Consumers Guide to Serious Injury Collisions

In 2008, there were more than 3,400 traffic fatalities on California's roadways. While this number takes into account all types of traffic-related accidents, high speed collisions tend to have the most devastating consequences for those involved. Insurance company propaganda would like everyone, including prospective jurors, to agree that minor impact soft tissue injury claims are without merit. This is not true as some people are far more vulnerable to injury due to age, activities or prior injuries that may have healed. A defendant, who causes an accident, is responsible for any aggravation or change in your physical condition caused by his or her negligence. Whether a driver will be left with catastrophic injuries or even be killed in the accident depends on many different factors, including the speed of the vehicle, the weight of the vehicle, what the driver collided with and the length of time between the accident and medical treatment.

High Speed vs. Low Speed Collisions

High speed, or serious impact, collisions occur when a vehicle is traveling 30 or more miles per hour and often occur on highways, freeways and other high speed roadways. The likelihood of injury or death in these types of accidents increases with the amount of speed. Drivers are less likely to be able to control a car traveling at high speeds. The high speed itself may be the cause or a contributing factor to the crash and it also hinders a driver's ability to take corrective action to prevent an accident.

Automobile insurance companies will evaluate a claim by looking at the damage caused to each vehicle and determining bio-mechanically if the forces involved caused sufficient damage to the vehicle to constitute an injury producing event. If property damage to the vehicles is less than $3,000.00, or if there is no frame or crush damage to the vehicle the insurance company may refuse to pay damages for medical bills or pain and suffering claiming that the severity of the impact was not strong enough to cause bodily injuries.

Some of the types of injuries associated with high speed collisions include:

  • Herniated disks
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Paralysis
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Soft tissue injuries and internal organ damage
  • Amputations
  • Fractures
  • Burns

High speed crashes often result in the vehicle being totaled and it may be difficult to remove the driver or any passengers from the damaged car. If emergency personnel cannot remove the injured people from the vehicle, drastic measures may have to be taken, including amputating limbs or using the "jaws of life" to cut open the vehicle to extract the injured.

There is also a chance of the vehicle catching on fire in a high impact accident. As a result, those in the car may suffer serious burns before they can be safely removed from the car.

Low speed, or minor impact, collisions typically occur in heavy traffic on city streets, although they may also occur during rush-hour and other high traffic times on freeways and highways. These accidents usually involve rear-end and side-impact collisions. Although the injuries from these types of accidents tend to be less life-threatening, this does not mean a person cannot be seriously injured in a minor impact collision. The most common type of injury is whiplash or soft tissue injuries, but drivers hurt in low speed accidents may suffer aggravation of asymptomatic disk degeneration or other old injuries, traumatic brain injuries and nerve damage, as well as neck and back injuries. Accordingly, those involved in low speed collisions should still seek medical attention to ensure they have not suffered a serious injury. A victim involved in an accident who has a pre-existing condition may be seriously injured by a low speed accident that aggravates a pre-existing condition.

WHAT TO DO AFTER A HIGH SPEED COLLISION:

  • Take photographs of and carefully observe all damage done to both cars
  • Locate any witnesses and get their names, phone numbers, addresses, business cards
  • Write down the exact location of the accident
  • Check if any video cameras in the area recorded the accident
  • Call 911 and have police come to the scene and make a report
  • Request an ambulance transport to hospital for thorough medical exam of any injuries
  • Get Driver's License number, Insurance Policy number, license plate number, make, model and date of birth of the responsible party and registered owner
  • Follow up with your own doctor or a doctor you trust who specializes in treating injury victims
  • Contact a personal injury attorney

A personal injury firm may help family members by representing the heirs of a loved one killed or severely injured in an accident as the result of negligent, intentional, dangerous or reckless conduct of others. Through the assistance of an attorney, some family members (who have suffered the loss of a parent, child, sibling or spouse) have recovered monetary damages for their losses, including millions in settlements and verdicts to obtain full and fair compensation for the loss of their loved one.

Higher Risk Accidents: Motorcycles and Bicycles

Another factor that weighs heavily on the type of injuries that may be sustained in either a high speed or low speed collision is the type of vehicles involved in the accident. A person traveling in a small passenger car that is hit by a semi-tractor trailer is likely to fare far worse than a person involved in a collision with a similar-sized vehicle.

A personal injury law firm can represent automobile, motorcycle and bicycle riders and pedestrians struck by vehicles in serious injury cases. All drivers must be held accountable if they drive negligently and violate the rights of other drivers and/or pedestrians. Motorcycles and bicycles are two types of vehicles that are particularly vulnerable in collisions. Over the past 10 years, the number of motorcycle fatalities has continued to rise in California. 2008 saw the highest number of fatalities since 1990 with 517 motorcycle riders being killed on the state's roadways.

The reason motorcycle riders are more vulnerable to crashes with other motor vehicles is obvious: motorcycle riders are exposed and have limited safety equipment available to them as compared with most vehicles, which have seatbelts, airbags and other safety features. Even the safety equipment available to motorcyclists is not fail-proof - according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), helmets only are effective in preventing a fatality in 39precent of crashes.

To increase the dangers to motorcycle riders, most motorists do not pay attention to motorcyclists on the road. Other driver behaviors that threaten motorcycle rider safety include:

  • Failing to check blind spots before changing lanes
  • Tailgating, or following motorcycle riders too closely
  • Incorrectly estimating a motorcycle's speed
  • Failing to concede the right-of-way

When an accident happens, whether it is the motorcyclist's fault or the driver's, the bike rider is going to suffer more painful injuries than the auto driver every time. It is estimated that 80precentprecent of all motorcycle accidents result in serious injury or death to the motorcycle rider.

Just as motorists have a legal duty to operate their vehicles in a safe manner, motorcycle riders have the same duty to exercise ordinary care and operate their bikes safely. Motorcycle riders also have a heightened duty to look out for other motorists and potentially dangerous conditions. However, even if motorcycle riders faithfully follow all of the rules of the road, it does no good if motorists do not do the same. In California, lane sharing or lane splitting is legal and permitted but exposes the motorcyclist to an increased risk of being in an accident.

Bicyclists are also more vulnerable to injury in an accident with a motor vehicle. Most drivers do not know that California law permits bicyclists to use any road that is not expressly prohibited by law. This means that bike riders have as much a right to use the state's highways, city roads and other roadways as motorists. Bike riders are not required to ride on bike trails, bike lanes, sidewalks or road shoulders. They are required to follow the same traffic rules as cars, including keeping slower traffic to the far right lane of the road.

As with motorcycle riders, many motorists do not pay attention to the location of bike riders on the road and may even been hostile about sharing the road with them. Consequently, bike riders are more susceptible to be involved in a collision with a car, where the likelihood of the rider sustaining serious injury is substantial.

Conclusion

Accidents are more likely to happen when someone is speeding or breaking another traffic law, like making an illegal lane change or tailgating. In order to decrease the occurrence of low or high impact collisions, everyone using the state's roadways should operate their vehicles responsibly and learn to share the road with all types of vehicle operators - including motorcycle and bike riders. When drivers fail to heed these simple rules, accidents can happen with devastating consequences.