Although there’s no such thing as a safe car accident, some accidents have greater destructive potential than others.
The sideswipe is among the most dangerous accident types. It occurs when two cars (traveling either the same or opposite direction) brush up against one another with enough force to cause exterior damage. However, the initial crash isn’t what makes these accidents so lethal.
Sideswipe accidents are unique in that the cars may continue to travel at high speeds after the initial collision. Although not a problem on the surface, drivers, jarred by the accident, tend to lose control of their car while it’s still moving. Clearly, the potential for catastrophic secondary accidents is unrivaled.
When this happens in dangerous intersections in Northwest Albany’s shopping district, like Nottingham Way and Westover Boulevard, sideswipes can involve multiple vehicles and terrible injuries.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, nearly 1,000 fatal sideswipe accidents took place in a recent year. This doesn’t include the thousands more that suffered serious injuries.
For those who survive, a new, challenging reality often awaits them. In addition to debilitating physical injuries, they may also face medical debt, job loss, and mental trauma. In extreme cases, they may require live-in care and frequent medical treatment for the rest of their lives.
Despite their prevalence and destructive potential, many drivers lack basic information about sideswipe accidents, such as why they occur, how to avoid them, and options available to victims.
Sideswipe Accident Causes
Sideswipe accidents have many different causes; however, more often than not, sideswipe accidents happen because of:
Despite tremendous advancements in automotive technology, blind spots still cause thousands of accidents every year. In fact, drivers who fail to notice others in their blind spots cause over 840,000 car accidents every year.
Because most blind spots lie along a car’s driver-side door, they cause a disproportionate number of sideswipe accidents. Many drivers simply lose sight of the vehicle in the next lane until they attempt to move into that lane and its presence rudely awakens them.
Distracted driving remains a huge problem on America’s roadways. People continue to text, comb their hair, do their makeup, and even get dressed, while driving. This, of course, has catastrophic consequences for themselves and other people on the road.
Considering the small margin for error (sideswipe accidents can occur if a car swerves just a few feet to its right or left), distracted driving often causes sideswipe accidents.
Driving Under the Influence
State and local governments have made a tremendous push to prevent drinking and driving. Despite the best efforts of policymakers and advocates, driving under the influence remains a serious problem in New York State and around the country.
A considerable percentage of sideswipe accidents occur because a driver was under the influence. This isn’t surprising considering intoxicated drivers tend to suddenly swerve into other lanes without notice.
Some drivers are prone to bouts of extreme anger while behind the wheel. This phenomenon, known as road rage, causes hundreds of sideswipe accidents every year. Angry drivers often attempt to exact revenge by swerving towards a vehicle they believe violated the rules of the road. Unfortunately, this frequently results in a sideswipe collision.
Not accounting for the weather causes many sideswipe accidents. It’s more difficult for cars to get traction driving on icy or wet roads, which may cause them to slide or skid. When a driver loses control, even briefly, they could swerve into the other lane and cause a sideswipe accident.
Drivers should always take extra precautions when it’s snowing or raining. Driving at a slower speed, taking wide turns, and using snow chains are simple measures that can help prevent weather-related crashes.
Injuries Caused by Sideswipe Accidents
Not all sideswipe accidents result in serious injuries; in fact, many cause no damage beyond a broken side-view mirror.
However, drivers may lose control of their vehicle after the initial collision in which case devastating physical injuries may occur. Runaway vehicles may hit other cars, pedestrians, structures, and anything else in their way. They also tend to fly off the road completely.
Those in a serious sideswipe accident may experience these injuries:
- Orthopedic: The impact of the collision may cause broken bones, bone fractures, and bone contusions. These injuries often take months to heal and may inhibit the afflicted from performing basic tasks, such as driving. Orthopedic surgery, or even amputation, is often necessary in extreme cases.
- Back and Spine: Fractures and dislocated vertebrae are common back injuries. A serious back injury may result in a compressed or lacerated spinal cord. Back and/or spine damage significantly decreases a person’s mobility. You may require a wheelchair. In severe cases, a person could be left paraplegic or quadriplegic.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries: Sideswipe accident victims often suffer concussions, brain contusions, coup-contrecoup brain injuries, and diffuse axonal injuries. TBI injuries may impair memory and cognitive function; victims may also experience emotional and psychological issues.
- Burns: Cars may catch fire after a serious sideswipe accident, which can leave occupants with severe burns. Leaking gasoline and other toxic fluids may cause chemical burns. Burns are often excruciatingly painful, and could leave the impacted area permanently disfigured. Severe cases require expensive, painful skin graphs and plastic surgery.
Many of the injuries listed above will take weeks or months to heal, leaving victims unable to work, attend school, and perform basic life tasks in the meantime. Some may result in permanent disabilities that leave people totally dependent on outside assistance for the rest of their lives.
