Table of Contents
- Car Accidents
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Truck Accidents
- Distracted Driving Accidents
- Drunk Driving
- Road Rage
- Determining Fault
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of automobile accidents increased in 2012, after six consecutive years of decline. In 2012, there were an estimated 9,754,000 vehicles involved in police-reported traffic crashes, 96 percent of which were passenger vehicles. Moreover, there were 45,586 vehicles involved in fatal crashes. This means that an average of 120 people die in automobile accidents every single day.
When the driver of a motor does not follow the rules of the road, and an accident causes injury or death, the driver, and potentially the driver’s employer, is required to pay for the harms and losses caused by their negligence. This includes hospital bills, physical therapy bills, chiropractic bills, lost income, and fair compensation for pain and suffering. Injuries sustained in a car accident can range from whiplash to broken bones, ligament/ muscle injuries, and debilitating spinal injuries and/or death. Oftentimes, it can be difficult to get an insurance company to cover the care a victim needs and is fairly entitled to.
When faced with the legal complexities of a personal injury claim, it’s important that victims don’t fall prey to insurance companies, which are working hard to keep as much money in their own pockets as possible.
Being in an accident is life-changing. Injuries can interfere with a victim’s ability to work, enjoy recreational activities, and simply live a normal life – and have significant long-term repercussions. Our personal injury attorneys understand the negative effects an accident can have on all aspects of your life, and we devote ourselves to getting you the resources you need to recover.
Causes of Car Accidents
Some of the leading causes of Denver traffic accidents include:
- Negligent Driving: Colorado law requires drivers to be careful when driving. In determining whether a driver was careful, the law compares the driver’s conduct with that of a “reasonable person.” The law asks how a reasonable person would have behaved in similar circumstances. If the driver’s behavior falls short, they will be determined negligent.
- Distracted Driving: Drivers have a legal duty to be alert and careful of other vehicles when driving. Drivers are expected to see things that ordinary, prudent people would see. Forms of distracted driving include text messaging, using a mobile device, eating, putting on makeup, and even changing the radio dial. Distracted driving is very dangerous to everyone on the roads.
- Drunk Driving: According to reports published by the NFTSA, nearly 11,000 individuals are killed in accident caused by drunk drivers on the road each year.
- Defective Automobiles: Auto defects including airbags, brakes, and tires result in thousands of car accidents each year. Victims of injuries caused by defective auto parts are entitled to file a product liability lawsuit against auto manufacturers.
- Poorly Maintained Roads: Uneven pavement and potholes can cause deadly crashes and life-threatening injuries to motorists. Other threats include unlabeled obstacles or substances on the road surface. These can cause drivers to swerve or over-correct their vehicle as they try to regain control.
- Speeding: Driving at speeds exceeding safe conditions based on the weather, road conditions, traffic, or the speed of other motorists frequently causes car crashes.
Though the consequences are not always severe, a motor vehicle collision has the capacity to inflict devastating trauma on victims. If you’ve been injured because of someone else was careless or negligent, you may have a right to receive financial compensation for the damages you endured. But obtaining fair compensation for damages, unfortunately, is not an easy process.
For many motorcycle enthusiasts riders, Colorado is one of the most coveted touring destinations in America, conjuring breathtaking images of high passes, deep river canyons, and towering Rocky Mountain vistas. With a handful of major interstates, the highway branches off into thousands of rural roadways that wind throughout the mountains. With so much terrain to explore, it is not surprising motorcycles are fast becoming the favorite mode of transportation in Colorado.
Increased motorcycle usage translates, unfortunately, into increased exposure to accidents. Because of the very nature of a motorcycle, accidents are a common hazard with a high potential for fatality. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently reported that motorcyclist deaths have increased approximately 9% from 2012, with more than 5,000 lives lost. Moreover, a motorcyclist is 35 times more likely to die in an auto accident than a driver.
Additionally, accidents involving motorcycles are particularly destructive because of safety factors inherently absent. Simply put, motorcyclists do not enjoy the benefit of a shell of steel protecting them in an accident. Accordingly, riders are more susceptible to serious injuries, such as broken bones, severe abrasions, and even traumatic brain injuries.
