A March 2019 Rockford crash illustrates the factual and legal issues that Buffalo auto accident lawyers deal with in vehicle collision claims.
According to police and witnesses, 46-year-old Thomas Wagner, of Hillman, was northbound on Highway 25 when he drifted into oncoming traffic. At that moment, he collided with 52-year-old Kent Bogren, of Hutchinson, who was southbound on the southbound side. First responders arrived on scene and airlifted Mr. Borgen to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.
Mr. Wagner, whom police say was intoxicated, was also transported to a nearby hospital with serious injuries, but he is expected to survive.
Fault v. Liability in Head-On Wrecks
Typically, insurance companies use the police accident report to determine fault. As far as the insurance company is concerned, the person at fault caused the crash. But this determination is only preliminary.
The police accident report is often inaccurate. Even experienced first responders are not accident reconstructionists, and they usually write these reports at least several hours after the crash. Furthermore, the police accident report is often incomplete. If the victim was killed or seriously injured, as is often the case, the police report probably only contains one side of the story.
So, if you were in an accident, always reach out to a Buffalo auto accident lawyer, even if both the emergency responder and insurance company claim you were at fault. A subsequent investigation may change things dramatically.
As mentioned, many first responders overlook evidence. For example, they usually only speak to witnesses who voluntarily come forward at the scene. There are usually other witnesses who, for whatever reason, did not give statements to police officers. These additional witness statements could affect the fault determination.
Furthermore, a legal doctrine, such as last clear chance, may apply. According to this rule, if one driver has a chance to avoid a crash but does not do so, that driver is legally responsible for the wreck. That opportunity might be slowing down or changing lanes.
Insurance company lawyers often try to use the last clear chance rule in head-on wrecks. But the doctrine usually does not apply. Typically, the wreck happened so fast that the victim did not have a reasonable chance to avoid it. That’s especially true if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was impaired. There is no telling what these drivers might do, so it’s almost impossible to avoid them.
First Party Liability
Alcohol causes about a third of the fatal car crashes in Minnesota. In court, victims may use direct or circumstantial evidence to establish liability (legal responsibility) for damages.
If the tortfeasor was arrested for DUI, as is normally the case, the negligence per se doctrine may apply. This legal rule states that tortfeasors are liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate a safety law, like the DUI law, and
- That violation substantially caused the victim/plaintiff’s damages.
Even if the tortfeasor was not convicted of DUI, the negligence per se shortcut may still apply. The Wright County civil jury determines all the facts in a civil case, including guilt or innocence in a DUI.
Most people are not legally intoxicated until they consume at least three drinks. But alcohol impairment begins with the first drink. So, even if there was not enough evidence to charge the tortfeasor with DUI, the negligent driver may have been dangerously impaired. Evidence of alcohol impairment includes:
- Erratic driving,
- Bloodshot eyes, and
- Odor of alcohol.
If the tortfeasor’s alcohol impairment demonstrated a lack of ordinary care, and it almost always does, the tortfeasor may be liable for damages if the impairment substantially caused the car crash.
Buffalo Auto Accident Lawyers and Third Party Liability
Circumstantial evidence of impairment might also implicate the bar, grocery store, or other commercial provider which sold alcohol to the tortfeasor. Under Minnesota law, such providers may be liable for car crash damages if they illegally sold alcohol to a customer and that customer later caused a car crash. Examples of illegal sales include:
- After hours,
- Suspended liquor license sales, and
- Sales to persons who are intoxicated at the time of purchase.
Third party liability is often important in catastrophic injury claims. Minnesota has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country, so many tortfeasors do not have enough coverage to provide fair compensation. Vicarious liability gives these victims an additional source of recovery.
Connect with Tenacious Attorneys
Complex alcohol-involved crashes often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo auto accident lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.