Every year, vehicle collisions injure about three million Americans. A few of these accidents are “fender benders” which do not cause serious injury. Minnesota’s no-fault insurance law applies to such incidents. As a rule of thumb, if your car was drivable after the collision, you probably did not sustain a serious injury under the law.
In most cases, however, the victim sustains a “serious” injury. That means a Hutchinson, MN lawyer may be able to obtain substantial compensation. That compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
While Hutchinson, MN lawyers are committed to maximum compensation for victims, insurance company lawyers do whatever they can to minimize compensation for victims. Frequently, these efforts involve one of the legal defenses discussed below.
Comparative fault is probably the most common car crash defense, mostly because serious injury accidents rarely have only one cause. In a nutshell, contributory negligence shifts blame for the wreck from the tortfeasor (negligent driver) to the victim. The possibilities are almost endless. Perhaps the victim was speeding and the tortfeasor made an illegal lane change, or perhaps the victim was using a cell phone and the tortfeasor was drunk.
Specific laws vary by state. Minnesota, like most other jurisdictions, is a modified comparative fault state with a 51 percent threshold. So, if the victim is no more than 49 percent responsible for the crash, a Hutchinson, MN lawyer can still win a proportionate share of damages. Nearby Missouri, however, is a pure comparative fault state. Theoretically, a victim could be 99 percent responsible for the crash, and the tortfeasor would still be liable for a proportionate share of damages.
Hutchinson, MN lawyers have essentially two chances to blunt the contributory negligence defense. First, the insurance company must convince the judge that the victim’s negligence contributed to the crash. If the victim was only traveling three or four mph over the limit, that excessive speed probably did not contribute to the crash in any meaningful way.
Second, the insurance company must convince jurors of the same thing. At this point, the percentage division comes into play. Based on the evidence, the jury must divide fault for the crash 50-50, 60-40, or whatever. The lower the victim’s share of fault, the more compensation the victim receives.
Lack of Evidence
At the other end of the frequency spectrum, this defense is quite rare. The burden of proof in civil court is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest standard of proof in Minnesota law.
So, as long as a Hutchinson, MN lawyer is prepared, there should be sufficient evidence on all points. Authentication is sometimes an issue. For example, if a victim’s evidence includes medical bills, these statements must include affidavits and other authenticating evidence. If this evidence is not present or in the wrong form, a McLeod County judge might exclude it.
Hutchinson, MN Lawyers and the Sudden Emergency Defense
The first two defenses are generally available in most vehicle collision cases. These last two defenses, however, are niche defenses which are only available in certain situations.
Insurance company lawyers often roll out the sudden emergency defense in pedestrian accident claims. Court documents in these cases often say something like since the victim “darted out into traffic” the tortfeasor could not avoid the wreck. This line of thought sets up the sudden emergency defense, which has two elements:
- Reasonable reaction to
- A sudden emergency.
This clip from 1995’s Tommy Boy illustrates both elements of the sudden emergency defense. The hood fly-up is a sudden emergency, because it is a completely unexpected development. The same thing goes for a lightning strike. But jaywalking pedestrians are more like stalled cars or large potholes. Drivers should anticipate these everyday hazards, so they are not “sudden emergencies” in this context.
Although he faced a sudden emergency, Tommy would not be able to use the defense in court. He did not react reasonably, by pulling over to the right. Instead, he drove recklessly and even crossed the centerline. But hey, that’s why they call it a comedy.
Last Clear Chance
Hutchinson, MN lawyers often deal with this defense in head-on and rear-end wrecks. To examine this defense, let’s stay with the Tommy Boy clip. Assume Tommy collided with that semi-truck after he crossed the centerline. If first responders arrived, they would almost certainly give Tommy a ticket.
But Tommy might not be legally responsible for damages, because of the last clear chance defense. If the truck driver had a reasonable chance to avoid the crash, perhaps by changing lanes, the truck driver might be legally responsible. Basically, even though Tommy drove recklessly, the truck driver still had a duty of care. S/he could not simply sit back, let the wreck happen, and blame Tommy.
The lesson here is that, even if first responders said you were at fault, always have a Hutchinson, MN lawyer evaluate your case. You may still be entitled to the compensation you need and deserve.
Contact a Diligent Attorney
If an attorney is not ready to handle car crash defenses, a promising claim could end in disappointment. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson, MN lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.