Articles Posted in Automobile Wrecks

Winter RoadWeather conditions often impact drivers on the roadways in Alabama, and unfortunately, inclement weather often contributes to cause an increase in motor vehicle wrecks.  Rain, wintery conditions, and even bright sun or high wind may contribute to collisions.  It is important to note that every driver has a duty to use reasonable care at all times and in all conditions when operating a motor vehicle.  As such, drivers must take weather conditions into consideration and respond in a safe manner.   Using reasonable care in inclement weather may mean that a driver should travel at a speed less than the posted speed limit or should maintain a greater distance between vehicles.   Actions that may be perfectly acceptable or legal under ideal weather conditions may become unacceptable due to weather-related hazards.  When determining whether or not a driver was acting appropriately for the weather, the court may look at the kind of hazard posed by the weather, complicating factors such as traffic congestion and terrain, whether or not the driver knew to expect the adverse weather conditions, the type of vehicle driven, and the individual driver’s level of experience.

Under Alabama law, if a vehicle skids or slides on a roadway that is slippery because of ice or rain, the driver is not automatically responsible for a resulting collision.   The mere fact that a vehicle slid on the roadway into another vehicle is not enough to find the driver at fault.  The driver will only be held liable if there is proof that the driver acted unreasonably in light of the slippery conditions.  This proof most often comes from evidence the driver was aware of hazardous conditions and traveled at a speed too fast for the conditions or traveled into an area that the driver knew or should have known was unsafe.

Lack of visibility due to weather conditions, such as rain, snow, fog, or even bright sunlight, can also serve to contribute to a collision.  The fact that a driver was unable to see, however, is not necessarily a defense.  Under Alabama law, drivers have a responsibility to operate their vehicle safely for the visibility conditions, which may mean traveling below the posted speed limit, leaving a greater following distance, turning on their headlights, or even pulling off of the road and waiting until visibility improves.  If a crash occurs, the excuse of “I couldn’t see them” due to the weather is not an automatic defense.  Instead, it would be up to a judge and jury to determine whether or not the driver was acting reasonably in consideration of the weather.

Auto Insurance DocumentsAutomobile insurance policies in Alabama are designed to provide coverage to persons that are injured in motor vehicle wrecks or when a vehicle is damaged.   Every policy may contain one or more of several different types of coverage.  These coverages most often include liability coverage, medical payments coverage, collision coverage, and underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage.  Policies may also include provisions for rental insurance or loss of use.

Liability coverage is the type of coverage that is most familiar to most drivers.  Your liability coverage provides protection for you if you are the driver of a vehicle that is responsible for or “at fault” for a collision.  This coverage will pay for the damage caused to other vehicles and will provide compensation for bodily injury caused to other people by the wreck.  Keep in mind, however, that the amount your insurance company will pay for damages is not unlimited.  Alabama has a mandatory liability insurance law that requires a minimum coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident for bodily injury and $25,000 per incident for damage to property.  A $25,000 per person policy limit means that the most anyone injured person can collect under the policy is $25,000.  If there are only two injured persons, they can each make a claim for up to $25,000.  However, if there are more than two persons injured, the most the carrier will pay for all claims is $50,000.

Unfortunately, the minimum coverage may not be sufficient to pay for all the harm suffered in a particular wreck.  Insurance carriers typically offer policies with per person bodily injury limits of $25,000, $50,000, $100,000, $250,000 and higher.  It is important to consider the value of your personal assets when deciding what limit of liability coverage is necessary to protect you and your family.  An injured person does not have to accept the policy limits to settle a claim.  In the event that the value of an injured person’s claim exceeds the liability policy limits, that person could decide to seek a judgment against your personal assets, including your wages, home, real estate, investment or retirement accounts, and other possessions.

Confused woman. Do I need a lawyerDear Siniard, Timberlake, & League,

 

Last week, I was involved in a car crash.  I was hit from behind and the impact caused a chain reaction.  In total there were four cars involved.  My vehicle was totaled as a result and I suffered severe burns and bruising from the airbag deployment.  As expected, I’ve also been really sore.  I did make a visit to the emergency room and am now seeing my family doctor.  Although I think I’ll be fine eventually, my family keeps urging me to consult a lawyer before I speak with the at fault driver’s insurance company.  I’m not sure if I need a lawyer and I’m concerned about how much it will cost if I do. 

 How do I decide if I should see a lawyer regarding the wreck?  

According to Alabama Code § 32-5A-350, it is against the law to use a cellular telephone or other similar device to send or receive text based communications, including text messages, instant or direct messages, pictures, and electronic mail while operating a motor vehicle on a public road, street, or highway.  The penalty is $25.00 for a first violation, $50.00 for a second violation, and $75.00 for a third or subsequent violation.

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Violation of the statute can be the primary or sole reason for being stopped by a law enforcement officer.  This means that a law enforcement officer can stop a motorist for texting and driving without witnessing any other moving violation. If someone is texting and driving, an officer can stop that driver and issue a ticket, even if the driver is following all of the other rules of the road at the time.

