By Karen Piso Nadeau, Esquire
My December blog focused on five common mistakes made either before our client is involved in an accident or shortly after the accident occurs. I described five things you can do to avoid making these mistakes to improve the chances of the best possible outcome for you and your family if you find yourself in an accident due to the bad actions of someone else. This blog will identify five obstacles relating to our client’s actions that get in the way of our ability to obtain money for them and what you can do in the New Year to keep you on a safe path. Some of these issues seem obvious. Yet, many of us need to be reminded about them. The New Year is a motivating time to make some positive changes with very little effort. From a lawyering perspective, the behavior described below may prevent a client from obtaining any recovery on a case and may cause devastating consequences for them and their families. The good news is that there are easy solutions to avoid making these costly mistakes.
- Don’t Text or Use a Cell Phone Driving or Walking
It is common knowledge that using a cell phone is distracting. How many times have we been texting or searching on the internet and not heard someone talking to us or telling us something because we are tuned out to the outside world? It is a common occurrence in just about every household. We tell our kids to put their cellphones down during dinner or in a restaurant and engage like a human. It is no surprise that statistics show the use of a cell phone driving greatly increases the risks of ignoring traffic controls and causing accidents. My firm has dedicated prior blogs to this very subject of the dangers of cell phone use driving. Massachusetts law finally caught up with this and banned the use of handheld devices when driving. Even the use of Bluetooth and hands-free devices does not eliminate the dangers of distractions when engaged in conversation on a cell phone.
The dangers of cellphone use are just as risky for those walking and using a cellphone. A pedestrian on the phone who crosses the street without looking for cars is distracted. We have been involved in many cases where a driver was looking down at his cellphone when they collide with the rear-end of a vehicle or when a person was walking and looking down at their phone. Whether you are a driver or a pedestrian, if you are using your cellphone when involved in an accident, the insurance company will blame you or at least attribute a percentage of fault to you. Depending on the circumstances, this may prevent you from recovering any money if injured in an accident or significantly decrease the full value of what you deserve. If you are injured in an accident while using a cell phone driving or walking, you have compromised your ability to recover if you find yourself in an accident.
The best advice is to obey Massachusetts law and never hold and use a cellphone while operating your vehicle. If you are a pedestrian, don’t use your cellphone while crossing the street or walking in a parking lot on the way to your car. Wait until it is safe to engage on your cellphone.
- Use Crosswalks
Using crosswalks to cross the street is another simple thing we can do to improve our safety and avoid being involved in an accident. Drivers are required to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Think of the crosswalk as your safety zone to cross a street and always use the crosswalk signal button to cross if there is one and wait until it is safe to cross. We have represented a number of college students injured crossing the street. Being in a crosswalk when struck by the car significantly strengthens our ability to have a successful result for our client. Police are often on the scene of pedestrian accidents, and injuries are very often serious given it is a vehicle versus human. When our client is in a crosswalk, the driver of the vehicle that struck them is often cited by police for failure to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. This carries a lot of weight when an insurance company is determining who is at fault for the accident.
The failure to use a crosswalk not only increases the risks of being in an accident, but it also gives the insurance company the excuse they are looking for to not pay you for your injuries in an accident. We have cases where witnesses claim our client ran out into the street without looking or darted out into traffic or crossed in the middle of traffic. These are all dangerous situations that are unsafe and hurt our clients not only physically but also create obstacles to receiving any compensation for the harm caused in an accident.
We want to see our clients who are pedestrians taking full advantage of crosswalks and crosswalk signal buttons when crossing any street. Of course, paying attention to your surroundings and looking both ways before crossing are the best practices.
- Obey Traffic Signals
On a road trip, whether it is down the street to the grocery store or a several hours drive out of town, we encounter many drivers ignoring traffic signals and signs whether it is the speed limit, a stop sign, yield sign or other traffic control. Many car crashes could have been avoided if the operators obeyed the rules of the road. We have represented clients seriously injured in accidents with trucks such as eighteen wheelers, delivery trucks, flatbeds and even dump trucks. Excessive speed results in many of the vehicles unable to safely stop in time. Other cases have reckless lane changes on highways by truck drivers and failure to use turn signals.
When our own client is blamed for running a stop sign or an illegal lane change, recovering money for their injuries is difficult. If you are found to be more than 50 percent at fault for an accident, the law in Massachusetts says you legally cannot recover at all. If you are found at fault but 50 percent or less, the insurance company will reduce the total amount of money owed to you by the percentage you are at fault.
If you are injured in an accident, you have the burden to show the other party is responsible for the accident before you can recovery any money. If you fail to obey any traffic signals or rules of the road, the insurance company will pounce on this and use it to deny you any settlement money or reduce the total you otherwise would get.
