A passing tractor-trailer fatally struck a woman who had spun out on a rain-slicked road and was inspecting her vehicle in the darkness.
The wreck happened near the Britannia Boulevard/Route 905 interchange. According to police and witnesses, a woman lost control of her vehicle on the wet road and apparently struck the concrete divide at a relatively low speed. After she exited her Jeep to inspect the damage, a large truck hit her and killed her almost instantly. The driver did not stop. The victim’s name was not released and authorities are looking for the truck driver. If found, the truck driver will undoubtedly face serious criminal charges.
Officials also blamed the wet roads for two other non-serious crashes in that same area.
Possibly because heavy rain is so rare in Southern California, area residents are notoriously bad drivers in the rain. In driving school, many of us learned that when roads are wet or icy, tires have little or no contact with the road’s surface, and so many vehicles are essentially floating. Better-designed tires have addressed this issue, but it is still a problem.
If conditions are less than ideal, because of wet roads, darkness, or whatever, drivers have a duty to slow down and be even more cautious as they drive.
Statistics vary widely, but somewhere around 50 percent of hit-and-run drivers are successfully prosecuted in criminal court. The number may be higher in civil court, because there is a lower standard of proof. Whereas prosecutors must clearly establish that the defendant was behind the wheel of that car at that time, victims’ lawyers normally only need to show that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) owned the vehicle and lacked a compelling alibi.
Victims cannot normally rely on first responders to obtain the necessary evidence, because they have a responsibility to secure the scene and tend to injured victims before they can even think about fault or evidence. So, accident attorneys often partner with private investigators to:
- Canvas the Area: Most witnesses only see part of the crash, so putting together witness testimony is almost like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, and the more pieces there are, the clearer the picture is for the jury.
- Conduct Surveillance: Despite what those 1980s detective shows depicted, there is nothing flashy or exotic about sitting in a certain spot for hours on end to see if the tortfeasor’s vehicle comes back into the area, which is why most police departments don’t conduct surveillance in these circumstances. However, this method is sometimes the best way to identify the tortfeasor.
- Investigate: Most investigators start at nearby auto body shops to determine if a damaged vehicle has come in for service recently.
Damages in hit-and-run crashes include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Furthermore, if the tortfeasor acted with extreme recklessness, and leaving the scene of a collision certainly qualifies as such, many jurors are willing to award additional punitive damages.
Even if the tortfeasor is never identified, victims still have legal options. In most cases, these victims can file claims against their own insurance companies for both economic and noneconomic damages. Typically, these kinds of cases settle very quickly and on plaintiff-friendly terms, because the insurance company does not want to antagonize a current customer. If the parties cannot agree to financial terms, most of these cases go to arbitration, because of language in the insurance agreement.
Third Party Liability
Simply stated, most drivers flee the scene of accidents because they are afraid. For example, they may be uninsured, not have valid drivers’ licenses, or have unrelated legal troubles. When commercial drivers flee the scene, it’s usually because they are afraid of possible consequences at work, and they reason that it’s best to “play the odds” that they will not get caught. As outlined above, that may be true as far as criminal charges are concerned, but civil liability for damages is a different story.
Employers are liable for the negligent acts of their employees, per the time-honored respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) rule. For liability to attach, victims must establish two elements:
- Employee: For negligence purposes, “employee” really means “worker,” because anyone who performs a service for a third party is normally an employee for negligence purposes. In fact, some courts even consider church volunteers, hospital volunteers, and other unpaid workers to be employees, in certain circumstances.
- Course and Scope of Employment: Similarly, any worker who confers any benefit on the employer, no matter how slight, is operating within the course and scope of employment. For example, participants in a company softball game are acting within the course and scope of employment, since the boss benefits from healthy and happy workers.
California is a modified joint and several liability state, so in most cases, the judge divides damages among multiple tortfeasors based on their percentage of fault.
For prompt assistance with a negligence claim, contact an experienced personal injury attorney from the Injury Trial Lawyers, APC. The sooner you call, the stronger your case for damages will be.