Is your car wreck case a "slam dunk?"
Not so fast... it may be, but it also may be that you aren't familiar with what goes into getting full compensation in an auto case...
Many of our clients tell us they have a "slam dunk," "easy" car wreck when they walk in the door. We don't argue, but we do point out all the things that must be proven and the difficulties that they will likely face with insurance adjusters who will not pay a dime more than they have to...
Your "easy" auto accident case may not be an easy as you think - or, it may be worth more than you think.
"Slam Dunk" Car Wrecks That are Not What They Seem
You're driving down the road, minding your own business, when another car blows through a stop light and slams into your car, sending you spinning through the intersection and up over the curb.
Slam dunk, right? Maybe.
There are a ridiculous number of legal issues that could arise, even in what appears to be a simple case. In every case, no matter how clear-cut it seems, you must establish liability and damages. It's not enough that it happened - you must be prepared to prove what happened and why.
Plenty of things can go wrong when you are attempting to prove liability in a car wreck. Sure, the other driver blew through a red light - are there any other witnesses?
What if the other driver tells the officer that you blew through the stop light - although it seems obvious to you, remember that the insurance adjuster, defense lawyer, judge, or jurors were not there.
Especially if someone is contradicting your testimony, you will need corroboration to prove your case - usually in the form of another witness, a passenger in your car, or a third party who stopped to give a statement. If you are lucky, there may be a video recording of the incident as well, from a cell phone or surveillance camera nearby.
In some cases, you will need the help of expert witnesses to establish liability - for example, an accident reconstructionist who can establish how and why the accident happened or an expert witness who can testify as to the regulations that truck drivers must follow in a trucking accident case.
South Carolina follows what is called a modified comparative negligence rule - if you were partly at fault in the accident, your recovery will be reduced by the percentage that the jurors find you at fault.
On the other hand, if the jurors find that you were more than 50% at fault, you will be denied recovery completely.
This means that insurance adjusters and insurance defense attorneys will look for every way that they can possibly claim you were at fault, even if it is only partial - they will work hard to save their company every penny that they can, at your expense.
- Jurors may resolve disagreements on who disregarded a traffic signal by "splitting the baby" and finding you partially at fault;
- If you were not wearing a seatbelt, your recovery could be reduced;
- If you were texting, talking on your phone, using the GPS, or otherwise distracted; or
- Jurors may find that you were not paying attention and could have taken evasive action or braked sooner.
Although this is by no means a complete list, you get the idea - the defense will seize on any fact that they can use to deny or limit your recovery.
You may have significant injuries - you may have spent a long time in the hospital, in physical therapy, or visiting a chiropractor. You may have injuries that will need attention and treatment for years to come.
If you expect to get full compensation for those injuries, you must prove 1) that the injury happened as a result of the accident; and 2) the extent of the injury and what the total costs of treatment will be.
In many cases, this means that you will need to retain expert medical witnesses who can testify as to the nature and extent of your injuries and what treatments will be required. Or, you may need a life-care planner who can testify as to what the total cost of treatment or long-term care will be over the course of your lifetime.
Even in a small accident case, if you don't prove your damages you will not get paid...
"Slam Dunk" Car Wrecks That are More Than What They Seem
Insurance adjusters are not going to tell you the amount of damages you are entitled to or how to go about collecting them - they are happy to give you a fraction of what your case is worth in exchange for a release of liability.
In every car wreck case, you are entitled to more than just the amount of your medical expenses. You are entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages, other expenses that resulted from the car wreck, and, in some cases, you may get punitive damages if your case goes to trial.
How much is pain and suffering worth?
It depends on how much pain and suffering you experienced, and it may also depend on the "shock value" of your case.
In the scenario above, does it make a difference if the other driver:
- Had faulty brakes that caused the accident;
- Was texting as they drove through the red light;
- Was screaming at their partner as their children were crying in the back seat; or
- Was drunk or high as they smashed into your car?
It does. Each scenario progressively increases the value of your case.
Jurors tend to award less damages for an "innocent mistake" that led to a car accident. On the other hand, if you can prove "gross negligence," you may be entitled to punitive damages which significantly increases the value of your case.
Also, in South Carolina, there is no cap on punitive damages when the at-fault driver was drunk or high at the time of the accident.
In many cases, you don't just have to prove liability and your medical bills - if you want to get full compensation for your injuries, you must also prove that the other driver was texting, fighting with a passenger in their car, or drunk at the time of the accident. You need to be able to tell the story, or theory of the case, that ties together your evidence in a compelling way.
Your case may be a slam dunk when it comes to liability, although it's impossible to say that until an investigation has been done and we've gotten a response from the insurance company - is it a slam dunk when it comes to maximizing your recovery?
Your Myrtle Beach car wreck attorney on the Axelrod Team knows how to prove liability and damages, and we know how to maximize your recovery based on the unique facts of your case.