Do I Have a Legal Claim?
Plaintiffs bring most sideswipe accident claims under a theory of negligence. When someone brings a legal negligence claim, they claim that the defendant failed to exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised under the same circumstances, and that this failure injured them.
The plaintiff must demonstrate four elements for their negligence claim to be successful: the defendant owed them a duty of care, the defendant’s actions violated this duty, this violation caused the plaintiff’s injuries, and the plaintiff’s injuries resulted in damages.
For example, in a sideswipe accident, the plaintiff must prove: a) the defendant, by operating a vehicle on a public roadway, owed them a duty of care; b) the defendant violated this duty when they drove recklessly; c) the defendant’s reckless driving caused their injuries; and d) they can value their injuries in monetary terms.
Linking the defendant’s actions to the plaintiff’s injuries is critical. The defendant could have acted in the most outrageously irresponsible way imaginable, but if his behavior did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries there is no claim.
Also, the plaintiff’s injuries cannot just be nominal. They must have resulted in concrete losses that dollars and cents can measure.
When most people think about liability, they think about the party directly involved in the accident—namely, the other driver. However, the scope of liability can encompass multiple entities, depending on the nature of the case.
For example, perhaps poor road conditions caused the defendant to swerve and sideswipe a car in the next lane. In this case, the government entity responsible for the road’s upkeep may be liable. Furthermore, if the defendant’s car had a defect that caused the accident, the car’s manufacturer may be liable.
In sum, an experienced lawyer can analyze the facts of the case and launch an investigation to determine which parties to pursue.
How Victims Recover Compensation
If the plaintiff wins the case, the court will grant a financial award known as damages. This money addresses the specific injuries suffered by the plaintiff and nothing else. In the language of the courts, damages make the victim whole again by returning him or her to the condition enjoyed before the injury.
There are two kinds of damages, monetary and non-monetary:
Monetary damages include financial losses that are easy to convert into a dollar amount. This category includes medical debt, lost wages, and loss of future earnings. Usually, to prove these claims the plaintiff can simply provide proof with a bill or receipt. In the sideswipe accident context, monetary damages are usually a central component of the financial compensation granted to the plaintiff.
Non-monetary damages address more abstract injuries that are difficult to convert into dollars and cents. The victim includes suffering endured here, as well as psychological and mental trauma. Additionally, claims related to loss of enjoyment of life and loss consortium with one’s spouse fall under this category.
Proving these claims can be challenging, and plaintiffs must often provide testimony from an expert witness, such as a doctor or psychologist, to be awarded damages.
Courts rarely give punitive damages, the third damages category. Unlike monetary and non-monetary damages, punitive damages don’t make the plaintiff whole again; rather, as the name suggests, they punish the defendant.
Courts only award these damages in extreme circumstances in which the defendant’s conduct is especially outrageous. Generally, the behavior must be worthy of such ignominious labels as “grossly negligent” or “wanton and reckless.”
For example, if the driver that caused the sideswipe accident was speeding in a school zone while under the influence of alcohol, the court may find such conduct deserving of punitive damages.
When a court awards punitive damages, it wants to send a message both to the defendant and society that it will not tolerate such conduct.
Each state has unique rules governing punitive damages. Certain states ban or impose caps on punitive damages.
Suffering serious injuries in a sideswipe accident can change your life. Of course, the arduous physical recovery may take months or even years. However, victims also face financial difficulties such as medical debt, lost wages, and loss of future earnings.
The burden on both the victim and their family can be enormous. The things once taken for granted may now seem out of reach. Paying the rent and putting food on the table could become herculean tasks.
Considering such dire circumstances, it may be easy to lose hope. However, victims don’t have to suffer in silence. They can file a lawsuit that, if successful, may result in a considerable financial award.
Damages address the injuries incurred because of the accident. They can cover financial losses such as medical debt, lost wages, and loss of future earnings. Additionally, courts also consider pain and suffering, mental trauma, and loss of consortium when constructing a damages package.
However, navigating the legal system can be challenging. The laws are often vague and the court procedures byzantine and difficult to navigate. Furthermore, a seemingly innocent mistake early in the process can have severe implications down the road. For all of these reasons, having professional help by your side is critical.
The first step is hiring an experienced car accident attorney. An attorney understands the nuances of the law and what evidence is needed to prove their client’s case. Furthermore, they appreciate the challenges facing their clients. They can offer candid advice and an empathetic voice throughout the process.
Car accident lawsuits often require extensive discovery, and may take months or even years to resolve. The faster you take action, the sooner you and your family can receive relief.
If cost is a concern, many car accident lawyers offer a free initial consultation and work on contingency, so you will pay nothing unless your lawyer recovers compensation for you.