When people think of car accidents, they think of stop lights, stop signs, or even Interstate pile-ups. If they think of slipping and falling, they think of their homes, or perhaps a workplace. There’s actually one place where all of those risks combine, including the risk of being hit by a car.
Parking lots are a part of everyday life for most, and they can be a free-for-all when it comes to safety. It’s one of the few places where motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists share the same space and are often subject to the weather. Even with pandemic restrictions in place, many grocery stores, department stores, and hospitals are open to the public.
Parking Lot Danger #1: Distracted or Careless Drivers
Believe it or not, parking lots can be just as dangerous as main roadways. Many injuries that occur in parking lot accidents are the result of negligence. Speeding and distracted driving are common in parking lots – people fiddling with their seat belts, phones, navigation systems, sunroofs, windows, or dealing with shifting groceries are just a few examples.
Crashes involving two cars can occur when drivers back out of spaces or fail to yield the right of way to other drivers. The National Safety Council conducted a public opinion poll in 2016 that found:
63% of participants admitted to programming a GPS while driving in a parking lot.
56% admitted to texting and driving in a parking lot.
52% admitted to using social media.
50% admitted to reading emails.
49% admitted to taking pictures or watching videos.
How many of us are guilty of fiddling with a mask these days, as well?
Low Impact Car Accidents in Parking Lots Can Lead to Serious Injuries
There is a common misconception that if there is little car damage in a low-impact crash, then it’s unlikely that an injury occurred. The attorneys at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin often see injuries occur in low impact parking lot crashes. For example, a rear-end collision or side-impact crash that occurs in a parking lot can lead to whiplash, neck and back injuries, soft tissue injuries, and concussions.
Plus, how many people fail to buckle up until they’re moving? Some people don’t fasten their seat belts until they’re leaving the lot – and that lack of restraint could lead to injuries in low speed car accidents as well. And we’re just talking about the people in cars.
Even if you feel fine after a parking lot accident or your initial injuries seem minor, it’s important that you get medical help as soon as possible. A medical evaluation may reveal an injury that you were not aware of at the time of your accident. Some injuries can take several days to produce symptoms.
Parking Lot Danger #2: Pedestrians and Cyclists Not Paying Attention
While accidents involving two cars may result in injuries, pedestrians and cyclists are at a far greater risk. As much as it is a driver’s responsibility to watch what they are doing, pedestrians should be especially alert – they have the greatest risk of injury.
Many parking lots are poorly lit and lack walking areas specifically designated for pedestrians. Many modern cars have cameras and warning sensors, but that doesn’t entirely eliminate crashes or injuries – technology is not infallible. Some drivers trust too much in the technology when a simple glance could prevent certain injuries from ever happening.
Pedestrians and cyclists also don’t have the protection of a vehicular frame if they’re hit by a car. They’re not restrained by seatbelts or protected by airbags. As a result, the injuries they sustain in parking lot accidents are more likely to be severe.
For example, pedestrians and cyclists can sustain injuries such as:
Traumatic brain injuries
Serious spinal injuries
In spite of all of that, people still walk down the middle of the travel lanes, cut between cars where drivers can’t see them, sort through groceries or purchases, talk to each other, and pay more attention to their phones than the two-ton automobiles that could run them over.
Parking Lot Danger #3: Slips and Falls
How many times have you nearly fallen in a parking lot because of a curb or concrete wheel stop in a parking space? Or a pothole, or other uneven surface? Or a slick surface due to rain, ice, or oil?
Slips and falls aren’t always a product of being clumsy or inattentive. Maybe the parking lot is poorly lit and you trip on something you couldn’t see in the darkness. Maybe the pavement is in poor condition and you turn an ankle in a depression and fall. Or maybe the drainage is poor and causing water to pool. You might slip in a puddle or step in what you think is a shallow puddle only to find it much deeper, causing you to fall.
The owners of these lots are responsible for maintaining a reasonably safe environment, and for warning patrons if a dangerous condition exists. If negligent maintenance contributed to a slip and fall accident causing injury in a parking lot, you may be entitled to compensation through a personal injury case!
Parking Lot Injuries and Workers Compensation
Whether you’re in North Carolina or South Carolina, there are laws in place to protect workers. Most employers are required by the state to carry workers’ compensation insurance. As a result, if you’re injured in a parking lot while you’re carrying out work duties, you may be entitled to compensation in the form of workers’ compensation – in addition to a possible personal injury claim against the lot’s owner if the injury was caused by negligent maintenance or lack of proper warning.
There are some interesting rules about when an employee is and is not covered. It will depend on your state, your job, and why you were in the parking lot in the first place. It’s probably best to consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if you have any questions about your specific circumstance.
Protecting Yourself After a Parking Lot Accident
If you were injured in a parking lot accident, your life could become a series of overwhelming challenges. You could be facing a long rehabilitation period, be out of work for months and unable to support your family. You may never be able to work again.
The negligent party who injured you may very well deny any responsibility. He or she, in fact, may blame you, adding to your worries as you try to navigate your way through the legal system. An insurance company, knowing you may be financially desperate, may make a lowball settlement offer to save itself money.
Before signing away your rights, contact the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin to protect your rights, and help you seek the maximum compensation you may deserve. We have been handling personal injury cases for decades. We know how the legal system works and how to take on large insurance companies that do not want to pay you and your family for your injuries, suffering, and financial losses.
According to U-Pack.com, while most of the road is normal and easy to traverse, the 11 mile Tail of the Dragon is another ballgame entirely. Popular with more adventurous drivers, the windy stretch of highway is an all-too-frequent locale for motorcycle and (despite a big rig ban) truck accidents.
It’s not just U-Pack stepping on 129’s Tail. Conde Nast’s Traveler has it on its list of “extreme drives,” categorizing it as one of the scariest highways. Suspicious of the 318 curves legend, Traveler still acknowledges it’s “a darned twisty road.” But these aren’t your run-of-the-mill bends. “With monikers like Pearly Gates, Brake or Bust Bend, and Gravity Cavity, you can tell these twists are dead serious.”
You finally made it to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina to ride the Tail of the Dragon. The Dragon is an amazing ride, so it’s easy to understand why it is so popular with bikers and other motorists. In addition to the grandiose scenery, there are no intersecting roads to interrupt the ride or drive. But the price of popularity is that the Dragon is more crowded and busy now than ever before. And more vehicles means more danger to bikers.
According to USA Today, the Tail of the Dragon gets about 1,200 vehicles visiting per day. With hundreds of blind curves and crests, even the most experienced drivers and riders can quickly find themselves in trouble. The speed limit for the North Carolina portion of the Tail of the Dragon was lowered to 30mph in early 2005. You can decide for yourself how effective speed limits signs are likely to be on a road for speed enthusiasts.
Deputies monitor and patrol the road frequently, trying to reduce the number of crashes. Prevention is ideal, as the remote location means emergency services take a long time to get there after a crash. Waiting for the ambulance to arrive and then waiting for transfer to a hospital or trauma center can take hours.