Motorcycle accidents occur for numerous reasons, many of which are similar to other auto accidents. There are, however, additional causes for motorcycle accidents, such as a motorist’s failure to keep a proper lookout for motorcyclists. Shockingly, in two-thirds of vehicular accidents involving motorcycles, the at-fault driver violated the motorcyclist’s right of way. In other cases, motorcycle accidents are the result of road conditions that a motorcyclist cannot control.
There are many other reasons, including:
- Exiting a driveway without ensuring safety
- Not providing enough distance
- Rear-ending a stopped motorcycle
- Turning into a motorcycle on a side street
- Hitting a motorcycle on the side of the road
- Turning in front of a motorcycle
- Failure to yield the right of way
- Road Rage
- Distracted Driving
- Drunk Driving
- Driving on Drugs
- Other acts of negligence
Regardless of how the accident occurred, in a number of situations, other parties may be liable when a motorcyclist is injured in an accident.
Commercial truck drivers have special training and adhere to safety regulations governing when and how they drive. Unfortunately, truckers and trucking companies sometimes ignore these regulations in an effort to maximize profits and improve delivery deadlines. Truckers may pilot ten-ton vehicles on little sleep or after taking substances to stay awake. Other times, trucking companies fail to maintain brakes, tires, lights, and other equipment, putting drivers and other motorists at risk of a serious accident. Federal statistics reveal that large trucks account for only 3% of the vehicles on roads but encompass over 12% of traffic fatalities.
Dealing with severe personal injury is difficult, but what makes the injuries even more upsetting is when they could have and should have, been prevented.
Damages After a Colorado Truck Accident
Once you or a family member has been injured in a truck accident, the initial concern is physical well-being and damage to your property. The next concern should be your rights. What does your insurance cover and to what extent? The Colorado truck accident lawyers at Bowman & Chamberlain, LLC, act quickly and wisely on behalf of our clients in the hours, days, and weeks after a collision.
Medical Payments Coverage
Other than going or being transported to an emergency room, many people may not know where to turn next for medical treatment following an accident. Colorado law requires that automobile insurance companies offer their policyholders Medical-Payments Coverage that will pay up to at least $5,000 in medical bills, regardless of who caused the accident. In order to opt out of this coverage, a policy holder must do so in writing, which few people do. But most people don’t even realize they already have this coverage or how to obtain payments. Medical-payment coverage may be quickly exhausted in the first few weeks after an accident. If you have private health insurance or Medicare or Medicaid coverage, that will typically pay for medical treatment after an accident, although most health insurers and Medicare and Medicaid have the right to be reimbursed.
Without health insurance or sufficient medical-payment coverage, the only option for most truck accident victims is to obtain medical treatment on liens, meaning the victims sign agreements to pay the medical bills from the potential recovery by settlement or verdict on the case. Not all doctors and other healthcare providers will see patients on this basis. The truck accident attorneys at Bowman & Chamberlain are able to arrange medical treatment on liens for most of our clients when there is no insurance coverage available to pay the bills as they are incurred.
Most people know they are entitled to recovery for their lost wages, but what they tend to overlook is that they are also entitled to be compensated for their lost earning potential. Being compensated for lost wages is contingent upon your inability to work due to pain or injury resulting from the accident. The only way to prove this is to visit your doctor as soon as possible following the accident. It’s important that your doctor provide a written statement attesting to the fact that you are unable to work because of the accident.
If you’re out of work for a long time, you should take steps to see your doctor as often as possible, maintaining a careful record of each visit. This will demonstrate your injury has required consistent care and attention, and that your doctor has continually re-evaluated you in regards to your ability to return to work.
Distracted Driving Accidents
Driving is a complex task, requiring the concurrent execution of various cognitive, physical sensory, and psychomotor skills. Drivers are expected to simultaneously pay attention to their surroundings, track locations of surrounding vehicles, navigate, and anticipate hazards. This level of multitasking involves competition for limited neural resources, such that engagement in one task affects performance of another.
