to find out if the truck driver had any legal responsibility for this accident was to obtain and analyze data from the truck’s onboard data recorder.
When a crash occurs and the airbag is deployed, this device records what the vehicle was doing in the 5 seconds before the crash onto a computer chip, including the speed of the vehicle and when the driver applied their brakes prior to the crash. Although most people are unaware of this fact, almost all cars and trucks on the road today have this device. This information from this computer chip can then be downloaded from the vehicle by using a laptop computer with a special software program that is provided by the vehicle’s manufacturer.
In this case, an analysis of the truck’s data recorder showed that the truck was traveling 10 miles an hour over the posted speed limit, and also that the driver of the truck did not apply his brakes until only one second prior to the actual collision. The question then was what could have caused the truck driver’s reactions to have been so slow?
My office then did a background check on the truck driver and discovered that his driver’s license had been suspended at the time of this accident due to a prior DUI conviction. In then checking the driver’s criminal record, we discovered that this fellow had a long history of alcohol related criminal convictions in the years prior to this accident, including 4 DUI convictions. However, we had no proof that this person had been drinking at the time of this accident because the investigating police officers had not performed a breathalyzer or field sobriety test
In then reviewing the court records for this driver’s criminal cases, we found that 6 months prior to this accident, he had pled guilty to a DUI, and as part of his probation had been ordered to attend alcohol related drug treatment. We then discovered the name of the facility where this driver had obtained this treatment and obtained a court order that enabled us to obtain his treatment records. These records stated that the month prior to this accident, the driver reported having blackouts, dizziness, and other symptoms of alcohol withdraw, all of which would have affected his ability to safely drive.
We then hired a professional engineer who specialized in accident reconstructions who calculated that if the truck driver had been driving the posted speed limit at the time of this crash, or had applied his brakes one second earlier than he actually did, he would have completely missed the vehicle in which the child was a passenger as it crossed the intersection.
We then presented all this information to the truck driver’s liability insurer, with the result that the case settled against the truck driver for the $250,000 liability insurance policy limits that he had at the time of this accident, in addition to a $100,000 liability policy that had insured the child’s relative.