Unpredictable Road Conditions
Sun to snowfall and back can happen in the blink of an eye. Unpredictable and harsh weather from about November through March makes a dangerous road even more challenging. The remote road can mean encountering any or all of the following during your trip:
Unplowed/unsalted ice and snow
Wildlife in the road, like bears and boars
Road obstructions, like downed trees
Tractor-trailers in both lanes
Bustling Motorcycle Haven
Riders love taking on famed US 129, the Tail of the Dragon. Motorcycle Roads touts the ride as “legendary,” the most famous motorcycle road in the world, and the road most consistently rated as number one by motorcyclists.
Not surprisingly, the highway sees a lot of accidents. For the five year period ending in 2019, more than 450 crashes happened on the Tail of the Dragon. Thankfully, deaths on the Dragon don’t usually reach more than a handful per year due to the low speeds. But there are many possible consequences to a crash beyond a full-fledged fatality.
For riders sharing the narrow road with full-sized cars, the dangers can’t be ignored or always avoided. Even on regular roads, cops have an acronym for cars crashing into motorcycles negligently: LBFS — “looked but failed to see” accidents. If that’s the case on straight roads, imagine the danger across hundreds of cambered curves. And, remember, drivers are there for the sights, not to show their mastery of road awareness.
There is even a morbid marker to warn riders of the dangers of disrespecting the road and its many occupants. The “Tree of Shame” at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort has its own bit of fame and notoriety. The tree is covered in parts from motorcycles that have crashed and been “bitten by the Dragon” over the years.
Even at relatively low speeds, there are many injuries you can suffer from a collision on the Tail of the Dragon motorcycle ride. These include:
Leg injuries, such as sprains, breaks, and amputations
Head injuries, such as concussions and brain damage
There is a lot more to know about motorcycle wrecks and what to do following an injury. Recruit medical and legal professionals to your side to help you try to recover as best as possible.
Trucks Trying to Traverse the Tail
This road used to be a popular shortcut for truckers when I-40 was blocked. After so many incidents involving semis, authorities completely restricted large commercial vehicles from using the road by 2015. Still, much like speed enthusiasts and their dubious dedication to observing speed limits, truckers’ dedication to saving time on their routes might cause them to disregard the letter of the law.
Curves can be a deadly factor in North Carolina truck accidents. Curves are especially dangerous for truck drivers because they can’t accelerate at a regular speed. Instead, they are generally accelerating and braking at every single curve. This makes it challenging for cars and motorcycles behind truckers on the road, because it requires constant attention and reactions. And more novice truckers may not be familiar with the kind of strategies it takes to maneuver a road like US 129.
In addition, trucks tend to drift into other lanes while negotiating sharp curves. For oncoming traffic, this is incredibly dangerous. And since the narrowness of US 129 doesn’t allow for much shoulder space to move out of the way of a drifting truck, this can lead to deadly accidents for other drivers.
Taming the Dragon
If you tackle the Tail, please be safe. Here are some planning tips from our resident experienced biker who has tamed the Dragon:
Never ride the Dragon alone; always have a buddy.
Make sure to allot enough time to finish the ride while it’s still light – especially if it’s your first time on the Dragon.
Don’t ride the Dragon when you’re tired. You need to be alert and focused for hours.
The Dragon is less crowded on weekdays, so avoid weekends if possible.
Avoid bad weather; a tight, curvy road with limited visibility is a lot less fun – and a lot more dangerous – when the weather is poor.
If You’ve Been “Bitten by the Dragon”
Safe driving is dependent on many factors — including those out of your control, like other drivers. When other drivers or riders take blind corners without sufficient skill, collisions resulting in serious injuries or even death will occur eventually. Trucking accidents can occur for a number of reasons, ranging from driver distraction to fatigue or driving while intoxicated (DWI). And being involved in an accident with a truck is especially dangerous because of their sheer size. Truck wrecks are not just big car wrecks.
People who have been injured will often come to us after they have tried to deal with the insurance companies themselves.
They may be frustrated with the lack of timely response from insurance adjusters. Some tell us the insurance company will not offer them enough to cover their medical expenses and other damages. Sometimes people are simply overwhelmed by the amount of phone calls, paperwork, follow-up, and bureaucracy just to try to get the insurance company to cover damages.
We know how they feel. We have many people here who play paper chase with the insurance companies every day.
There are some statements we often hear from people who call us for help. These are people who have never dealt with insurance adjusters and claims-filing entities. We work with these types every day. (Some of us used to work on the other side!) Here are five statements we hear and the accompanying things the “friendly” insurance adjuster and “good neighbor” insurance company may not want you to know.
1. The Insurance Adjuster Handling My Case Seems Very Nice and Is Even Willing to Settle as Soon as Possible. But the Settlement Amount Is So Low.
You should never rely on the adjuster or the insurance company as your friends. Most insurance companies are in business to make money. The less money the adjuster offers you to pay your damages, the more money insurance companies keep for themselves. Fact is, it is part of an insurance adjuster’s job description to offer you as little as possible. Adjusters may seem pleasant and sympathetic to your circumstances. Perhaps they are. But the bottom line is you are not signing their paychecks.
Adjusters go through intensive training programs to learn the art of negotiation. They can get very detailed, even covering the psychological aspects of negotiating in many instances.
Most insurance companies have auditing systems that show how much their adjusters paid out to claimants, based on the medical reports and what they can mitigate in their claimants’ files. Sometimes the adjuster’s pay can be tied to whether or not they meet the criteria the company has devised as “best practices” for payouts.
2. My Adjuster Said a Lawyer Won’t Do Anything More for Me Other Than Drag My Case On and On.
An insurance company may say that because they do not want you to hire a lawyer. If you hire a lawyer, they know they may potentially have to pay you more money. They know we know information that can help you. Insurance companies may sometimes call us ambulance chasers, sharks, greedy, and all kinds of names to try to prevent you from getting legal advice.
And they are unlikely to want to go to court to try your case in front of a jury. Insurance companies do not like uncertainty. And juries are by their very nature an uncertainty. We will go to court in a heartbeat if we think it will help you get the compensation you may deserve. Is that something the insurance companies want to hear?
3. My Pre-Existing Shoulder Condition Prohibits Them From Paying Me for the Full Extent of My Shoulder, Neck, and Back Injuries.
Ah! The pre-existing condition. That’s an oldie goldie. Some of our employees used to be insurance adjusters. Here’s what one of them had to say about this tactic:
“As a former insurance adjuster, our job was to gather the evidence and point out all the potential negatives to try to reduce the payout. If a claimant had a prior neck problem, and the wreck caused an injury to their neck, we would argue that they may have caused aggravation to the neck so we would not offer 100%. Same with degenerative issues. We would focus on that to reduce payout.”
The reality is a pre-existing condition may have no bearing on your new injury at all.
4. My Adjuster Told Me That After I Pay an Attorney’s Fee, I Would Probably Get Less Than Their Offer.
An insurance adjuster might try to get you to buy into all kinds of assumptions. They are highly trained professional negotiators. They might challenge you to take them to court. “You just wait and see,” they might say, acting like they welcome the chance. They might play the “take it or leave it” or “that’s my final offer” card. They might try to confuse you with all kinds of data and analyses and algorithms their statisticians have determined are “reasonable and fair” based on your medical bills and circumstances.
The list of deny and delay tactics is long. Yet it is effective in many instances! We don’t scare. (And we understand their algorithms.) If it’s in your best interest, we don’t back down.