As many features of driving become “almost automatic” with experience, most drivers are capable of dividing their focus between various driving and non-driving tasks without any serious consequences to safety. Unfortunately, when drivers temporarily focus on tasks or events unrelated to driving, their awareness and/or performance can be adversely affected.
The use of electronic devices has recently garnered the most public attention in regards to distracted driving. Drivers are increasingly using cell phones for communication, entertainment, and navigation. The proliferation of cell phone use has resulted in widespread efforts to increase awareness of the dangers of distracted driving by insurance companies, safety advocates, transportation agencies, and public health organizations. Such efforts have resulted in an unprecedented level of national commitment and legislation designed to make roads safer. Despite legislation and extensive public information campaigns advising against distracted driving over the last decade, car collisions predicated on distracted driving continue to be a major problem. In fact, federal estimates suggest distraction contributes to 5,000 deaths every year.
Our accident lawyers see the consequences of distracted driving firsthand, and feel it’s part of our responsibility to help educate the public. Contrary to popular belief, cell phone usage is just part of the problem. The true problem encompasses a much wider range of activities, many of which are seemingly normal aspects of driving.
What is Distracted Driving?
Many people believe they can effectively switch pay attention to multiple tasks at the same time, but the human brain is actually only capable of consciously focusing attention on one task at any given moment. When the brain encounters too much content, it must decide what will receive attention. Some of these decisions can be controlled while others are subconscious in nature. Distracted driving affects visual perception, cognitive ability, and manual functioning.
According to one author:
The primary task of a fighter pilot is to fly the plane, and what we might regard as distracter tasks, such as monitoring for and defeating enemy targets, are for the pilot just part of the job. Fighter pilots are carefully selected for their jobs – only people who are superior at performing two or more tasks at the same time are chosen to fly. Not only that, they are given proper training in how to effectively multi-task – because we know that training and practice can improve our ability to resist distraction. If during the design of a fighter aircraft, it is determined that all of the tasks that have to be performed – even with automation – are too much for one pilot to cope with, then the aircraft is designed for two pilots, so that we might regard as the distractor tasks can be shared or delegated to the co-pilot or navigator.
We have no similar option when it comes to piloting a motor vehicle, though often we attempt to perform just as many tasks. The expectation for vehicle drivers is that driving means looking out for hazards, navigating to a destination, and controlling the vehicle safely regardless of any distractions.
However, the combination of past experiences, driving environment, and cognitive limitations place every driver at risk of significant distractions.
What is a Visual Distraction?
The visual input is the most important source of information for drivers. A visual distraction is described as “eyes-off-the-road.” Research demonstrates new drivers predominately look forward because they have inadequate mental models associated with driving. As these drivers interact with other vehicles and observe behaviors of other drivers, they accumulate memories, which help guide them through unfamiliar situations in the future. As they grow more comfortable, they are able to predict the behaviors of other drivers and anticipate developments.
It is through this process drivers know where to look to collect the most relevant information.
Experienced drivers constantly scan their surroundings to be aware of speeds, traffic, lane positions, vehicles, and hazards. To minimize risks, experienced drivers use a safety mechanism of limiting the amount of time of focusing on any given object.
Inexperienced drivers tend to focus on secondary tasks for too long. In fact, research reveals inexperienced drivers allocate upwards of 50% of their visual attention to secondary tasks completely unrelated to driving. Distraction in this context includes attending to any task other than driving, such as looking at billboards or using a cell phone. The risk of an accident increases dramatically when a driver cannot visually focus on the primary task of driving.
What is a Cognitive Distraction?
Cognitive distraction affects driving by disrupting the allocation of visual attention to driving and the mental processing of visual information. Stated otherwise, when a driver multitasks, they can suffer from cognitive overload. At that point, no task will receive optimal attention of focus. A cognitive distraction is best described as “mind-off-the-road.”