Although texting is illegal, the statue allows the user of a device to “read, select, or enter” a telephone number in a device for the purpose of making a call while driving.  The statute also allows for the sending and receiving of messages with voice operated devices when driving an automobile. Continue reading

In Alabama, the measure of damages for personal property is the difference between the reasonable market value of the property immediately before it was damaged and its reasonable market value immediately after it was damaged.  In cases where an automobile is damaged but is not a total loss, the cost of repair is considered when determining the difference in market value.  In addition to the cost of repair, any diminution or decrease in value of the automobile resulting from the damage will be considered. When the damage to the vehicle is merely cosmetic or the vehicle is older, there may not be any diminution in value after appropriate repairs are completed.  In cases of newer model cars with substantial damage, the claim for diminution in value can be significant.

Alabama courts have ruled that an owner of property is qualified to state his or her opinion as to value of property before and after injury. Chambers v. Burgess, 281 So.2d 643 (1972); Parker v. Muse, 250 So.2d 688 (1971).  However, in many cases, it is beneficial to use experts to assess the diminution in value to a vehicle.   Experts can be particularly helpful when assessing the impact of damages to antique, classic or exotic automobiles.    Other states utilize a statutory formula using a base loss value, damage modifiers (severe, moderate or minor) and the vehicle’s mileage to assess the diminution in value.

Alabama does not have any laws that designate the type of replacement parts that must be used when repairing a damaged vehicle.  As long as the replacement parts are similar in fit and quality as the damaged parts, used parts or aftermarket parts may be used to complete repairs. Continue reading

Most drivers are aware of the majority of rules that govern operation of motor vehicles on a public roadway.  These rules are set forth in Alabama Code § 32-5A-1 though § 32-5A-330.  Although these rules primarily concern operation of vehicles, they also contain provisions directing proper pedestrian use of roadways and intersections.

Pedestrian controlThe principle rule for pedestrians requires that they follow the traffic control devices that regulate motor vehicle traffic unless otherwise directed by a specific pedestrian control sign such as the commonly used walk/don’t walk devices.  Alabama Code § 32-5A-32 and §32-5A-210.  Whenever there are special pedestrian control signals at an intersection, pedestrians may proceed across the roadway as directed and shall have the right of way and all motor vehicles must yield to the pedestrian.   Alabama Code § 32-5A-33.

CrosswalkWhen traffic control signals are not in place or not in operation, drivers of motor vehicles must yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk. If a pedestrian is crossing a roadway at any point other than an intersection or a marked crosswalk, then the pedestrian shall yield to vehicles on the roadway.  If there are adjacent intersections where traffic control devices are in use, it is unlawful to cross the roadway except at a marked crosswalk.  Alabama Code § 32-5A-212.  This would be the case in the typical “jaywalking” situation where pedestrians attempt to cross a roadway in the middle of the block.  It is also against the law for pedestrians to attempt to cross an intersection diagonally.  Alabama Code § 32-5A-212.

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We are often asked whether a parent or an owner of a vehicle is responsible for the conduct of a child or another person using a vehicle with permission. In most instances, neither a parent of a young driver, nor the owner of the vehicle, are liable for injuries caused by another person using their vehicle. Although a person or a business can be responsible for the actions of their agents or employees, simply being the parent of a driver or the owner of a vehicle does not subject a person to claims for injuries or other damages.

In spite of this general rule, a parent of a driver or an owner of a vehicle can be held liable for injuries, if there is evidence thNegligent Entrustmentat they negligently entrusted the vehicle to the driver. Under Alabama law, the essential elements of an action for negligent entrustment are (1) an entrustment; (2) to an incompetent; (3) with knowledge that he is incompetent; (4) proximate cause; and (5) damages. Edwards v. Valentine, 926 So. 2d. 315 (Ala. 2005).

Entrustment of a vehicle can include expressly loaning a vehicle on a specific occasion, continuously allowing consent to use a vehicle, or merely leaving a vehicle available for use. In the event where a vehicle is left for use, a parent or an owner may be responsible even when he or she did not provide permission to use the vehicle when there is evidence that the person who was driving the vehicle was likely to use it without authorization and that the parent or owner failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent such unauthorized use. Continue reading

SubrogationSubrogation is the right of a third party – usually a health, disability or automobile insurance company – to recover money paid to or on behalf of an injured person from any amount the injured person receives from a responsible party.  Subrogation is based on equitable principles and considerations that an injured person should not recover twice for a single injury and that the insurer should be reimbursed for payments it made that, in fairness, should be made by the wrongdoer.  Most insurance contracts include claims for reimbursement based on the contract and require that the injured person cooperate with the insurer, furnish information concerning the personal injury claim, and most importantly notify the insurer before filing suit or settling any claim.