5. The Insurance Company Said To Go Ahead and Take Them To Court. Facts Are Facts, and in My Case, the Facts Are Against Me.
Court is expensive. That is among the main reasons insurance companies typically want to settle your case quickly. Yet they may not let on that they would rather settle than go to court in most cases. Even so, they may still discount the amount they potentially owe you for damages. They may be assuming that you have no idea what you are potentially owed. They may try to make you believe they can only compensate you for medical expenses and not other damages, which may include the following:
You aren’t likely to hear those options voluntarily from the adjuster. But you will from us. And then some.
Insurance Companies Keep Millions by Limiting Payouts
The bottom line is that many insurance companies are all about their bottom line. They hold millions, and in some cases billions, of dollars in reserves and earn interest and dividends on these assets. Many also have shareholders to answer to – large major shareholders like investment banks and mutual fund firms. Shareholders like to keep investing in profitable companies.
Sadly, it boils down to this. The insurance company is taking care of the shareholder and investor. The adjuster is taking care of the insurance company who gives them a consistent paycheck. Who is taking care of you?
You need to take care of you. We can help. Make sure you take care of your interests by consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney who knows how to deal with these issues.
Why Choose James Scott Farrin for Personal Injury, Workers’ Comp, or Social Security Disability Claims?
It starts with great people. We have over 50 accomplished attorneys, many of whom have won awards for their service and advocacy inside and outside the courtroom, including Best Lawyers “Best Lawyers in America,” 2021 list,3 “Lawyer of the Year” from Best Lawyers for 2017,4 “Super Lawyer” 20215 list by Super Lawyers, and Business North Carolina’s “Legal Elite” list for 2021.6
They’ve authored books, spoken at seminars for other attorneys, and some are sought by the media for their legal expertise. All are advocates dedicated to fighting tooth and nail for each and every client.
We’ve gone to great lengths to help make sure we know how the “other side” operates by hiring attorneys who’ve represented insurance companies and large major corporations.
We also have attorneys who are bilingual (as are many of our paralegals and staff).
Experienced Accident Attorneys Evaluate Your Case FREE
If you’re getting the run-around from your insurance adjuster or feel your best interests are not being considered, contact us or call 1-866-900-7078.
We’re all too familiar with the narrative of 2020. A global pandemic, lockdown orders, and social distancing. And yet, in a time when a great many people were working remotely – if at all – the roads were arguably more dangerous, despite fewer vehicles being on the road. The National Safety Council (NSC) reported in March that traffic deaths in 2020 totaled 42,060 people, an 8% increase from 2019 and the first rise in the rate in four years.
How can that happen? We saw the numbers for North Carolina, and it made us wonder what could possibly be contributing to this phenomenon. What are the numbers, and what drove the sky-high fatality rates on roads that were far less congested than they had been in years? The numbers tell a story, but the story behind them may be even more shocking.
When stay-at-home orders came into effect in March 2020, the amount of traffic on roads worldwide dropped significantly. In a report from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, observed traffic for the period from March 2020 to October 2020 was down significantly from pre-COVID projections.
The graph shows a steady decline in overall traffic (actual miles traveled in red) versus what was projected (projected miles traveled in blue). In March, there were 19% fewer vehicle miles traveled than projected in North Carolina. In April, the deficit was 42%.
There were simply fewer cars on the road, and the trend wasn’t limited to North Carolina. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) compiles monthly reports of traffic volume on the roads that it regulates. For March and April of 2020, volume was down 18.6% in March and 39.8% in April versus the same time period in 2019.
So, traffic was down. Fewer cars were on the road. Logically, fewer cars on the road meant fewer car crashes. But, even with dramatically reduced traffic, traffic fatalities generally rose. While the NCDOT’s annual compilation of crash statistics for each year is published in the subsequent November, some statistics are already available, including the crash and injury totals.
North Carolina Had Significantly Fewer Crashes in 2020
In North Carolina, the number of vehicle crashes for 2020 was 272,310, down more than 14% from 318,444 in 2019.
North Carolina Crashes With Injuries Decreased in 2020
Meanwhile, injuries resulting from crashes dropped dramatically to 104,967, down more than 16% from 125,434 in 2019. So far, so good.
North Carolina Crash Fatalities in 2020 Highest in More Than a Decade
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. While accidents and injuries were down year-over-year, fatalities sharply increased to 1,650 in 2020, an increase of more than 11% over 2019’s total of 1,479.
Comparing North Carolina to the Rest of the Country: Startling Trends
The statistic that may be most jarring of all is the rate of fatalities compared to vehicle miles traveled, which is usually expressed in millions. In North Carolina, the rate for 2020 was 1.52 fatalities per 100 million VMT. In 2019, that rate was 1.21. That means fatalities per 100 million VMT increased more than 25% in 2020.
That revelation led us to question what the national trend might be. Was North Carolina an outlier? Or was it indicative of a much broader crisis? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) compiles these stats by quarter, and gives a more complete view of the effect along with the context of when things really changed. With stay-at-home orders largely beginning in March – late Q1 – the change between COVID and non-COVID time is even more pronounced.
So, even though there were fewer cars on the road and fewer crashes overall, the rate at which people were being killed in those crashes increased profoundly. Why?
As is usually the case with such a widespread and dramatic statistical change – one that looks like an anomaly at a glance – there are many contributing factors. While some are speculative, the circumstantial evidence is convincing.
COVID Response Measures By Government Agencies
Hidden behind the stay-at-home orders, essential workers, and stimulus checks, the wheels of government were turning. A special report compiled by the NHTSA noted some decisions that likely played a significant role in the carnage to come.
Law Enforcement Agencies Deliberately Reduced Traffic Enforcement
According to the NHTSA’s analysis, through September of 2020, 65% of the first responders who died as a result of COVID were in law enforcement. In response to the risks posed to officers, law enforcement agencies responded with procedural changes.
“According to a survey released by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (Lum et al., 2020), more than half of the more than 1,000 responding agencies established policies explicitly reducing proactive enforcement including traffic enforcement, in both March and May 2020 when the survey was fielded, and nearly three-quarters had policies mandating the reduction in physical arrests for minor offenses.” –NHTSA Special Report: Examination of the Traffic Safety Environment During the Second Quarter of 2020
Meanwhile, NHTSA Regional Administrators were being informed by state law enforcement agencies about reduced enforcement of seat belt, impaired driving, and speeding laws. State entities were also investigating fewer crashes than normal. As noted previously, state data suggested that while the number of crashes investigated had dropped, the number of fatalities had increased in some places.
The key takeaway here is that the police were relaxing their criteria for traffic stops in order to reduce their contact with the public as a safety measure for both themselves and the communities they served. Offenses and risky driving behaviors that would normally result in someone being pulled over went unpunished.
Licensing Agencies Relaxed Rules and Suspended Testing Requirements
At the same time, many state agencies in charge of drivers’ licenses closed or drastically reduced their hours, and put emergency measures in place. According the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, some of these measures included extending commercial licenses that were due to expire, reducing or eliminating road tests for new license applicants, and allowing novice drivers to receive full licenses without the requirement of a road test.