As previously identified, distracted driving has become synonymous with cell phone usage, but that is just one component. Cognitive distractions surround drivers. Most new vehicles are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, such as entertainment operations, navigation systems, multifunction controllers, and even internet capabilities. While a technologically complex vehicle is savvy, drivers are forced to focus things extraneous to the task of driving. These are also the distractions of everyday living, such as conversing with passengers, reading, or eating.
To illustrate, a simulator study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University examined MRI readings of volunteer’s brains while they drove and listened to spoken statements. The volunteers were simply asked to determine if the statements were true or false. The results showed activity in the brain’s parietal lobe (associated with navigation and spatial processing) and occipital lobe (associated with processing visual information) decreased significantly.
Even when engaging in discussion, driving is affected, especially when secondary tasks become more complex. Safe driving requires the ability to concentrate and divide attention between multiple sensory events across visual and auditory modalities. Drivers must have the ability to make fast cognitive decisions in a complex and quickly shifting environment. This is why cognitive function is so important to safe driving. Accidents are more prone to occur when a driver cannot pay attention to the primary task of driving.
Distractions Increase Likelihood of Crashes
The final categorization of distracted driving is manual. This occurs when a driver manipulates things other than the steering wheel. All three types of distractions degrade driving performance.
Some common distractions include:
- Talking to a passenger
- Tuning a car radio
- Looking for CDs
- Reaching for an object inside the vehicle
- Looking at an object inside the vehicle
- Looking at an object or event outside of the vehicle
- Applying makeup
- Changing clothes
- Talking on a cell phone
- Texting or emailing on a cellular device
- Surfing the web
Any activity that distracts the driver from the primary task of driving has the potential to compromise safety and increase crash risk.When a driver operates a motor vehicle in a distracted fashion, the driver is negligent and responsible for the harms caused.
Driving requires the interactions of a complex set of cognitive, physical sensory, and psychomotor skills. Drivers must simultaneously maintain alertness, react quickly to hazards, and make decisions in changing environments. Alcohol impairs all the skills necessary for carrying out these tasks, adversely affecting vision, judgment, and muscle coordination. Accordingly, the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated exponentially increases the risk of being involved in an accident causing injury or death.
Impaired driving is oftentimes labeled “Driving Under the Influence” (DUI) or “Driving While Impaired” (DWAI). While the terminology may differ depending on the jurisdiction, there is a comprehensive agreement that drunk driving is one of the leading causes of road traffic casualties. As the name implies, drunk driving is the act of operating a motor vehicle after consuming enough alcohol to impair a driver’s motor skills and mental capacity.
In nearly all states, people who drink enough alcohol to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or higher are considered legally impaired and cannot drive a car. In some instances, the legal BAC may be lower than .08 percent. Moreover, for drivers under the age of 21, no amount of alcohol is acceptable, as it is illegal to drink alcohol prior to 21.
Unfortunately, the efforts at reducing drunk driving have not been overly effective in changing individual behaviors. In 2013, there were 10,076 alcohol-related deaths in the United States. That amounts to one death related to drunk driving every 50 minutes. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, drunk driving is responsible for 700 injuries and 33 fatalities every single day in the United States. At the current rate, an estimated 3 of every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lifetime.
Effects of Alcohol
The short-term effects of alcohol are related to the depressant effect on the brain. The higher a person’s BAC, the greater the depressant effects, hence the importance of BAC as an index of impairment. With just a small amount of alcohol, a person can experience impairment of both simple processes of relatively uncomplicated tasks and understanding.
Alcohol affects cognition, vigilance, attention, judgment, and reaction, which are instrumental in the operation of a vehicle. Alcohol reduces a driver’s ability to focus on moving objects and process information. It also negatively affects a driver’s ability to judge distance and depth. People who get behind the wheel after drinking are far more likely to cause accidents than sober drivers. Because their reaction times are slowed and their judgment is impaired, drunk driving accidents are often more serious and cause more severe injuries than other car accidents.
Research has revealed that neuromuscular responses may be impaired in some individuals at a BAC as low as .04%. Most authors have concluded that even lower alcohol levels can still cause significant impairment in psychomotor performance, to the extent that driving safety is compromised.
