Common Insurance Company Defenses In Car Wreck Claims
A few vehicle collision claims settle almost immediately. But insurance companies earn more than $1 trillion a year in premiums. So, they have plenty of resources with which to hire high-priced lawyers. These attorneys have only one objective: reduce or eliminate the amount of compensation the victim receives. Insurance company delay and trial tactics usually involve one of the defenses mentioned below.
Likewise, a San Jose auto accident lawyer only has one objective: obtaining maximum compensation for your serious injuries. These serious, and often permanent, injuries include broken bones and head injuries. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages are often available as well, in some extreme cases.
Tragedies like car crashes usually have multiple causes. So, the comparative fault defense often applies in these cases. If it introduces the comparative fault defense, the insurance company has the burden of proof as well as the burden of persuasion.
Initially, an insurance company lawyer must convince the judge the defense is legally applicable. Excessive speed is a good example. If the victim was traveling 5mph over the limit, that excessive speed probably didn’t meaningfully contribute to a wreck. If the victim was traveling 25mph over the limit, that’s different.
Then, an insurance company lawyer must convince jurors of the same thing. This time, the focus isn’t on the law. Instead, it’s on the facts and circumstances of the wreck.
If the judge allows the defense and jurors agree to follow it, they must divide fault proportionally between the two parties, such as 50-50 or 60-40.
In most jurisdictions, unless the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is at least 50 or 51 percent responsible for the wreck, the victim is ineligible for compensation. But California is one of only nine pure comparative fault states. Even if the tortfeasor is only 1 percent responsible for the wreck, the victim is entitled to a proportionate share of damages.
Comparative fault could apply in almost any car crash. Sudden emergency, which is basically an enhanced form of competitive fault, often comes up in pedestrian injury claims, especially if, as is usually the case, the pedestrian wasn’t crossing in the crosswalk with the light. This legal doctrine excuses negligence if the tortfeasor:
- Reasonably reacted to
- A sudden emergency.
The “reasonable reaction” prong is usually present. After accidents, most drivers pull over, help victims if they can, and wait for emergency responders to arrive.
The “sudden emergency” prong is different. California law defines a sudden emergency as a completely unexpected situation. That definition includes occurrences like sudden, powerful wind gusts, earthquakes, and lightning strikes. Jaywalking pedestrians are everyday hazards. These events aren’t sudden emergencies.
Things get a bit complex if the pedestrian was jaywalking across a highway or in another completely unexpected location. The sudden emergency defense usually doesn’t apply in these situations, but it’s a closer call.
Last Clear Chance
Head-on and rear-end wrecks often involve the last clear chance defense. This legal doctrine excuses negligence if a driver had the last clear chance to avoid a wreck, and the driver did nothing.
Assume Ben tried to pass a vehicle in a no-passing zone. He crossed the center line and hit Jerry. More than likely, Jerry couldn’t have done anything to avoid that wreck. But if Ben was going the wrong way, perhaps because he confused an on ramp with an off ramp, Jerry probably could have gotten out of Ben’s way.
Significantly, there’s a big difference between the last clear chance and any possible chance. Traffic, environmental, and other conditions often make emergency maneuvers, like sudden lane changes, impossible.
Contact a Hard-Working Santa Clara County Attorney
Car crash claims are usually complex. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Campbell, contact the Solution Now Law Firm. We have offices in San Jose, Los Angeles, and Oakland.