Drivers who may have needed to re-test, had their license limitations altered, or who simply had no quantifiable on-road experience were being set loose on roads with reduced enforcement measures in place.
Federal Trucking Regulations Were Relaxed
As the country began to lock down and supply shortages hit hospitals and supermarkets alike, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an emergency declaration suspending many long-haul trucking regulations governing hours of service. Those regulations have been in place since the 1930s, and were aimed at keeping fatigued truckers off America’s roads.
The change was likely intended to enable the logistical networks and distributors across the country to operate at increased capacity when shortages were becoming alarmingly common. According to data published by the American Trucking Association in 2019, 71.4% of all freight travels over the road. Opening the taps, so to speak, by lifting regulation makes sense from that point of view.
And even if truckers on U.S. roads wanted to rest, they would have reduced opportunities to do so. Many rest areas, truck stops, and restaurants were closed due to COVID mandates. Combine these issues with apparently reduced enforcement and you have a recipe for dangerous roads.
Human Nature: Give Them an Inch…
There are certain behavioral trends that are easily predictable. The old saying, “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile,” is a commentary on how people are prone to push boundaries. When existing rules are relaxed, people will push the envelope to find out how much they can get away with.
The NHTSA offers a theory regarding the psychology here, specifically about risk aversion. More risk-averse people are more likely to have reduced their driving and stayed home. Less risk-averse people were more likely to continue their routines and not reduce their trips. Less risk-averse people are, logically, more inclined to engage in risky behaviors like speeding or driving without a seat belt.
“In short, the stay-at-home orders may have led the population of drivers during the height of the health crisis to have been smaller but more willing to take risks.” –NHTSA Special Report: Examination of the Traffic Safety Environment During the Second Quarter of 2020
Psychologists have found that many drivers normalize low-level speeding. Drivers are also prone to be biased toward their own driving skills. Research gives us a great deal of warning as to what behaviors we can expect and from whom. Male and younger drivers are particularly prone to “optimism bias” toward their own driving skills, and younger drivers are more likely to speed.
Now, to compound, research also shows that drivers may determine how fast to drive by cues from the road or surroundings. For example, if general traffic is going 70mph in a 60mph zone, drivers may adjust their speeds to match their peers. In this way, speeding becomes, itself, epidemic.
As we noted in a blog from May 2020, enforcement agencies were already seeing a marked increase in speeding, sometimes to levels bordering on ridiculous. A few highlighted stories from those early days of the lockdown foreshadow the fatality statistics from the year:
The Colorado State Patrol issued more citations for 20+ mph over and 40+ mph over the speed limit through March 2020 than it did in March 2019, despite reduced traffic volume.
For the one-month period starting on March 19 when California’s stay-at-home order was put in place, the California Highway Patrol reports it issued 87% more citations for drivers exceeding 100mph than it did for the same period a year ago – 2,493 statewide versus 1,335 a year ago – despite a 35% reduction in traffic volume (or perhaps because of it).
In New York, automated speed cameras issued 24,765 speeding tickets on March 27, almost twice as many as the daily average a month before despite there being fewer cars on the road.
Even after the initial lockdown, data indicates that increases in collisions between August and October 2020 outpaced the growth in travel in the top 25 metro areas in the U.S. That means that as more people rejoined the roads, accidents were happening at an even greater rate.
The NHTSA report summarizes what the data shows: “Reductions in roadway volumes and associated congestion result in higher average travel speeds and greater speed variability.”
Add to that, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) showed that even a nominal increase in speed reduces the ability of even modern cars to protect occupants. Crash tests are typically carried out at lower speeds than most U.S. Interstates allow.
Drivers Unbuckled – More Crashes Resulting in Ejections
According to data from the NHTSA, and supporting its theory regarding less risk-averse drivers, there were increases in the instances of unbelted drivers being killed in accidents. For the period from January 1 – May 21, 2020, the state of Virginia recorded a 15.4% increase in the number of fatalities involving unrestrained motorists versus the same period in 2019. Minnesota also recorded an increase.
As a surrogate for disparate data from each state, the NHTSA uses ejection rate as a measure of unrestrained drivers and passengers in motor vehicles, as they are by far the most likely to suffer an ejection during a crash. Expressed in “ejections per 100 crashes,” the weeks following the lockdown saw significant increases over previous years.
More Drivers Were Likely Under the Influence
Continuing to support the NHTSA’s theory of the roads being populated with drivers who were less risk-averse, the data suggests that alcohol consumption overall increased during the lockdown. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus to be a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. By March 27, more than half of the U.S. population was subject to a stay-at-home order. Between the weeks of March 22 and March 29, 2020, alcohol sales skyrocketed.
According to a study by Mercato, for those weeks, online orders of liquor rose 204%, wine rose 200%, and beer rose 159%. The further into the lockdown we went, the more sales increased. For the week of May 17, 2020, liquor sales increased 1,244%. Beer sales grew by 636%.
Those numbers are surprising, but when put into the context, they paint a more dire picture. Less risk-averse drivers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors on the road, including driving under the influence. The NHTSA cites a study on drug prevalence among road users conducted September 2019 through July 2020, using March 17 as the fulcrum between pre- and post-COVID measures being in place. The study measured severely or fatally injured road users from five trauma centers.
While these statistics apply primarily to Q2 2020, they’re a significant insight into the kinds of drivers that tended to take to US roads during the pandemic, and the data correlates to the NHSTA’s theory of there being more drivers on the road who were less risk-averse.
Conclusions and What We Can Learn
The NHTSA has gathered and analyzed massive amounts of data – and the report we cited did not even cover the entirety of 2020. The agency was not, however, alone in its analysis. Other studies were performed. Data continues to be compiled, but the more we see, the clearer the picture becomes.
It was a perfect storm, in a manner of speaking. It’s plausible that the general anxiety over the pandemic distracted the more risk-averse people from more immediate threats, including those on the road. People who were less risk-averse, and did not appreciably alter their behaviors, were more likely to be on those roads more often and were more likely to engage in behaviors including impaired driving and not wearing their seat belts.
That’s a very plausible recipe for the increase in fatalities and fatality rates, and the circumstantial evidence is incredibly strong.
Hindsight, and How Planning Ahead Saves Lives
The lesson here could very well be that the world simply was not prepared for a pandemic. Governments across the globe, including the U.S., simply could not cope with the scope and speed of the virus. There were so many alterations in how different entities and agencies operated and responded through the crisis that it’s difficult to tell which dominoes fell when, and how many followed.
Overall, the failure to see past the immediate effects of response measures – which appeared in many cases to be reactionary rather than planned – almost certainly played a significant role. Reducing regulation and enforcement allowed for certain behaviors with the omission of consequence.
This experience has taught us all many things, about ourselves and how we interact with others. While data is still flowing on the real effects of the virus on traffic fatalities, it’s already clear that fatalities were unusually high for the low volume of traffic and accidents. We can only hope that we can apply what we’ve learned in response to future crises, and avoid triggering a similarly tragic year on the road.
Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers. When teen drivers have other passengers in the car, the risk of a fatal car crash doubles. And teenagers are more prone to have a collision during the first months of licensure. Now, North Carolina roads may see an influx of teen drivers who have not even had a road test.
