In the United States, one out of four fatal auto accidents is the consequence of a driver speeding. Viewed another way, speeding claims lives at a rate of 25 deaths per day. Even when collision victims escape with their lives, lengthy and expensive recoveries await. The reasons for these outcomes are straightforward: Speeding multiplies the severity of impacts and reduces a driver’s time to avoid a catastrophe. Responsible drivers suffer harm from speeders nearly every day. That harsh fact makes it worthwhile to explore the legal options available for persons injured by speeders.
In states such as Texas, Utah and Idaho, comparative negligence rules apply. Under this rule, you must prove that another party’s negligence bears more than 50% of the responsibility for your injuries before the court will award you damages. Under the law, negligence is the failure to show a duty of care towards other persons. Exceeding the speed limit demonstrates a lack of care for the safety of pedestrians and other motorists, thus meeting the test of operational negligence.
An opinion that another driver was speeding is not enough to prevail in a lawsuit — you must provide proof. If you choose to pursue a legal action to gain compensation for your injury, your attorney will seek evidence from several sources.
Since 2014, nearly every new passenger vehicle sold in the United States comes with an event data recorder. Often called a black box, this device records 20 seconds of vehicle movement data on a rolling basis. If the vehicle suffers a collision severe enough to deploy the airbags, the device retains data of the moments before the collision. Among these points are the speed indicated on the vehicle’s speedometer and the status of the brakes. Some commercial truck operators equip their fleets with devices that record far more data than passenger car EDRs.
If you suffered an injury in a collision where you suspect the offending driver was speeding, the EDRs of the involved vehicles may provide valuable evidence. If law enforcement officers have the collision under investigation, this action ensures the preservation of EDR data. Preserving this data in the absence of an active law enforcement investigation may require a court order, a compelling reason to promptly consult with an attorney if you suffer injury in a vehicle accident.
While EDR evidence is persuasive, this data alone does not create a slam dunk. EDR data is open to challenge from opposing attorneys, with speedometers as a focal point. EDRs record indicated speed, the number a driver sees on the dashboard. Speedometers do not always accurately reflect real-life vehicle speed, and defense attorneys may argue this shortcoming before a court. To build a compelling case on your behalf, an attorney must combine EDR recordings with other evidence.
Driven by insurance requirements, dash-mounted cameras now appear on many commercial fleet vehicles. With the advent of inexpensive consumer-grade dashcams, tens of thousands of motorists have installed the devices on passenger cars and pickups. If a commercial vehicle plays a role in your injury, your attorney can compel the preservation of footage pending the settlement of all issues. As for those consumer-mounted units, a growing number of motorists voluntarily provide their recordings to local enforcement if their dashcams capture a severe accident.
When an accident occurs in a metropolitan area, chances rise that a fixed surveillance camera may record the incident. Many municipalities and counties employ video surveillance for high-traffic freeways and streets. Some television stations maintain 24-hour cameras, often to monitor the weather. Retailers often install surveillance systems for their parking lots and building perimeters, but these cameras may also capture activities on nearby streets. It’s a common practice for businesses to retain surveillance recordings for at least 30 days. Nevertheless, this is yet another situation where prompt action from an attorney may preserve crucial evidence.
Your attorney may enlist an accident reconstruction expert to bolster your case. These expert witnesses have a comprehensive understanding of the physics involved in vehicle accidents. Can an expert provide credible evidence of speeding without EDR data or a video recording? In many cases, yes. Tire marks provide data for drag factor analysis, a method for calculating a vehicle’s velocity under full braking.
Crush analysis is another technique for calculating vehicle speed. Vehicles deform on impact. Thanks to decades of test crashes performed by manufacturers, the federal government and insurance companies, a massive body of vehicle deformation data now exists. By measuring the deformation in the involved vehicles, a reconstruction expert can calculate each car’s velocity at impact time.
While an expert can perform deformation measurements on vehicles at an impoundment facility, accurate assessments of tire marks and road conditions require video and photographic evidence in the collision’s aftermath. If rain or falling snow plays a role in the accident, timely documentation is particularly valuable. At an accident scene, photographs taken by you or a passenger may provide vital evidence towards securing fair compensation. Similarly, selecting a law firm with the resources to enlist a qualified reconstruction expert may help you get your life back on track in an accident’s wake.
In most cases, an estimate of speeding from an eyewitness will not hold up well in court. Nonetheless, witnesses can often provide an accurate description of vehicle movements in the moments before an accident. These accounts may provide valuable guidance to your legal team’s reconstruction expert.
Considering the shattering consequences of a speeding-related auto accident, you may wonder if you can seek punitive damages from a driver whose negligence causes injuries. In auto accidents, awards of punitive damages are exceedingly rare. First, unless the negligent driver has a substantial net worth, pursuing this course is a waste of time. Further, nearly all states now place caps on punitive awards to dissuade frivolous claims. Nevertheless, the same states also spell out narrow conditions for punitive damages.
Before even contemplating punitive damages, plaintiffs must prove the need for compensatory damages. Then, depending on the state, punitive damages require either extreme negligence or a deliberate attempt to harm another person. Deliberate harm — using a vehicle as a weapon — is a crime and also a straightforward legal issue. Extreme negligence is a stickier matter.
When state legislators leave gray areas in statutes, precedents court decisions inevitably fill in the blanks. If your attorney believes your claim is a rare case where punitive damages are appropriate, the next step involves combing the precedents from similar cases. Unless the facts of your accident closely resemble a previous successful claim, it’s unlikely your attorney will pursue this path further.
The attorneys of Fielding Law focus on representation for persons injured by speeding drivers and other negligent parties. While we provide the resources of a big firm, we treat our clients with the attention common to a small partnership. If we accept your case, you’ll communicate with your attorney, not an assistant. Consultations are free, and you pay nothing unless we recover money for you. If you or a loved one has suffered injury owing to negligence, we invite you to contact us today.