February Rain Brings about New Injury Accidents in San Francisco and Alameda Counties

san francisco car accident injuries in rainAs I was leaving San Francisco this morning, heading East on I-80 towards Sacramento, it was quite disturbing to see a number of serious accidents on the freeway during this morning’s very strong rain and even one roll-over accident. All of the accident scenes I saw this morning suggested that the accidents took place in a car pool lane, and quite a few of the vehicles hit a median divider. Most of the accidents must have involved serious injuries as a number of fire trucks and ambulances were rushing toward the scenes of those accidents from both directions.

Clearly, some of the drivers lost control of their vehicles, hit the divider, and had their cur spun on a wet, slipper road, causing one or more cars behind them collide into them and cause a major pile-up accident. This is yet another reminder to the drivers of how important it is to keep distance between the vehicle in front of you, especially during and right after the heavy rain.

From a legal standpoint, one upside of having a pile-up is the opportunity for the biggest victim of the accident to obtain contact information of the potential witnesses who can later testify that he/she was not at fault, and who really caused the accident. This is important, because it is not uncommon for insurance companies to deny liability due to the conflicting recount of how the accident happened, and having unbiased witnesses on your side, who saw with their own eyes how the accident happened are very likely to tip the scales of liability in your favor.

Parents’ Liability for Intentional Injuries caused by a Minor

As a parent of a minor child who is in your physical and legal custody, you are well advised to supervise your children and make everything in your power to prevent them from getting in violent fights and intentionally causeing injuries to others, as California law imposes serious liability on parents of minor children in such situations.

In addition to any liability for negligent supervision of children who cause injury or damage to property, a parent or a guardian is liable under California Civil Code section 1714.1 for intentional miconduct of a child (such as criminal acts, destruction of property, etc.) Any act of a minor which results in injury or death to another person or damage to property will be imputed to the parent for all purposes of civil damages. The parent or guarding having custody (physical custody and not just legal custody required). The liability of a parent for each such act by a minor was originally limited to $25,000.00 when this law was enacted, but is being adjusted by judicial council every two years and is currently at about $35,000.00.

If the insurance coverage applies to the injury or damage caused by a minor, the insurer will not be liable for more than $10,000.00 of the total sum.

Liability is also imposed by statute on parents for the intentional misconduct of children in other situations. These include:

  • intentional act resulting in injury or death to any student or any person employed by performing volunteer services for a school district or private school. Cal. Education Code setion 48904(a);
  • intentional or negligent act by a minor in driving a parent’s vehicle with parent’s express or implied permission. Cal. Vehicle Code section 17150 and 17707;
  • Injury caused by a discharge of a weapon by a minor under 18 years if the parent either permitted the minor to have a firearm or left the firearm in a place accessible to the minor, although such liability is limited to $30,000 for injury to or death of one person per one injured person or $60,000 for injury to or death of all persons involved in a single event. Cal. Civil Code section 1714.3.

Safer Driving in San Francisco During Rain to Avoid Accident Injuries

injury accidents when driving in rain in san franciscoWe all hear about the importance of safe and defensive driving during the wet road conditions brought by rain in San Francisco all throughout the winter season.  Generally, all drivers are aware of the fact that it takes longer to stop a vehicle when it’s raining than when the road is dry, as water significantly decreases the friction between the tires and the road and the overall traction of the a vehicle.  However, I believe that people only fully appreciate how difficult it is to break on the wet road and how much time and distance they need to stop their car abruptly only after they have to deal with this situation at least once.

Thus, in my opinion, every driver would greatly benefit by conducting an experiment on the road where they will have to face with the potentially dangerous conditions, so that they see how their vehicle responds to the need for a sudden stop on the wet road.  Here is how you can make this experiment work for you.  During one rainy day, drive your car out late at night to a safe area with no traffic.  Position your vehicle straight on the road and mentally choose a point about 150 – 200 feet away from where you start driving. As you approach the chosing point, imagine that there is another car stopped in that spot and try to break as hard as you can to avoid colliding into that vehicle about 2-3 second before you arrive to the chosen point. This will simulate a common situation where the driver takes his eyes off the road for a few moments while the vehicle in front of him stops in traffic or at a stop light. You will be amazed to find out that your vehicle will likely skid far past the chosen point and that there is absolutely nothing you can do prevent your vehicle from skidding or almost sliding forward.

This experiment will provide you with an invaluable appreciation of the dangerous road conditions during rain and will likely make you drive slower and more carefully, keeping a large distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.

The Risks of Falling Asleep while Your Friend is Driving

Today, I met a happily married couple for over 25 years who was a painful reminder of the dangers of both falling asleep while driving and also sleeping while being a passenger.  The wife was pushing the husband’s wheelchair as they arrived to see me regarding an employment law related matter.  When I asked how the man ended up being disabled and in a wheelchair, they told me that they were involved in an auto accident over ten years ago when they both took a long-distance trip in their car.

I was surprised to see that while the husband sustained such a serious, crippling injury, the woman seemed like she did not sustain a serious injury.  As I found out, the woman was behind the wheel, driving on a highway, while her husband was sleeping as a passenger next to her in the car. As the woman started falling asleep, she veered off the road and collided into a pole.  Since she was not fully asleep, her body was somewhat “ready” for the impact. Her husband, on the other hand, was in deep sleep.  Thus, at the time of the impact, his body was not able to provide any amortization for the impact and was freely and violently thrown forward, even though the vehicle was not traveling at a high rate of speed, when hitting the tree. As a result he suffered permanent spine injury,  and both of his knees were broken, rendering him unable to walk for the rest of his life.