New Law Puts Untested Teen Drivers on NC Roads
Governor Roy Cooper recently signed a bill that allows teen drivers to get their limited driver’s license without a road test during the coronavirus pandemic. House Bill 158 permits the NC Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to temporarily waive the requirement of a road test for young drivers attempting to obtain a Level 2 limited provisional license. The road test will now be administered after 6 months of violation-free driving with their provisional license. According to the NC DMV the road test will be waived provided that the teen drivers meet the following criteria:
Be 16 or 17 years old
Have their Level 1 Limited Learner Permit for at least 12 months
Have completed at least 60 hours of supervised driving, including time at night
Have no moving violations or seat belt/cell phone violations within the last six months
Have coverage under a liability insurance policy
Rules of Level 2 Limited Provisional License
If the above criteria are met, the teen driver will be able to get their Level 2 Limited Provisional License. However, there are still several regulations that drivers must abide by, including:
Drivers must be at least 16 years old, but less than 18.
Drivers may drive without supervision from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. and at any time when driving directly to or from work or any volunteer fire, rescue, or EMS activities.
Supervising driver must be seated beside the driver during restricted times.
Only one passenger under the age of 21 is allowed in a motor vehicle when the driver is the holder of a Level 2 license.
There is no limit on passengers under the age of 21 if all passengers in the vehicle are members of the driver’s immediate family or members of the same household as the driver.
If there is a supervising driver in the car, the passenger restriction/limit does not apply.
As mentioned above, parents have a stake in ensuring their teens are qualified to be on the road, because they can be sued directly if an accident occurs. Parental liability is created under the doctrine of negligent entrustment, which says a parent can be liable when their teen causes a car accident if the parent knew, or should have known, that the teen driver was a danger to others on the road.
With driving road tests being waived, this exposes many parents to liability. For example, if you give your teen driver minimal highway driving experience and then allowed them to drive on the highway with the level 2 license, and they cause an accident. In this situation, the parents are potentially liable for any damages resulting from the accident.
Parents can also be on the hook for an accident their child caused through the legal doctrine of vicarious liability. Through vicarious liability, the parent will be liable for the wrongdoing of their teen driver if the driver is acting under direction and authority of the parent. In North Carolina, under vicarious liability, parents can be held liable if their teen driver causes a car accident while fulfilling any family “purpose” or “use.” This purpose can be almost anything, as long as the parent has control over the teen driver’s use of the car.
For instance, if a parent asks the teen driver to go to the gas station to fill up the car, the parent could be liable if the teen were to cause an accident during that drive.
NC Personal Injury Lawyers Evaluate Your Case FREE
If you are injured in an accident caused by a teen driver, you may be entitled to compensation. As you can tell, getting in an accident with a teen driver can be a very complicated legal situation. That’s where we can help. Here at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we have experienced North Carolina car accident attorneys who know how to navigate complicated legal problems like these. For a FREE case evaluation, call us today at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online and chat with a live representative.
It is a Monday morning. Everyone is coming off the weekend – some are eager to start the week, speeding along. Others are overtired and distracted, not quite giving their full attention to the road. Some are running late, rushing and careless. All of these scenarios have the potential to lead to the same result: a car accident.
While distracted, fatigued, or careless drivers are bad enough, there are intersections that pose a statistically higher risk as well.
Intersections are naturally a high-risk area and, as the statistics show, some intersections are worse than others. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), more than 50 percent of the combined total of fatal and injury crashes occur at or near intersections. As such, drivers should take note of the most dangerous intersections in North Carolina.
The Top 10 Most Dangerous Intersections in North Carolina
Based on the 2019 HISP data, the intersections in North Carolina with the highest number of crashes were as follows:
US 29 at NC 24 (Mecklenburg County – 272 collisions)
NC 49 at SR 2827 (Mecklenburg County – 215 collisions)
US 17 at SR 1309 (Craven County – 180 collisions)
US 17 at US 17 Bus (Craven County – 162)
US 64 WB Couplet at US 25 Bus (Henderson County – 162)
US 1 at SR 3977 (Wake County – 151)
NC 160 at SR 5901 (Mecklenburg County – 141)
Corporation at New Hope (MP 3.60) (Wake County – 131)
NC 53 at SR 1308 (Onslow County – 129)
Corporation at New Hope (MP 3.76) (Wake County – 121)
Highway Safety Program and its Initiative to Help Drivers Stay Safe
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) pioneered the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) to provide precisely this type of data, with the hope of “addressing specific traffic safety concerns throughout the state.”
Through HISP, NCDOT compiled the above data from the potentially hazardous intersection locations in each county. From that, we gathered the 10 most dangerous intersections overall across the state. While this data reflects where crashes are occurring, we are still left with one glaring question: why?
Factors Contributing to Intersection Crashes
According to a 2010 study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are several factors that contribute to intersection crashes – both related to the crashes themselves (such as traffic control, weather conditions, and pre-crash events) and the drivers.
So what can you do to avoid a crash? The study found that drivers’ errors were critical causes in 96% of crashes at intersections. The most frequent reasons (in order from most prevalent to least) were inattentive driving, making a false assumption of other’s action, turning with an obstructed view, performing an illegal maneuver, distraction, and misjudgment of other’s speed. As such, exercising safe, attentive driving is critical.
The study also found the following characteristics to be particularly distinguishable:
Age: Specific driving errors were most commonly found in certain age groups. For example, intersection crashes involving those 24 and younger are most often attributed to distraction, false assumption of other’s action, or aggressive driving. Crashes involving drivers ranging in age from 25-54, on the other hand, are likely due to physical impairment (for example: sleeping, heart attack, etc.), illegal maneuvers, inattention and aggressive driving. Finally, crashes involving drivers 55 and older are often caused by inattentive driving and misjudgment of other’s speed.
Gender: 1% of crashes involving female drivers were at intersections, while 32.2% of crashes involving male drivers were at intersections. Furthermore, intersection crashes involving female drivers are often attributed to inattention and internal or external distractions. In contrast, crashes involving male drivers are most likely caused by illegal maneuvers, aggressive driving, or physical impairment.
North Carolina Car Accident Lawyers
If you find yourself in a car accident – anywhere in North Carolina, intersection or not – The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin is ready to help you. We will evaluate your case for free, and we do not collect an attorney’s fee unless we get compensation for you.2
Being involved in a car accident is stressful enough, and when your child is also in the car, the situation can be even scarier.
We all want to protect our children from danger, but in a car accident, their wellbeing can be out of our control. When put in that terrible situation, we all want to ensure that our children are okay – both physically and emotionally – but it can be hard to know what to do.
Here are some steps you can take after your child is involved in a car accident.
Seeking Medical Attention is Essential!
Seeking medical attention as soon as possible is vital after a car accident. Regardless of the severity of the accident, it is important that you seek medical attention for your child: both for the child’s safety, and to ensure that you have complete documentation if you choose to file an insurance claim. However, you can evaluate the severity of the accident to decide whether an ER trip or pediatrician visit is more appropriate.
If your child is unconscious after the accident or has serious injuries, take them to the ER immediately. However, if your child does not have serious injuries and the car accident was minor, consider taking your child to their pediatrician instead. If you’re unable to get a last-minute appointment at your child’s pediatrician, take your child to an urgent care clinic, as it could ensure that your child receives medical attention quickly without having to go to the ER.
