Last month, an appellate court in Connecticut issued a written opinion in a car accident case showing how a plaintiff’s award after a favorable personal injury case can be reduced – sometimes unfairly. In the case, Marciano v. Jimenez, the court ultimately determined that the plaintiff’s award should not be reduced due to the right of subrogation, which may result in the insurance company seeking payment from the plaintiff for previously paid benefits.

Wrecked CarThe Right of Subrogation

After an accident, medical costs are usually incurred. Often, an insurance company, or some other “collateral source,” will pay for these costs. Later, if the injured party seeks compensation for their injuries through a personal injury lawsuit and is successful, they will receive compensation for these very same injuries.

Some of that compensation may be designated for the pain and suffering caused as a result of the accident, but other amounts will likely be awarded to reimburse the injured party for the cost of the medical treatment they needed following the accident. If a collateral source paid these medical bills, that party may seek reimbursement from the injured party. This is called subrogation. A recent case serves as a good example.

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All personal injury cases must be filed within a certain amount of time. However, plaintiffs filing certain cases against a public or government entity must also provide notice to the defendant within a much shorter amount of time in order to preserve their right to compensation. In a recent case in front of a state appellate court, the burden-shifting framework of establishing “substantial prejudice” is discussed in the context of whether a plaintiff should be permitted to proceed with a case against a public defendant that was not provided timely notice of the claim.

CrosswalkNewcomb v. Middle Country School District

Newcomb, a 16-year-old boy, was struck by a hit-and-run motorist as he was attempting to cross the street near a school. The driver was later arrested. Immediately after the accident, Newcomb’s family notified the school. The family also sent an investigator to the scene of the accident to take pictures. A month later, Newcomb asked the police department for the file it had created throughout the investigation of the accident. However, since the case was still open, Newcomb was unable to obtain the file until five months had passed.

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Earlier this month, a Georgia appellate court issued a written opinion in a product liability case brought by the wife of a man who died when one of the tires on his Ford Explorer blew out on the highway. In the case, Cooper Rubber & Tire v. Koch, the court had to determine if the plaintiff’s destruction of potentially relevant physical evidence before trial should result in her being prohibited from admitting the blown-out tire into evidence. Ultimately, the court determined that at the time the plaintiff destroyed the evidence, litigation was not foreseeable, and thus a duty to preserve the evidence did not exist.

TireThe Facts of the Case

Mr. Koch was involved in an accident while driving on Interstate 16 after one of his tires blew out. While Mr. Koch was hospitalized and in intensive care, the towing company that removed his totaled vehicle from the scene of the accident told his wife that they were incurring a daily storage fee for the vehicle. Mrs. Koch told her husband of the offer, and the two agreed to sign the title over to the towing company to satisfy her debt. Mr. Koch told his wife to make sure that the towing company “saves the tires.” However, the towing company only saved the blown out tire and discarded the three other tires, all four wheels, and the rest of the vehicle.

A few months later, Mr. Koch died while still in the hospital. Shortly after her husband’s death, Mrs. Koch filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Cooper Rubber & Tire, the manufacturer of the blown-out tire.

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There are almost an infinite number of causes of traffic accidents. While many accidents are caused by the negligence of one or more motorists, sometimes the way a road or intersection is designed is so dangerous that the government can be at fault for the dangerous design. However, in some cases, government entities are entitled to immunity from these lawsuits if the government followed certain procedures in designing and building the roadway. If a government is entitled to design immunity, a plaintiff’s lawsuit will be dismissed. A recent case illustrates how design immunity may be applied by a court.

City IntersectionGonzales v. City of Atwater:  The Facts

In 2010, Gonzales was struck and killed by a vehicle in an Atwater intersection as he was crossing the road. Gonzales’ family filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the City of Atwater as well as against the driver of the vehicle that struck Gonzales.

Throughout the trial, the city argued that it should be dismissed from the lawsuit because it was entitled to design immunity. Specifically, the city argued that it had relied on a study that was commissioned back in 2001 on how to make the intersection safer. The study came back with several suggestions, which the city implemented. Notwithstanding the city’s arguments, the trial court denied the city’s motions seeking dismissal. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury determined that the other driver was not at fault for the accident and that the City of Atwater was liable. The plaintiffs were awarded $3.2 million.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Alaska issued an opinion in a car accident case brought by the driver and passengers of one vehicle against the at-fault driver of another vehicle. In the case, Small v. Sayre, the court imposed a strict but consistently applied rule of appellate procedure that prevents an appellate court from reviewing issues to which no party objected during trial. Thus, as a result of the court’s most recent opinion, the plaintiffs will not be permitted to proceed with their appeal, and they will be stuck with the award.

Crashed CarThe Facts of the Case

The Smalls and their young daughter were idling at a traffic light when they were rear-ended by the defendant. After the accident, each of the Smalls suffered various medical conditions they attributed to the accident. Notably, Mrs. Small was told that she would need surgery for her herniated disc, but she had not yet had the surgery performed due to the cost. About a year and a half after the accident, the Smalls filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant.

At trial, the defendant conceded that he was negligent in the operation of his vehicle but contested causation. Essentially, the defendant admitted that he was at fault for the collision but argued that his negligence – and the subsequent accident – was not the cause of the plaintiffs’ medical conditions.