Criminal Charges and Civil Suits
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) rightfully calls alcohol-impaired driving the most frequently committed violent crime in America. Colorado’s BAC requirements for DUI and DWAI differ based on the age of the driver and whether the vehicle is private or commercial.
In Colorado, a driver can be convicted of DUI or DWI if:
- Under age 21 with a BAC of 0.01% or higher. There is zero tolerance for drivers under 21. If alcohol is present in any amount in a driver under 21, they can be convicted of a DUI.
- Over age 21 with a BAC of 0.08% or higher
- Operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04% or higher
In addition to filing for criminal charges, the victims of drunk driving accidents and their families have the right to pursue claims in civil court to recover monetary damages.
The procedures and verdicts in the civil case will be separate from the criminal case. While a conviction in criminal court may help, the drunk driver does not have to be convicted in criminal court for a victim to file a civil claim. The level of proof required to win a civil claim is lower than the level required to obtain a conviction in criminal court. There may be many reasons why a drunk driver is not convicted in criminal court that do not apply to civil cases, so even if the drunk driver is not convicted, a victim may still seek compensation through a civil claim.
Who is Responsible?
A number of parties may be held responsible for drunk driving accidents, including:
- Drivers – Drunk drivers are responsible for their own behavior, including choosing to drive their vehicles after consuming alcohol.
- Hosts – People who host parties where alcohol is served can be held liable in the event a guest causes a drunk driving accident, especially if the host was known to provide alcohol to the guest after he or she was clearly inebriated.
- Bar/Restaurant Staff & Owners – Bar and restaurant owners and employees can also be held responsible for drunk driving accidents. It is their responsibility to stop serving patrons that appear to be intoxicated.
Determining legal negligence is an important part of an accident. It is necessary for a personal injury victim to identify all possible sources of negligence.
According to the Denver Office of Economic Development (“OED”), Metropolitan Denver has a population of 2.7 million, with a growth rate that has consistently outpaced the national average every year. With thousands of newcomers relocating to Denver daily, the population is anticipated to increase by nearly 50 percent in less than fifteen years. With such an immense influx of new residents annually, it is not surprising Colorado roadways are growing more and more congested with traffic jams.
Frustrations with traffic or personal problems can lead some motorists to exhibit very short tempers. This experience can lead the impatient drivers to tailgate, disobey traffic signals, and change lanes abruptly. This behavior has become an epidemic and goes by the name of road rage.
What is Road Rage?
Road rage is defined as “a motorist’s uncontrolled anger that is usually provoked by another motorist’s irritating act and is expressed in aggressive or violent behavior.” Remarkably, road rage is not usually the result of alcohol or drug related driving. Rather, it involves one driver’s deliberate attempt to harm another. Reported incidents have been on a steady rise since the 90s.
It’s difficult to identify what leads drivers to experience road rage. Virtually anything can tip a person over the brink of such anger.
The following actions are generally considered acts of road rage:
- Sudden acceleration followed by “brake checking”
- Close tailgating
- Cutting off another driver in a lane
- Deliberately preventing another driver from merging into a lane
- Sounding a vehicle horn or flashing lights excessively
- Rude gestures
- Shouting verbal abuse, threats, or spitting at another driver
- Intentionally causing a collision between vehicles
- Running another driver off the road
- Swerving to prevent passing or to threaten or intimidate another driver
- Exiting the vehicle to instigate a confrontation
- Striking another vehicle with an object
- Threatening to use, using, or brandishing a firearm or other deadly weapon
What is Aggressive Driving?
Road rage is not the same as aggressive driving, though it’s a common misconception. In the most simplified terms, aggressive driving is a traffic offense while road rage is a criminal offense.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), aggressive driving is “a combination of unsafe and unlawful driving actions that demonstrate a disregard for safety.” NHTSA’s research reveals more than 60 percent of drivers believe aggressive driving is a personal threat to safety yet more than half admitted to driving aggressively on occasion.
The anonymity associated with driving can create a false sense of control and power, causing some drivers to disregard the consequences of their actions.