If you were also involved in the accident, make sure to seek medical attention for yourself as well. Even though your child feels like your first priority, you could have also incurred injuries in the accident, and your child is much better off when their parent is healthy.
Is your child reacting to the car accident in a normal way?
Directly after the crash, do you notice your child crying? Believe it or not, after an accident, hearing your child cry is a good thing. Crying does not necessarily mean that your child is in pain, but it does immediately signal that they have not lost consciousness and were not stunned by the crash.
In the days following the accident, keep an eye on your child’s emotional reaction to the crash. Even if they experienced little or no physical injuries, their psychological health is also vital, so it is important to pay attention to their behavior and try to understand how they are responding. Depending on their age, the child will respond differently, so keep that in mind when trying to figure out if their response to the crash is normal. According to the State Insurance Regulatory Authority,
A normal response from a child between the ages of 0-6 might include:
reverting to behavior from an earlier developmental period
If your child is between the ages of 6-12, a normal response might include:
avoiding talking about the crash
Acting more combative towards parents
worrying about their family’s wellbeing more than usual
For a child between the ages of 13-18, a normal response might include:
having a hard time sleeping and focusing on schoolwork
experiencing mood swings
avoiding social events
experiencing a change in school performance
overanalyzing their reaction to the crash
If you notice that your child is reacting to the accident in a way that does not correspond to the normal responses for their age range, be sure to discuss their reactions with a medical professional.
It’s also important to remember that you are probably feeling just as shaken up as your child, so make sure to take care of yourself and monitor your own response to the accident. Your child is happier and safer when you are also doing well.
These Physical Symptoms Could Indicate Injury in your Child
After seeking medical attention, you’ll want to make sure your child is healthy, or begins recovering. According to NBC News’s Today.com, there are specific symptoms to look out for in a child after a car accident, and if your child experiences more than two, you should contact a medical professional again. These symptoms include:
Loss of consciousness
Lack of appetite
Lack of interest in toys
Bleeding from nose, mouth, or ears
Lack of strength
Five Things You Can Do to Help Your Child Return to Normal Life
Do these five things to help your child readjust to normal life:
Talk about the accident, but keep it in the past. Make it clear to your child that they are safe now.
Remember to focus on the positives when talking to your child about the accident. Instead of pointing out what went wrong, discuss how well they reacted and praise them for other positive behavior to make sure they don’t dwell on the negative aspects of the crash.
Keep to your normal routine, as this will bring your child comfort and help them feel safe and secure.
Do activities with your child. Spend time with them and do fun things with them, like completing a puzzle, going for a walk, or watching a movie.
Don’t be overprotective with your child. This could cause more harm than good – your child needs to know that they are safe now and that the danger has passed.
Don’t Forget about Car Seats!
If you experienced a minor accident, replacing their car seat might not be necessary. However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an accident is only minor if:
the car seat does not seem damaged
no one involved in the accident was hurt
the airbags did not deploy
you were able to drive the vehicle away
the door nearest the car seat was not damaged
If your accident does not fit these criteria, replace your child’s car seat with a new one for their safety.
Seek Legal Help from the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin
At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we know how hard it is to recover from a traumatic car accident, especially when children are involved. You don’t have to go through this alone, and we’re here to help.
You or your child could be entitled to compensation for your injuries, so after taking the necessary steps to ensure your safety, contact an experienced North Carolina personal injury lawyer. We’re ready to help you fight for the compensation you may deserve.
If you or your child were injured in an auto accident, don’t hesitate to call the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin for a free case evaluation at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online.
Are you driving through some of the deadliest highways and intersections in the Triangle and don’t know it? What areas do you need to be driving defensively?
The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, also known as “The Triangle,” continues to experience a population growth. Over the past 10 years, Wake County’s population has grown by 26%. Compared to other counties in the U.S. at the last census, Wake County is only second to Austin, Texas in terms of top fastest growing counties with 1,000,000+ residents. Between 2010 to 2015, Raleigh’s population grew by 14%!
Unfortunately, this rapid growth meant more people are driving on the roads, and more car accidents have occurred as a result. However, car accidents are occurring at a disproportionate rate — about a 45% increase overall, according to WRAL.
The Most Dangerous Intersections in Raleigh
Based on reports from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), there are dozens of intersections where crash rates are higher than those in the area. As you may suspect If you drive through them frequently, you may already suspect high-volume roads like Wake Forest Road, Capital Boulevard, and Western Boulevard are on the list.
According to the most recent reports from the NCDOT, below are the top 5 areas in Raleigh where the most accidents have occurred between 2014 to 2018:
Capital Boulevard/I-440 interchange in north Raleigh
Wake Forest Road/I-440 interchange
Interstate 40 at South Saunders Street in south Raleigh
New Bern Avenue/I-440 interchange in east Raleigh
Glenwood Avenue/I-440 interchange near Crabtree Valley Mall (the intersection of Blue Ridge Road and Glenwood Avenue also take first place with the most frequent crashes occurring there)
In contrast, below are the areas in Raleigh where the crashes have been most severe between 2014 to 2018:
The intersection of Corporation Parkway and New Hope Road in east Raleigh
Dawson Street at South Street downtown
Falls of Neuse Road at Common Oaks Drive in north Raleigh
The Most Dangerous Intersections in Durham
In Durham, the most crash-prone intersections between 2014 to 2018 are listed below:
I-40/Fayetteville Road near Southpoint Mall
Roxboro St/Durham Freeway
I-85/N. Roxboro Road
Wake Forest Highway/Holloway St
When traffic engineers identify where crashes are most severe, they are able to provide crash mitigation efforts like adding red light cameras, making stop lights more visible to drivers, and restricting turn lanes to help reduce crash rates. See a map of where NCDOT Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) projects can be found.
8 Tips on How to Drive Defensively if You Are in a High-Crash Volume Area
If you frequent these intersections and areas in the Triangle, driving defensively is key to ensuring your and others’ safety. Practice the following tips below:
FOCUS! That text or call can wait. Minimize being on your phone or fiddling with the air conditioning or the radio especially when you’re at one of these dangerous areas.
Expect other drivers to drive badly.
Follow the speed limit.
Yield to other drivers if you are in doubt as to who should go.
Don’t try to race the yellow light. Slow down.
Always use your blinkers.
Do not tailgate other drivers.
North Carolina Triangle Car Crash Lawyers
The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin is ready to help you if you were injured by another driver’s negligence. We may be able to help you get compensation. We’ll evaluate your case for free, and we don’t collect an attorney’s fee unless we get compensation for you. If you’ve been in an auto accident in North Carolina, call us at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us here.
Did you know that in North Carolina, the deck is sometimes stacked against people who have been injured – through no fault of their own – by negligent drivers? It’s a fairly complex nuance to our state’s laws that many people wouldn’t know unless they have experience with it or are a lawyer themselves. That’s why it’s so important for people who have been injured in North Carolina to seek out an experienced personal injury lawyer if they were injured by another’s negligence.
