If you have been the victim of a hit-and-run accident, you may be eligible to receive compensation. There are several legal and factual issues involved when seeking compensation after a hit-and-run accident. If you need assistance, visit Citywide Law Group’s blog for more information.
Speed in Car Crash Cases
Excessive velocity is a factor in about a third of the fatal vehicle crashes on California roadways. According to Newton’s Second Physical Law, speed multiplies the force in a collision between two objects. Therefore, speed turns non-injury “fender-bender” collisions into injury crashes and injury crashes become fatal wrecks. Speed also significantly increases the risk of a car crash, because added velocity adversely affects stopping distance, which is reaction time plus braking time. At 30mph, most passenger vehicles travel about six car lengths before they stop. This distance is more than doubles, to thirteen car lengths, at 50mph.
Speed is dangerous to vehicle occupants because in addition to the added force, unsecured items inside the vehicle essentially become high-speed projectiles. That’s because these objects continue travelling at their prior speeds until they collide with non-moving objects, such as people’s heads.
Excessive velocity is even more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, because non-motorists are completely unprotected from the force of an onrushing car. The fatality rate is only about 10 percent if the vehicle is travelling at less than 20mph, but the fatality rate is over 50 percent if the vehicle is moving at least 40mph.
Statistics vary by jurisdiction, but only about half of hit-and-run drivers are successfully apprehended and prosecuted in criminal court. The statistics are low partially because when first responders arrive, their first priorities are to secure the scene and tend to injured victims.
Only afterwards do they conduct cursory investigations by reviewing any physical evidence that remains and interviewing any fact witnesses who are still loitering about. Moreover, if potential tortfeasors (negligent drivers) are identified, prosecutors must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they drove the vehicle. Absent reliable eyewitness testimony or a tortfeasor’s confession, such evidence is generally unavailable.
Fortunately, the dynamics in civil cases are much different. During the investigation phase, personal injury attorneys often partner with private investigators to pick up where first responders left off. Such investigation often includes:
- Staking out the area to see if the offending vehicle comes back into the area,
- Canvassing surrounding homes and businesses to see if anybody saw anything but did not come forward to police, and
- Investigating area body shops to determine what vehicles have been worked on in the recent past with damage matching the subject vehicle.
Many people are more willing to cooperate with private investigators than police officers, so these efforts often bear fruit.
Later, during the trial phase, plaintiffs need only prove their cases by a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not. In hit-and-run cases, the jury can conclude that, more likely than not, the vehicle owner was also the tortfeasor, even if there is no direct evidence that the owner was operating the vehicle at or near the time of the crash.
Some victims believe that if there is no defendant then there is no case, and so no tortfeasor means no possibility of recovery. Although that is true in many cases, hit-and-runs are an exception. Typically, victims in these situations can file claims with their own auto insurance companies. Because the companies want to keep their customers paying and happy, these matters often settle rather quickly. If there is no agreed resolution, most of these disputes go to arbitration instead of trial.
Car crash victims in California are generally entitled to compensation for their economic losses, such as:
- Property Destruction: Cars and personal items often have emotional values in addition to their fair market sales values, and victims are entitled to both these items.
- Medical Bills: In addition to emergency care and followup care, victims are also entitled to compensation for physical therapy, medical devices, prescription drugs, and other medical out-of-pocket expenses.
- Lost Wages: If there is a permanent injury or wrongful death, the plaintiff is usually entitled to reasonable future lost wages as well.
Most attorneys use letters of protection to ensure that their clients do not have to pay medical bills until their cases are resolved.
In addition to economic damages, most juries also award substantial noneconomic damages in many cases, for items like:
- Pain and suffering,
- Loss of consortium (companionship),
- Emotional Distress, and
- Loss of enjoyment in life.
Punitive damages may be available as well, particularly in hit-and-run cases. Juries may award these damages if there is clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasors intentionally disregarded the safety of others.
All car crash victims deserve maximum compensation for their injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, contact Citywide Law Group today.