Behaviors typically reflective of aggressive driving include:
- Exceeding the posted speed limit
- Following too closely
- Erratic Movements
- Unsafe lane changes
- Improperly signaling lane changes
- Operating a vehicle in a selfish manner
- Driving too fast for conditions
- Maneuvering without regard of others
- Causing others to take evasive action
- Flashing lights
- Brake checking
- Blowing the horn
- Preventing faster drivers from passing
- Deliberately ignoring traffic controls
- Driving in a way to gain an advantage over other drivers
Nearly a dozen states have enacted laws that enhance the penalty for aggressive driving from a common traffic ticket to a more serious misdemeanor or a felony. Although there is no actual crime called “road rage” in Colorado, both road rage and aggressive driving can be charged as a variety of different crimes, both felony and misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances, such as:
- Reckless Driving (C.R.S. 42-4-1401) – When a person who drives in such a manner as to indicate either a wanton or a willful disregard for the safety of persons or property
- Careless Driving (C.R.S. 42-4-1402) – When a person drives in a careless and imprudent manner, without due regard for use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances
- Assault with a Deadly Weapon (C.R.S. 18-3-202) – When a person intentionally causes bodily injury, often by use or threat of use of a deadly weapon
- Assault – when a person attempt to commit a violent injury against another person.
- Battery – When a person uses unlawful force or violence against another person.
- Hit and Run (C.R.S. 42-4-1601) – When a person damages property or injures someone in a car collision and leaves the scene without exchanging information or helping the victim
- Brandishing a Firearm – When a person shows or draws a firearm in an angry, rude, or threatening manner
- NHTSA estimates that one third of all traffic crashes and two thirds of traffic fatalities are attributable to driving behavior commonly associated with aggressive driving and/or road rage.
In all motor vehicle accidents, the insurance companies will have a team of lawyers, adjusters, and specialists, whose job it is to minimize any payout to injured parties. While the victim is recovering, the defendant’s insurance company is out collecting valuable evidence. This is why it’s important to seek a qualified personal injury attorney as soon as possible after an accident to protect your rights.
It should come as no surprise that “at fault” literally means the person who caused the accident and is legally responsible. In most cases, the person considered at fault has performed an illegal, reckless, careless, or irresponsible action while driving a vehicle, resulting in an accident. This is the concept of negligence. While this works well for accidents when the fault is easily apparent and incontestable (ie. a driver ran a red light or collided into the rear of a parked car), fault can be difficult to understand in more complex incidents.
After an accident occurs, law enforcement officers are usually dispatched to the scene to investigate and determine fault, which may be difficult to ascertain. The responding police officer will question the parties involved in the accident, as well as witnesses, and make an opinion as to fault. More often than not, the officer’s opinion is accepted by the parties involved and their insurance companies. In some instances, however, the investigating officer will be unable to reach a decision or the officer’s decision will be questioned or even disregarded by one or more of the parties or insurance companies.
Also, police do not always come to the scene of an accident. In some areas or when police resources are slim, it’s often left up to the parties to the accident to report the accident to the police station. If the parties elect to file a police report online, investigators review the report and conduct their own inquiries.
Drivers that are considered at fault will find themselves in a very adverse situation. Almost immediately, their insurance rates will increase, especially if there has been considerable damage. Worse yet, some insurance providers may even drop drivers, depending on the circumstances of the accident and the driver’s history. Furthermore, negligent drivers may be forced to pay for medical expenses. This can be particularly devastating if several cars and multiple victims were involved. The cost of property damage can also be tacked on to this. Finally, the at-fault driver may be subject to tickets and points being added on to their license for their actions.
As you can see, there are wide ranging effects for those who are at fault during an automobile accident. Consequently, it is wise not to admit fault immediately after an accident. Sometimes, outside factors you never considered, or even remembered, played an important role in the accident. By admitting fault before knowing the facts, such as those provided by eyewitnesses, you could be severely damaging your case. Determining fault after an accident is very important so be sure to take it seriously.
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