If you suffer a personal injury and receive medical treatment that is paid for by your health insurance company they will often send a notice of subrogation.  This notice will request information about the incident and ask that you identify any person or insurance company that may be responsible for your injuries.   The initial notice of subrogation is often followed by a notice indicating the amount paid by the insurer and a specific claim for that amount.  This notice is commonly provided to the insurance company for the responsible party.

When it comes time to actually reimburse your health insurance provider for the medical bills they have paid, your attorney may be able to negotiate a reduced repayment amount.  Alabama state courts have applied equitable principles when interpreting contractual subrogation provisions.  The “made whole” doctrine and the “common fund” doctrine are the most prevalent.  When the “made whole” doctrine is applicable, insurers are not allowed to pursue their subrogation rights unless and until the injured party is “made whole” or fully compensated for all of his or her losses.  Where the amount recovered by the injured party is less than his or her loss (as is common when the responsible party is underinsured or uninsured) then the insured has not been made whole and the insurer may not pursue its subrogation claim.  Regrettably, recent decisions of our courts have allowed insurers to contractually avoid the application of the made whole doctrine in many cases. Continue reading

CodeThe state can suspend a driver’s license or an owner’s vehicle registration until the proper forms are submitted and fees paid when an uninsured vehicle is involved in a collision or when a driver is pulled over and fails to provide proof of insurance.  The Code of Alabama has two different chapters governing mandatory car insurance and the penalties for not having coverage. They are Ala. Code §32-7-1 et seq. Motor Vehicle Safety-Responsibility Act and Ala. Code §32-7A-l et seq. Mandatory Automobile Liability Insurance.

§32-7-5 of the Motor Vehicle Safety-Responsibility Act requires that any driver involved in a wreck in Alabama, where any person is injured or killed or where more than $250.00 in property damage is sustained, must file a written report with the Department of Public Safety within 30 days of the date of the wreck stating, among other things, that the driver has the required minimum insurance coverage. This is the SR-13 form given to drivers after collisions. The drivers must submit the form whether or not the wreck is their fault.

Under §32-7-6, if one or more of the drivers in a motor vehicle wreck is reported as being uninsured, that driver has 20 days after the submission of an accident report to provide proof that the driver either (1) actually has insurance, (2) has been released from liability, (3) has been finally adjudicated as being not liable, or (4) has agreed to pay installments for any injuries or damages for which the driver is liable. If 60 days passes from the submission of an accident report and an uninsured driver has not provided any of the above information, the Department of Transportation has the power to suspend both the license of the driver and the vehicle registration of any vehicle owned by the uninsured vehicle’s owner.

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photo 3Although many think the dramatic parts of a trial – the opening and closing arguments — are the most crucial moments, the actual evidence presented at trial is what truly determines the verdict.  After all, a jury’s verdict must be based on the evidence.  But what is “evidence”?  A lawyer’s argument or interpretation of facts is not evidence in a personal injury case.  Evidence can be testimony given by witnesses, as well as tangible items and documents that are admitted as exhibits.  Each state has its own rules of evidence that a judge must apply in determining whether evidence is admissible or not admissible.   In many situations, evidence that would seem quite relevant to the lawsuit is frequently excluded at trial.  It may be a surprise to find out that these five things are usually inadmissible in a personal injury case in Alabama.

Alabama Uniform Traffic Crash Reports – Alabama Courts have said that automobile accident reports are inadmissible at trial.  36789760However, judges have disagreed on the reason why. One Alabama statute states, “No such report shall be used as evidence in any trial, civil or criminal, arising out of an accident…” (Ala. Code § 32-10-11). In Mainor v. Hayneville Telephone Co., 715 So. 2d 800 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997), the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals decided that the statute required that automobile accident reports be excluded at trial.  However, other judges have prevented admission of automobile accident reports on the basis of the “hearsay rule” (Alabama Rule of Evidence 802).  In limited situations, an automobile accident report can be used at trial to refresh a police officer’s memory while he is testifying or to impeach a witness who has made a prior inconsistent statement.  Yet in the vast majority of cases, the jury will not be allowed to view the accident report or learn all the information contained in the report.

The Defendant’s Available Liability Insurance – In personal injury cases, the main question is whether someone is liable to another for money damages.  For a party to be found liable, they must be proved to have been negligent.  In Alabama, automobile insurance is mandatory.  Therefore, in a lawsuit seeking damages for personal injury from a car wreck, the insurance company will provide legal representation and will pay any judgment – up to the limit of the policy – entered against the person, if he or she is found to be negligent.  However, in almost all situations, the jury cannot be told that a defendant has liability insurance.  Alabama Rule of Evidence 411 states, “Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon the issue whether the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully.”   The justification for this rule is straightforward.  A jury may be tempted to award damages or increase its award of damages because the insurance company is paying the judgment.  Our legal system wants the jury to determine the outcome of a personal injury case on the facts, not whether the insurance company will pay the judgment.

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