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Head-on collisions are some of the most serious accidents, due not only to the force involved but also to the direct impact. While there are many causes of head-on accidents, most of these accidents can be boiled down to one thing:  driver error. In cases of inclement weather, it is incumbent upon all drivers to make sure they reduce their speed to fit the weather conditions. This may mean traveling below the posted speed limit when rain, snow, or ice is present on the road.

Front-End DamageWhen a driver fails to take adequate precautions and causes an accident, that driver may be held liable to anyone injured as a result of their negligence. This often includes the drivers and passengers of other vehicles, and it also includes passengers in the negligent driver’s vehicle. In tragic cases in which a head-on accident results in the death of one or more of the people involved, a wrongful death lawsuit may be one way that aggrieved loved ones can seek compensation for their loss.

Two Dead in Gaithersburg Head-On Collision

Earlier this month, two men were killed in a mid-evening collision involving three cars. According to one local news source covering the tragedy, the accident occurred on Airpark Road in Gaithersburg at around 8:00 p.m.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a case brought by a woman who was denied insurance coverage under her own underinsured motorist policy after she was seriously injured in a drunk driving accident. In the case, Peden v. State Farm, the court concluded that since the insurance company failed to conduct a thorough investigation prior to denying the plaintiff’s claim, the company may have acted in bad faith. As a result, the court reversed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s case and permitted her to proceed toward trial against the insurance company.

VanThe Facts of the Case

Peden was injured in a drunk driving accident as a passenger in a friend’s van. On the day in question, Peden was at a birthday celebration for a friend who had just received a van from her fiancée, Mr. Graf, as a gift. At some point in the evening, several friends piled into the van so that Graf could take a picture. However, Graf unexpectedly got into the driver’s seat and took the van for a joyride while he was intoxicated. Graf crashed the van, injuring Peden, who then filed a personal injury lawsuit against him.

Both Peden and Graf were covered by a State Farm insurance policy. Initially, State Farm settled Peden’s claim involving Graf’s policy, but Peden claimed her damages were not fully covered and filed a claim under her own policy’s underinsured motorist provision. State Farm denied the claim, explaining that Peden got into the vehicle with a driver she knew to be drunk, and therefore she assumed the risk of injury.

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Car accidents happen all of the time and often result in serious injuries. Normally, an injured party can recover compensation for their injuries from another driver if the other driver was at fault for the accident. However, many drivers fail to obtain the proper insurance for their vehicles. In that situation, this means an injured motorist can only recover compensation if they have uninsured motorist coverage through their own insurance.

Car AccidentIn a recent case, a court considered a claim for uninsured motorist coverage and found the driver was able to receive his award without having it reduced by the money already paid by his insurer. The man was in a car accident with an uninsured driver and sustained serious injuries. The man had car insurance, which provided a total of $300,000 in uninsured motorist coverage and $5,000 in medical payments. His insurer paid the man’s medical bills up to the policy limit of $5,000 for medical payments in his policy. The man also made a claim for uninsured motorist coverage, but his insurer disputed the claim.

The man filed a lawsuit against his insurer for refusing to pay. The court found in his favor and awarded him over $68,000. But the court reduced the award by the $5,000 already paid by his insurer for medical bills. However, the state’s supreme court found the award should not have been reduced by $5,000. The court explained that statutory language barred the reduction in this case. As a result, the award was reinstated.

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Head-on collisions are some of the deadliest accidents because they often involve high speeds and direct impacts. In theory, head-on collisions should be rare because drivers should be able to see what is coming up ahead. However, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, there are dozens of fatal head-on collisions across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. each year.

Wooded RoadIt may come as a surprise that most head-on collisions occur on rural roads. In fact, according to one government source, approximately 83% of all fatal head-on collisions occur on undivided, two-lane, rural roads. Another surprising fact is that only 4% of all fatal head-on collisions involve one vehicle passing another. The largest number of fatal head-on collisions, by far, occurs when both vehicles are going straight, and one drifts out of its lane and into the oncoming lane.

Of course, drivers who are paying attention do not drift out of their lane and into an oncoming lane of travel. Most often, drivers who do drift out of their lane are distracted by their phone or a passenger. In some cases, drivers get drowsy behind the wheel and struggle to stay awake, drifting in and out of their lane in the process. Anyone injured by a distracted or drowsy driver may be able to seek monetary compensation through a Maryland or Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuit.

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Earlier this month in Baltimore, six people were killed and several others injured when a school bus collided with an MTA bus. According to one local news source covering the accident, there were no students on board the bus at the time of the accident, but the MTA bus did have several passengers on board.

School BusEvidently, the accident occurred when the school bus was on its way to pick up the first students of the day. It was headed east on Frederick Avenue, shortly before 7 a.m., when it rear-ended a Ford Mustang. After the initial collision, the bus continued forward, crashing into a concrete pillar before it was sent into the driver’s side of the MTA bus.

Police arrived on the scene moments after the collision. A police spokesperson explained “it literally looks like a bomb exploded on the bus.” Investigators on the scene noticed that there did not seem to be any skid marks or other indications that the school bus had tried to slow down immediately before the collision. Police are unsure what caused the driver of the school bus to lose control but do plan on speaking to a surviving school aide who was on board the bus at the time of the collision.

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