Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Determining the full extent of an accident victim’s potential recovery following an Alabama car accident is not always as simple as filing a case against the person who was behind the wheel at the time of the accident. While naming the at-fault driver is a good place to start, there may be other potentially liable parties who should be named in the lawsuit. For example, under the theory of negligent entrustment, the owner of a vehicle may be liable to an accident victim even if they were not in the car at the time of the accident.

Open RoadWhat Is Negligent Entrustment?

In Alabama, the owner of a vehicle may be liable for injuries resulting from an accident involving their vehicle if the victim can prove certain elements. In a 2005 case, the Alabama Supreme Court clarified that a negligent entrustment claim must establish that:  1.) the owner of the vehicle allowed another person to use their vehicle, 2.) that person was incompetent, 3.) the owner knew of the person’s incompetence, and 4.) the person’s incompetence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

Often, several of these elements go uncontested because they are easily proven. However, the third element – proving that the owner of a vehicle knew of the driver’s incompetence – can often present Alabama victims with the biggest hurdle. A recent case issued by a federal appellate court illustrates how this element can be difficult to prove.

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Ford Motor Company is recalling nearly 1.4 million cars in North America because the steering wheel can detach from the steering column as drivers are on the road and could easily lose control. The flaw has already been linked to two accidents and one injury, with more injuries expected.Ford-fusion-300x200

Drivers have revealed harrowing stories for months to NHTSA about the steering wheels that became inoperative on the highway.

“While driving on (the) interstate, steering wheel came loose and car veered off interstate. I regained control but steering wheel is still loose. Repairs will cost beyond my means at this moment,” a driver in Harriman, Tenn., reported Tuesday.

Under Alabama law, all individuals seated in the front seat of a vehicle are required to wear seat belts while the vehicle is in motion, although there are some exceptions to the law. The next question is whether this law affects an individual’s ability to recover compensation in an Alabama car accident case if the person was not wearing a seat belt when a crash occurred.

SeatbeltThe Seat Belt Defense in Alabama

Under Ala. Code 1975 32-5B-7, failing to wear a seat belt “shall not be considered evidence of contributory negligence and shall not limit the liability of an insurer.” What this means is that an individual’s failure to wear a seat belt cannot be used against him as evidence of contributory negligence. It also cannot be used against the plaintiff as evidence of the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate damages.

Contributory Negligence in Alabama

Alabama follows the doctrine of contributory negligence, which often comes up in car accident litigation. It is one of the few states that follow the doctrine of “pure contributory negligence.” That means that if the plaintiff is found to be negligent, then the plaintiff cannot recover any damages.

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Within the next three years, two Japan-based auto-manufacturers are expected to begin construction of a $1.6 billion factory in the Huntsville area. The good news is that the factory is expected to bring upwards of 4,000 jobs to the greater Huntsville area once the factory is fully operational. However, lawmakers and advocacy groups have expressed concerns that the state’s existing traffic laws and infrastructure may need tweaking in order to support the increased burden the factory will place on the area’s highways.

Highway InterchangeAlabama Traffic Laws Rated as Middle-of-the-Road

When followed, strict traffic laws can prevent Alabama car accidents. However, over time, as a city grows, its population increases, and the type of traffic on the roads changes. When this happens, existing traffic laws may need to be amended and new laws passed to accommodate a city’s changing needs.

According to a recent study conducted by a traffic-safety advocacy group, Alabama was one of 31 states that received a “yellow” rating regarding its traffic laws. The study ranked each of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia as either “green,” “yellow,” or “red,” based on the traffic laws currently on the books.

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When someone is involved in a serious Alabama car accident, the chances are they have to deal not just with the physical injuries and property damage caused by the accident, but also with the mounting medical expenses and the loss of income due to time spent away from work. Additionally, an accident victim’s life may not ever be the same, even post-recovery.

Insurance ContractAfter a car accident, an accident victim may be able to seek compensation for the injuries they sustained in the accident through an insurance claim. In Alabama, all drivers must maintain a base level of liability insurance to cover the costs of injuries caused by that driver’s negligence If the at-fault party has an insurance policy, the claim will initially be through the at-fault driver’s policy.

Some drivers, however, fail to obtain insurance despite the legal requirement they do so. In other situations, a driver has insurance, but the injuries sustained in the accident are very serious, warranting compensation above the limits of the at-fault driver’s insurance policy. In the event of an accident caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver, an accident victim may be able to file a claim with their own insurance company.

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In Alabama, all motorists owe a duty of care to those with whom they share the road. Generally speaking, this duty requires that motorists follow all traffic laws as well as posted traffic signs and traffic control devices. At its core, the duty placed on Alabama drivers merely requires they take due care when operating a motor vehicle.

Lumber TruckWhen a driver causes a car accident due to some negligent act, anyone injured as a result of the accident is entitled to pursue a claim for damages against the at-fault driver. When most people think of this type of claim, they assume that the at-fault driver was previously unknown to them; however, in many cases, a passenger is injured due to the negligence of the friend or relative driving the car.

Initially, this may seem like an awkward or uncomfortable situation, and indeed, in some cases it can be. However, it is important for accident victims to realize that most Alabama personal injury cases involving car accidents are defended not by the driver themselves but by the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

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After a jury has returned a verdict in favor of a plaintiff in an Alabama personal injury case, the jury will then determine the appropriate amount of compensation that the plaintiff should be awarded. This compensation is called “damages.” In Alabama, there are two types of damages awards that a plaintiff can recover:  compensatory damages and punitive damages.

Shattered GlassCompensatory damages are designed to put the plaintiff back in the place they were before they were involved in the incident. Categories of compensatory damages include medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for any pain and suffering endured as a result of the accident. In general, there is no limit to the amount of compensatory damages that a plaintiff can recover.

Punitive damages are focused not on the suffering of the victim but on the wrongdoing of the defendant. As a result, punitive damages are designed to “punish” a defendant for especially egregious conduct. In Alabama, punitive damages are not available in all cases, and a plaintiff must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant committed fraud, acted with malice, or acted with a “reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

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Being an emergency responder is a dangerous job for a number of reasons. However, the leading cause of death among emergency responders has consistently been traffic-related accidents. Most often, these Alabama car accidents occur when an emergency responder is working road-side while assisting a disabled vehicle or responding to the scene of an accident when another motorist clips one of the stationary vehicles, causing a chain reaction in which anyone nearby has a high probability of being injured.

Road HazardThis concern over the safety of emergency responders has led every state legislature – including Alabama’s – to implement a move-over law, requiring motorists to take certain precautions when approaching emergency responders on the side of the road.

The Alabama move-over law protects the following people:

  • law enforcement officers;
  • wreckers and tow-truck drivers;
  • utility workers; and
  • garbage and recycling collectors.

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Earlier this month, the state’s high court issued a written opinion in an Alabama car accident case requiring the court to determine if the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff should be reversed due to the plaintiff’s failure to comply with a clause in the contract with the defendant insurance company. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant insurance company was in a position to object but failed to do so prior to trial. As a result, the defendant’s post-trial motion was denied.

ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in a car accident when she was rear-ended while stopped at a non-functioning traffic light. At the time of the collision, the plaintiff’s husband was driving the car. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the other driver who she claimed was responsible for the accident, as well as her husband’s insurance provider under the underinsured motorist provision.

The day before trial, the plaintiff settled her claim with the other driver and that driver’s insurance company. The plaintiff let her husband’s insurance company know prior to the beginning of trial. However, that policy required advance notice of any settlement that may affect the insurance company’s liability. It was undisputed that the plaintiff did not give the defendant insurance company advance notice.

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