You’re driving along a familiar road, feeling comfortable and confident. Suddenly, the unthinkable happens: you lose control of your vehicle and crash into a telephone pole. You’re left injured, and your car is severely damaged.
What do you do next? How can you ensure you get the compensation you deserve?
In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the process of determining liability, recovering damages, and deciding whether to file an insurance claim after crashing into a fixed object.
Who is liable for a fixed-object crash?
In a car accident involving a fixed object, liability can be challenging to determine. In most cases, the driver is considered at fault if they failed to exercise reasonable care while operating the vehicle. For example, a driver who swerves into a guardrail because they’re distracted by a text is liable for any damages that result.
However, there are instances in which other parties may be responsible for an accident with a fixed object. Some common examples include:
- Other drivers: The actions of another driver may have caused or contributed to your crash, even if the other vehicle did not collide with your vehicle.
- Vehicle manufacturers: If a defect in your vehicle design caused the accident, the manufacturer may be held liable.
- Government entities: If your crash was caused by a dangerous road condition (such as a pothole or downed telephone wire), the owner of the road (typically a government entity) may be held responsible.
Koua Fong Lee, who was driving on a St. Paul, Minnesota freeway, attempted to brake when exiting the freeway, but her 1996 Toyota Camry accelerated instead and slammed into the back of an Oldsmobile stopped at a red light. The accident resulted in the death of the three people in the Oldsmobile.
Initially, Koua was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison. However, following the revelation of unintended acceleration issues in various Toyota models, the charges against Koua were dismissed.
In 2013, Koua and the families of the other victims of the crash filed a lawsuit against Toyota. The case went to trial, and the jury found Toyota 60 percent liable for the accident. The plaintiffs were awarded 11.4 million in damages.
How to recover damages after an accident with a fixed object
If you’ve been injured in an accident with a fixed object, you may be able to recover damages, even if the accident was your fault.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for doing so:
- Document the accident: Take photos of the accident scene, your vehicle, the fixed object, and any injuries. Obtain a police report and gather witness statements if possible.
- Seek medical attention: Even if you don’t think you were seriously injured, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention. Some injuries may not be apparent immediately after a crash. What’s more, medical records from the date of the accident go a long way in proving damages if you choose to file an insurance claim or lawsuit in the future.
- Notify your insurance company: Depending on your coverage, your insurance company may cover some or all of your damages, even if the accident was your fault. In most cases, you’ll need to have optional collision coverage to make a claim.
- Consult with a car accident attorney: A skilled car accident attorney can help you explore your legal options and navigate the legal process.
Damages worksheet to track expenses for your injury claim (medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, prescriptions)
Download in PDF format
Personal Injury Attorney Interview Sheet
Worksheet with questions to ask a personal injury attorney to help determine if he or she will be a good fit for your case
Download in PDF format
Deciding whether to file a claim
Many people are reluctant to file an insurance claim because they fear the claim will trigger an increase in their car insurance rates.
Here are a couple of factors to consider when deciding whether to file an insurance claim after an accident with a fixed object:
- Liability: If you believe another party is responsible for your accident, it’s typically worth filing a claim. Unfortunately, your car insurance rates may still go up even if the accident wasn’t your fault, although the increase is almost always significantly less than if the accident had been your fault.
- The severity of the injuries or damages: If your injuries or damages are significant (at least more than your deductible), it’s almost always beneficial to file a claim to recover compensation.
Frequently asked questions about fixed-object crashes
Do you still have questions about fixed-object car accidents? Let’s see if we can answer them for you:
Whether you can recover damages even if you’re partially at fault depends on the shared fault rule that your particular state has adopted. In most states, you can still recover damages, but your damages will be reduced by your percentage of fault.
The type of compensation you can recover depends on your state. In most states, you can recover economic and non-economic damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., medical expenses, lost wages, property damage).
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., pain and suffering, loss of consortium).
You may have legal recourse against the driver of the truck, particularly if the truck driver failed to properly tie down the object in their trunk. Call the police to make a report, and be sure to get the truck’s license and insurance information.
There is a time limit (called a statute of limitations) to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations, your lawsuit will be forever barred. The statute of limitations varies by state, so consult an attorney to ensure you don’t miss any important deadlines.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, about 20 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths result from a vehicle leaving the roadway and hitting a fixed object, such as a tree, utility pole, or traffic barrier. Most fixed-object crashes occur at night, and alcohol is often a contributing factor.