Insurance Companies Can Play Hide and Seek Against a Jury
One example of the deck being stacked is the state’s evidentiary rule that allows liability insurance companies to essentially “hide” from juries at trial. Specifically, in North Carolina, a jury is not allowed to know that an insurance company has an applicable insurance policy that could cover the money being sought by the injured party in trial. Rule 411 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence reads as follows:
Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon the issue whether he acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully. This rule does not require the exclusion of evidence of insurance against liability when offered for another purpose, such as proof of agency, ownership, or control, or bias or prejudice of a witness. (1983, c. 701, s. 1.)
The stated rationale for this rule is that juries could be convinced to award higher damages to the plaintiff if they know that the defendant’s insurance company is “on the hook” for it, rather than the actual defendant for causing the injury.
NC Juries May Not Know Just How Much Insurance Companies Control
The truth is that in the vast majority of cases, there is liability insurance coverage involved. This means that the insurance company is responsible for paying any awards within the policy limit, and they are also responsible for deciding whether or not to settle the case out of court or to take the case to trial. It is also the insurance company who hires the lawyer who represents the defendant in court. In other words, they call the shots on behalf of the defendant.
The fact of the matter is that the liability insurance company controls every aspect of the case from the defendant’s side — and yet an insurance company cannot be named as part of a lawsuit or referenced in a trial? That’s extremely unfair to the plaintiff and all injured parties.
Effects of Withholding Liability Insurance Information on Juries
Granted, this rule may make sense under certain situations, but it has a significantly pro-defendant effect on juries, and in my opinion, has resulted in many unfair jury awards to plaintiffs who have been seriously injured, especially when a juror is made to believe that the defendant may have to pay the award out of his or her own pocket. And while at the conclusion of the trial, the judge will give the jury an instruction to not consider the defendant’s ability or inability to pay any award reached, in reality, I believe this is always a factor that a jury will consider.
What about when the defendant is a close friend or family member of the plaintiff? The friend or family member certainly does not control whether the insurance company treats the plaintiff fairly. So when the insurance company refuses to fairly negotiate a settlement, your attorney has no other choice but to name that close friend or family member in a lawsuit.
Now who has the upper hand? The insurance company just forced the plaintiff to sue a friend or a relative in court, and that never looks good to a jury. The insurance company is very aware of this tactic, and will not be afraid to use it.
A Real-World Example
About few years ago, there was a case that received national attention when a New York woman sued her twelve-year-old nephew (who was eight at the time of the incident) over a badly fractured wrist she had sustained when he accidentally knocked her over and caused her to try to catch herself with her wrist.
The backlash she received from the public was brutal as they could not understand why she was suing her twelve-year-old nephew for $127,000. How in the world could the boy ever be able to pay that much money? The jury came back and awarded the plaintiff nothing on her claim.
The truth of the matter is that the plaintiff was never seeking any money from her own nephew. She was seeking to get her existing medical bills covered by the applicable homeowner’s insurance policy. Prior to trial, the insurance company offered a measly $1 to settle her case.
Even though plaintiff’s dispute was with the insurance company and not the nephew, New York has a similar rule to North Carolina’s, where the insurance company could not be named as a party to the suit nor could there be any mention of liability insurance.
If the jury were to have been made aware of the full details of this woman’s claim, is there any doubt that there would have been a different result?
North Carolina Personal Injury Cases Can Be Complex – Call a Personal Injury Attorney for Help
If nothing else, this blog should illustrate just one of many complexities of a personal injury lawsuit in North Carolina, as well as why it can be critically important to have an experienced personal injury attorney to guide you through the process.
And while the deck may be stacked against personal injury plaintiffs in the state, there are usually exceptions to many of the rules – depending on the facts and circumstances of your particular case. An experienced personal injury attorney can help level the playing field by identifying those exceptions that may tend to benefit your case and protect you against the insurance company’s tactics.
Please call the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin at
1-866-900-7078, chat with us, or contact us here for a free case evaluation. We don’t recoup an attorney’s fee if we don’t get you compensation.
When you’re hurt in a car accident in North Carolina, many people think hiring an attorney to represent you implies that you’ll be in a court at some point. But how often do car accident injury cases really end up in court, and what does a personal injury attorney do when that happens? Here’s how it works.
What Does a Trial for a Car Accident Lawsuit Look Like in NC?
Most of the time, your personal injury attorney won’t even need to file a lawsuit. The vast majority of claims made to insurance companies are settled. If you are looking at the prospect of having to file a lawsuit against someone in a personal injury matter, it likely means one of two things. Either the person’s insurance company has denied their insured is legally responsible for your injuries, or there is a significant disagreement as to the value of your case. Don’t fret as there is good news.
Of the cases when a lawsuit is actually filed, U.S. Government statistics show that only about 5% of personal injury cases go to trial. The other 95% tend to settle at some point between the filing of a complaint with the court and the actual jury trial. While experienced trial lawyers enjoy the litigation process, to the average personal injury plaintiff, the process can be best described as long.
It takes, on average, between twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months for a case to reach the trial stage depending on your jurisdiction. The purpose of this blog is to introduce you to the various stages of the litigation process. These are 1) Pleadings Stage 2) Discovery Stage 3) Mediation Stage and 4) The Trial.
Pleadings – Stating a Claim
This is how a lawsuit starts. The Plaintiff’s attorney files the Complaint with the Court. Then it’s served to the Defendant. The Complaint itself is a rather formal document in language and format, setting forth the legal and factual basis for the lawsuit.
The Complaint will tell the Defendant why they are being sued through a series of allegations that the Plaintiff’s attorney believes they will be able to prove through evidence at trial. The Complaint needs to state any reasons why the Defendant is liable for your injuries so that the Defendant can respond to them.
Once the Defendant has been served with the Complaint, most commonly by the Sheriff’s office or by certified mail return receipt requested, the Defendant(s) has 30 days to respond. This is usually done via a document called an Answer. It’s not unusual for the Defendant to request, and be granted, an extension of 30 days in which to formally respond to the Complaint.
Like the Complaint, the Answer is a formal legal document both in its language and format. Within the Answer, the Defendant will usually respond to each and every allegation of the Complaint by admitting or denying each allegation made. Additionally, the Defendant will state reasons why he or she does not believe they are legally responsible for Plaintiff’s injuries. It may even assert its own claims against the Plaintiff, called counter-claims, which the Plaintiff would have to formally respond to as well.
Discovery – Making the Case
Discovery is the pre-trial stage in a lawsuit when each party investigates and tries to establish the facts of the case. This is done through the rules of civil procedure. Both sides obtain evidence from the opposing party and wherever else it can be found. This is accomplished using “discovery devices.” That’s a fancy name for “asking for things.” A few examples are requests for answers to interrogatories, requests to production of documents and things, requests for admissions as well as depositions.
Typically, each party will serve discovery requests on the opposing party with the initial pleadings referenced above. Occasionally, these requests will be sent shortly thereafter. Each party will generally have thirty (30) days to respond, but as a matter of course will request and be granted an extension of thirty (30) additional days in which to respond.
During that time, the Plaintiff and Defendant will meet with their counsel to provide answers and documents to respond to the various requests. The attorney will then finalize those answers and provide to opposing counsel in a timely manner. The terminology gets a little complicated if you’re not an attorney, but here are some terms you’re likely to hear and what they mean.