We don’t want our clients found at fault for accidents in which we are trying to obtain compensation for them. The worst thing on a case is having an unbiased witness or some video footage that shows our client is at fault for the accident such as running a red light or making an illegal turn. The best advice is to drive safely and obey all traffic controls and rules of the road. If you don’t, you not only jeopardize your safety and the well-being of others, but you also create obstacles that may jeopardize your ability to seek compensation for any harm to you.
- Wear a Seatbelt Always
Seatbelt laws have certainly changed since I was a child and a half dozen kids were thrown into the back seat of a station wagon. Massachusetts seatbelt law requires every person to buckle up inside a motor vehicle. We have dedicated prior blogs to the seatbelt law and how it saves lives. Unfortunately, we still see a lot of cases where people do not have a seatbelt on, whether it be the driver or the passengers. The law in Massachusetts still allows an unseat belted victim injured in an accident due to someone else’s negligence to recover compensation for any physical injuries suffered. However, many victims not wearing seatbelts suffer more severe injuries in an accident. For example, we have handled cases where victims have been ejected from the vehicle due to the lack of a seatbelt. Some have gone right through the windshield resulting in traumatic and permanent brain injuries.
We have seen too many families devastated from the lack of wearing a seatbelt. Reminding those we love to always buckle up goes a long way to keeping us safe. Teenagers and college kids need gentle reminders for sure as well as some older friends and family who may have developed some bad habits not buckling up. Seatbelts save lives and help to prevent tragic situations.
- Get the Medical Attention You Need if Injured in an Accident
If someone is injured in an accident, you would think it would be easy and the norm that they seek the medical care they need. Based on our experience, this is not always the case. There are many reasons people choose to avoid ambulances, hospitals, and doctors. Some of our clients are in shock immediately following an accident and don’t realize they are injured until they get home and notice that they are bleeding or even have a broken bone. One real life experience is a high school teacher who slipped and fell on ice, and his wife and coworkers noticed he was holding his injured arm up with his other arm when writing on a chalkboard and engaging in other activities. He had some pain and just thought it would get better on its own. Once he finally went to the hospital, x-rays showed a broken arm, and he required surgery and orthopedic care. In other cases, our clients refuse an ambulance at the scene of a car accident and discover a lump on their head or bruising to their body or have pain once at home. We had one client trip and fall over a torn carpet at a store and pick herself up and somehow drove home with a broken ankle.
The most important piece of advice in all these scenarios is to get the proper medical attention you need for your injuries suffered in an accident. With the COVID pandemic, there is a whole other layer of problems in seeing our clients get the proper medical care. Many clients during this pandemic have refused to go by ambulance to the hospital from the scene of the accident saying they are afraid of the risk of getting the virus. Instead, they often contact a family member from the scene to come pick them up. They just want to get home. Once home or picked up by a loved one, they realize they need to go to the hospital, or they call their primary care doctor for an appointment or for medical advice. Another problem with the pandemic is getting an appointment once you seek treatment. We have clients on waiting lists to start physical therapy ordered by a doctor or having to wait a month for their initial evaluation. It is not that easy to get prompt medical care with the pandemic.
Proper and reasonable medical care for your injuries suffered in an accident is necessary to try to get you back to the person you were before the accident harmed you, or at least, make you as best you can be- for your health and general well-being. At the same time, it is important to know that insurance companies rely heavily on your medical treatment and medical documentation when they evaluate your case for settlement. The insurance company is looking for anything they can to use against you to pay you as little as possible. Often, we see the insurance company for the negligent party use our clients’ medical records or lack of medical attention as excuses to deny our clients the money that they deserve.
Our best advice is to get the medical attention and treatment you need timely. Work with your doctors and medical providers that you trust to get the treatment you need to get better for as long as your medical providers feel is necessary. Don’t fail to show up for appointments. Try not to cancel your appointments with your doctors, specialists, or physical therapy visits. Treat consistently as your doctors suggest and try to avoid long periods of time where you don’t treat as insurance companies will argue there are “gaps” in your medical treatment to pay you less than you deserve.
This blog described five obstacles relating to our clients’ own conduct that jeopardize our ability to obtain money for them and what you can do in the New Year to keep you on a safe path. Despite the fact these tips are obvious, taking a little time to consider them and how you can make small positive changes in the New Year and shake some bad habits will no doubt lead to a better 2022. Warm wishes for a safe, happy New Year!
When someone is injured in a motor vehicle accident, trip and fall, dog bite, construction site or through any other accident, a thorough investigation of the accident events is necessary to determine the cause of the accident and secure important information. As a victim of an accident, make sure everything is done to protect your interests. The lawyers at Nadeau Harkavy LLC have over 50 years combined experience helping victims and their families recover compensation in serious injury and wrongful death cases arising from car crashes and other accidents. If you have any questions about your legal rights relating to a car accident, pedestrian accident, motorcycle accident, bicycle accident, wrongful death, slip and fall, trip and fall or other accident, feel free to contact us for a free consult today at 617-674-7640.