Ironically, the very reason people switch who sits in the driver seat when going on a long distance trip is in order for the driver to not get too tired and not fall asleep, allowing the person who is not driving to take rest breaks and sleep while being a passenger in the car. As the above example illustrates, this is a very dangerous situation, as even a minor accident or collision will likely hurt a body of a sleeping person much more seriously than that of a  driver who is awake or who is not fully asleep.

Do you need legal representation for your injury case?

One of the first questions that a person who is injured in an auto accident asks himself is whether he should handle the claim himself or retain an injury lawyer. And… if to hire a lawyer, how to find the right one – how to find an honest, aggressive legal professional who will obtain fair compensation and do a thorough job representing you? Choosing a lawyer can be a challenging task, especially in San Francisco, where there are literally hundreds and hundreds of personal injury lawyers.

Generally, a small accidents with minimal property damages and mild, soft tissue injuries injuries from which you completely recover within a month or so do not justify hiring an attorney unless the third-party insurance company of the driver at fault simply denies liability or are otherwise being unreasonable about settling your claim, not willing to compensate you for your basic medical expenses and for the time missed from work.

Otherwise, if you document your injuries, medical treatment and loss of wages well, you should be able to obtain fair compensation in your insurance settlement without the necessity of paying anywhere between 25% and 40% of your recovery to the attorney.

However, if you suffered a serious injury to one or more parts of your body in an auto accident, which is likely to have residual effects in the future or possibly for the rest of your life which has and will affect various aspects of your life and your ability to enjoy the typical social and professional activities, it is in your best interest to hire a reputable, knowledgeable, personal injury lawyer for a number of compelling reasons:

  1. Assessing your injury claim. An experienced personal injury attorney will help you understand the legal issues involved in your specific personal injury claim. Is the injury serious? Is it a permanent or temporary injury? Who was at fault? Was there an uninsured or underinsured motorist involved? Is there any third party responsibility? Do you have pain and suffering? Should you try to negotiate with the insurer yourself? Do you have to accept his settlement offer? Do you know what your case is worth (the insurance company does and won’t tell you)? A good lawyer will tell you whether it makes sense to sue in small claims court, to sue for a larger amount in state court or to settle out of court.
  2. Obtaining additional evidence, information and reports. A good personal injury attorney will know what kinds of evidence to look for (i.e., medical and vocational evidence, police reports, etc.) and will investigate and interview potential witnesses for statements to gather all the necessary records and other evidence to prove the extent and the gravity of your injuries and to prove liability of the other party of it’s in dispute.
  3. Provide legal education to find a possible shortcut to resolving your injury claim. If representing yourself works better for you, consider using an attorney as a legal coach to help you (1) understand the personal injury law that applies to your case; (2) find the evidence that best supports your case; (3) understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of your claim; (4) understand the litigation process and customs unique to your local courts; (5) draft or review paperwork; (6) identify opportunities for a settlement to your personal injury claim; or (7) represent you if at some point you feel you can no longer go it alone.
  4. Negotiate. If there is an unresolved dispute, there will be negotiations with a claim adjuster who is a professional negotiator. You’d be wise to hire an attorney to negotiate on your behalf and to protect your interests, as both insurance companies and insurance defense lawyers take the arguments of a lawyer much more seriously than those of a lay person who is trying to handle his own injury claim.
  5. Represent you in court. An experienced lawyer can help you file a personal injury lawsuit against the party with whom you have a dispute. If your opponent has a lawyer, then by all means, you need to get one as well, as a lay person does not have the knowledge and experience to deal with the opposite size, following the many complicated court rules and procedures.
  6. Relieving you of the hassle associated with handling your own injury claim – your most important job after being involved in an injury accident is making sure that your recover and get back to the normal course of your life. From the moment you hire an attorney, you are relieved of the trouble of handling many of the issues associated with your claim, as most, if not all, the work will be done by your lawyer.

So, the bottom line is this: if your injuries are insignificant, you didn’t miss a lot of time from work and the insurance company being reasonable with you, then you should settle your claim and move on with your life.

If your injuries are serious and require careful treatment and evaluation and are likely to affect your future, it is highly recommended that you retain a personal injury lawyer to represent your interests, to negotiate on your behalf and possibly fight for a fair recovery in court.

Oakland Injury Lawyer: IME – Independent Medical Examinations

The insurance company of the driver at fault almost always conducts a medical examination of the driver claiming damages for his/her injuries, called independent medical examination (IME). This examination is the opportunity for the insurance company to conduct it’s own medical evaluation of your condition.

A defendant in a personal injury case has the right to one physical examination of plaintiff without leave of court simply by serving plaintiff with a proper written demand for such medical examination. Further, the physical exam is limited to those parts of plaintiff’s body or conditions that are “in controversy” in the action as provided by California Court of Civil Procedure section 2032.020(a). The examination may also not be unduly painful or intrusive and should generally be limited to common, procedures for assessing/evaluating the condition and the extent of the injuries of the plaintiff.

In many cases the examining doctor is not truly “independent.” When hired by the defense insurance company, the physician may in fact be partial to the defense position as they are the ones who paying for physician’s services and are likely to bring more business in the future if they are “satisfied” with the results of these examinations. The examined plaintiff’s remedy in such situations is to bring out such evidence of bias at trial in the form of impeachment. The plaintiff cannot, after trial and apparent dissatisfaction with the award of damages, sue the doctor for fraud or conspiracy on the ground of compiling a negative report. The proper remedy is bringing a motion for new trial or motion to increase award promptly.