Interrogatories are open-ended, written questions to the opposing side. They’re used to gain information regarding the case. For example, one may ask the other party to identify any and all evidence they will rely upon in support of their claim or defenses. Interrogatories can become very complex with multiple sub-parts, so most jurisdictions limit the number of interrogatories either party can ask of the other.
Requests for production are arguably the most useful of the discovery tools. They allow one party to ask the other to provide documents or other tangible evidence, even electronically stored information. In addition, a request for production allows you to seek similar information from non- parties (people other than the Plaintiff and Defendant) by way of subpoena.
Requests for admissions ask another party to admit or deny certain carefully worded questions. For example, one party may ask the other to admit certain facts related to an automobile wreck that may tend to prove that party’s liability or responsibility. These questions are used to narrow down the issues of fact truly in dispute in the matter.
Once the written discovery is complete, the parties will schedule depositions. Depositions are the process of taking live testimony from witnesses and parties before a trial. The witness or party is required to appear (usually in their own attorney’s office) and testify under oath before a court reporter, who records the entire proceeding. While the testimony and questioning are governed by the rules of evidence, there is no judge present and counsel will note any objections for the record to be dealt with at such time the testimony seeks to be introduced at trial. An experienced personal injury attorney will prepare you for your testimony ahead of time to make sure you are comfortable and prepared for any questions you may receive.
Mediation – Can We Come to Terms?
A mediation is when the parties to a lawsuit and their attorneys sit down with a neutral third party, called a mediator, and work towards resolving the case, if possible. Also present at the mediation is the insurance adjuster.
The mediation occurs after the facts of the case are largely established but prior to trial. This is really one of the last times that the Plaintiff will have an opportunity to choose how his or her case will be decided.
The mediator is almost always an attorney who typically doesn’t know anything about the case. The format is simple. The mediator will do a brief introduction of the parties and participants, explain his or her role, and establish how the mediation will proceed.
As the Plaintiff, your attorney will give a presentation to the mediator and the other side regarding the strengths of your case. The insurance company’s defense attorney will do the same from his or her clients’ perspective. Expect for the opposing side to make statements that you will strongly disagree with. It will happen.
After each side makes its opening presentation, the parties will separate with one party moving to another room. The mediator will then meet with each party privately to learn more about each party’s case and find a way to help the parties reach some sort of compromise. The mediator will use the information he or she has learned from each party, except any information received in confidence, to help each side to see something about their own case, whether good or bad, they have not yet seen or appreciated.
This back and forth by the mediator continues while the parties negotiate and feed, through the mediator, information, arguments and offers to the opposing side until the matter is settled or until an impasse is reached. Occasionally, a case may require the parties to reconvene for a second session. If a settlement is reached, the parties will sign a binding document advising the court that the case has been resolved and what the terms are. If an impasse is reached, the mediator will notify the court and the parties will make final preparations for the trial.
The Trial – Your Day in Court
The trial is the culmination of all of the work done on your case. The very first thing that happens on the first day of trial are pre-trial motions, or motions in limine. These are motions by either side seeking to either exclude certain testimony or to limit the issues for the jury to decide. A common motion by the insurance defense attorney would to exclude any references to liability insurance in the presence of the jury.
After the motions in limine, there may be any number of housekeeping matters the judge may want to discuss with the attorneys, including checking once more to see if the parties can reach an amicable settlement prior to trial.
The next order of business is picking a jury. This is also called the voir dire (pronounced vwar DEER). Voir dire is where both attorneys, as well as the judge, will question members of the jury pool to determine whether they are suitable to serve as jurors on this particular case. Each side has a certain number of potential jurors they can remove for various reasons. For example, an experienced trial attorney would likely not want a jury member who is an insurance adjuster. Conversely, the insurance defense attorney would likely not want someone on the jury who had been injured by a negligent driver and had to resort to filing a lawsuit. Once the jury (usually 12 people and an alternate) is chosen, the judge will give instructions regarding how to govern themselves throughout the course of the trial.
Next come the opening statements. The opening statements are when the attorneys outline for the jurors what the case is about and forecast what they believe the evidence will be. Typically, the Plaintiff’s attorney goes first, as he or she has the burden of proving his or her case to the jury.
Once both sides give opening statements, the Plaintiff’s side will call its witnesses. During this phase of the trial, the Plaintiff’s attorney will question each witness to solicit testimonial evidence used to support the case that is being made. The testimonial evidence is also used as the foundation to introduce documents and other exhibits to the jury as well. This is called the direct examination of a witness.
After the Plaintiff’s attorney completes his or her examination of each witness, the Defense attorney will get to cross-examine each witness. An example of a list of witnesses that may be offered by the Plaintiff would be: the Plaintiff, police officer, any witnesses to the collision, Plaintiff’s doctor(s) and maybe a friend or family member of the Plaintiff who may testify about the Plaintiff’s injuries and how they may have impacted him or her.
Once the Plaintiff has finished questioning witnesses and introducing evidence, the Defense has an opportunity to examine witnesses and introduce evidence if they choose to do so, and counsel for the Plaintiff will have an opportunity for cross-examination. Throughout the questioning of witnesses and introduction of evidence, the lawyers may occasionally object to a question or a response or a particular document and the judge will need to rule on whether the material objected to can be considered by the jury. Under some circumstances, certain objections to evidence (testimonial or otherwise) will need to be argued outside of the presence of the jury.
Once both sides have concluded examinations of all witnesses, the jury will usually take a break and return to the jury room while the judge and attorneys conference to determine what jury instructions are appropriate based on the admitted evidence received during the course of the trial. Once completed, the jury is returned to the courtroom and closing arguments begin.
The closing arguments are speeches made at trial after all the evidence has been presented. Each side reviews and summarizes the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the side making the argument. This is the last time the attorneys will be able to speak to the jury prior to a verdict, so they are a pretty big deal. During the closing arguments, an experienced personal injury lawyer will passionately and persuasively explain why the verdict should be in favor of the Plaintiff.
Following the closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jurors on the questions that need to be answered as well as the applicable law that will govern their deliberations. Once complete, the jurors will return to the jury room, choose a foreperson and begin deliberations. Deliberation times vary. They can be as short as maybe 30 minutes or as long as several days depending on the magnitude and the complexities of the case, as well as the level of disagreements between the various jurors. The verdict must be unanimous.
When a verdict is reached, the foreperson informs the Bailiff, who informs the judge, who will then notify the parties. Once the parties are seated in the courtroom along with the judge, the jury members will return to their seats. The judge confirms that a verdict has been reached, and the clerk will publish the verdict by reading aloud. With the verdict published, the jurors are thanked and dismissed. The verdict essentially ends the lawsuit, except in the rare case where the losing party wishes to, and has legal grounds for, an appeal.
An Experienced North Carolina Personal Injury Attorney Willing to Go the Distance
When you’ve been injured in accident, you have to understand that the insurance company wants to give you as little as possible – that’s how they make a profit. It’s not personal to them. For you, who could be in a lot of pain, with mounting worry and medical bills, it IS personal.
You want an attorney who is ready and willing to fight for you, including going to trial. If you’ve been injured, our attorneys are willing to go the distance. Contact the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin at 1-866-900-7078. We’ll listen to you, evaluate your case, and explain your options free of charge. Tell them you mean business!