Motor Vehicle Accident Cases
The two age groups that are involved in the most automobile accidents are senior citizens and teenage drivers. Throughout my 39 years of practicing law, I am amazed at how many of my clients are injured by drivers in these two groups.
I can understand why senior drivers get in accidents. When we’re in our seventies and our eighties, our concentration starts to go as well as our reflexes. But why do teenagers get into so many accidents. Physically, they’re in the prime of their lives. But I think we all know what the answer is – inexperience.
Teenage Driving Accidents Resulting from Inexperience
Teenage drivers are not only inexperienced in driving on the roadways, but they’re also inexperienced in the situations one faces in life. While an 18 year old may be an otherwise good driver, they can be distracted by their five teenage friends in the car, loud music, cell phones, etc. They tend not to drive alone and they take risks because at that age, they think that they are invincible.
Pennsylvania Teen Driving Laws
In 2011, Pennsylvania passed new laws limiting the number of passengers a teen driver can have in the car. Like most laws, it was enacted because of a tragedy. Teens were killed in two separate crashes, both involving multiple passengers in a vehicle driven by a teen. The new law is known as “Lacy’s Law,” named after one of the teenagers killed. Recent statistics show that Pennsylvania 16 and 17 year old driver fatalities dropped by almost a third in 2012.
I have seen many serious motor vehicle accidents in the Chester County, PA area in which a teenage driver was responsible. Some cases involved drinking. Some were due to distractions by friends in the car. A surprising amount were caused by 16 year olds with brand new cars who decided that they would test the speed of their new toys. I also remember situations where the male teenage driver was trying to show off to his girlfriend who was in the front seat. Those cases ended up with severe consequences for the passenger.
My children are no longer teenagers. When they were, I cautioned them to drive safety – turn off the radio – have no more than one friend in the car. I still remember staying up late at night until they got home safely.
Earlier in my career, I defended PennDOT in numerous lawsuits filed by injured drivers who claimed that the Pennsylvania roads were unsafe. It was my job to prove that the road in question was not a contributing legal factor in causing the auto accident. This was often difficult to do.
In many of my PennDOT cases throughout Chester County and particularly around West Chester, Exton and Unionville, the plaintiffs complained of various defects in the roads, identifying issues such as poor road signage, defective traffic lights; blind curves, inadequate road lighting, ice patches, potholes and poorly designed secondary roads.
Unsafe secondary roads have been and continue to be a problem in Chester County. Years ago, Chester County was extremely rural. Once you left the Western Main Line or West Chester, you were deep in farm country where the roads were hilly; had sharp curves and blind spots. They were narrow, lacked berms, had utility poles close to the road and overgrown foliage. On many of these roads, you took your life in your hands every time you drove.
Public Chester County Outcry on Car Accidents
By 2007 the public outcry about the number of serious and fatal auto accidents occurring on route 100 forced PennDOT to undertake significant upgrades to the roads. Penn DOT undertook a major overhaul of Pottstown Pike from Pottstown to Upper Uwchland. It included installing newer and safer road surfaces; additional signage; warning strips and a widening of the road. They also tightened speed enforcement and increased vegetation management.
Positive West Chester Road Safety Results
These changes have had dramatically positive effects. Safety first was the purpose and it has paid off.
I read with great interest in the Chester County Daily Local Newspaper recently that the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission completed a survey of that eight mile stretch of highway and reported that the number of fatal crashes had dropped by thirty percent between the years 2003 and 2012.
West Chester PA Personal Injury Attorney Viewpoint
As a plaintiff’s attorney for the past twenty five years, I have filed numerous claims against other drivers as well as PennDOT for its accidents involving crossover accidents on curves, collisions on wet roads, accidents due to utility pole positioning and for trees planted too close to the roads. These accidents cost PennDOT and you the taxpayer, millions of dollars in judgments and have resulted in significant misery and pain for those injured or killed.
According to the study, some of the successful changes involved the laying of Nova Chip Friction Treatment on the road. Forty three percent of the accidents prior to the changes were due to cars running off the roads due to wet and slippery conditions on downhill grades.
As both a defense attorney representing PennDOT in the past and as a driver who drives that road on regular basis, I was quite happy to see these changes. However, similar changes must be made to the many other dangerous roadways in Chester County such as Route 282 north of Downingtown, Old Baltimore Pike in the Oxford area and Route 41 in southern Chester County.
Kudos to PennDOT and the various Townships involved for fixing the problems in northern Chester County. Now it is time to get to the rest of Chester County.
I have often complained in this blog, that Pennsylvania does not go far enough to protect the public when it comes to passing and enforcing effective laws regulating both the use of cell phones while driving and restrictions on teenage drivers. I am pleased to report, however, that since the anti-texting and Junior Driving Bills have become law, they have started to show positive results.
Since the passage of the No Texting Act in 2012, distracted driving fatalities have also dropped. However, as I have stated in prior blogs, it is extremely difficult to prove that someone is actually texting while driving when an accident occurs. If the person has not pushed the send button you cannot usually prove it. However, these numbers are still too small to accurately assess the benefits of the new texting law.
Over my thirty years of practice here in Chester County I have seen many car accidents which were caused by young and inexperienced drivers. I have had accident cases involving students from West Chester East, Downingtown West, Owen J. Roberts, Kennett Square and Oxford. Some of these tragically resulted in fatalities leaving behind grieving family members and lifetimes of pain. I am also now investigating two texting related crashes.
As I have said before, Harrisburg should now pass laws banning the use of all hand held devices while driving. After all, there is not much difference between texting and actually holding a phone in your hand up to your ear. Other states such as Maryland prohibit both texting and the use of handheld cell phones and their accident rates have dropped. These are just as dangerous as putting on makeup while driving. Contact your legislators to tell them to support legislation banning all hand held devices while driving.
Additional Young Driver Safe Driving Legislation in Pennsylvania
The new Junior Driving Law sets limits on the number of teenagers allowed in the vehicle and increases the amount of training required prior to licensing. The law requires that for the first six months of licensing a teenage driver can transport only one non-family passenger younger than 18. After that, the number of passengers under age 18 can increase to 3 non-family members as long as the teenage driver has a clean driving record or is accompanied by an parent or guardian.
The Junior Driving Law also expands training requirements from 50 to 65 hours including ten hours of night time driving and five hours of inclement weather driving before licensure. The vehicle accident statistics for the last year show that Pennsylvania’s 16 and 17 year old driver fatalities have dropped from 66 to 44.
The other day, a client asked me a car accident related question, wondering whether they could be held responsible for lending their motor vehicle to another person who is later involved in a car crash. There is a common misconception among Chester County, Pennsylvania residents, that a person who lends a car to another – who is later involved in a car accident – is automatically responsible for all the road accident injuries. This is not true. An automobile lender can only be held responsible if he or she did something careless. Lending a car to another person is not in and of itself deemed a careless act.
There are however, situations where lending an automobile to another person could give rise to the owner of the car being held liable and responsible. This is known in the law as “Negligent Entrustment,” and applies to situations where the owner of the motor vehicle either knew or, when acting as a reasonable person, should have known that the person who was going to use the vehicle was not a safe driver. This could be because the driver was under age; did not have a driver’s license; never learned to drive; was intoxicated or suffered from a type of mental or physical handicap that rendered that person incapable of safe driving. If the car owner permits the other person to use the vehicle under those circumstances, then he or she could be responsible for all the damages that happened from the accident.
Car Accident Lawyer Recent Negligent Entrustment Case
I handled a case involving “Negligent Entrustment” resulting from an accident on the Route 30 Bypass in Downingtown several years ago. The owner of a high performance sports car, lent it to a friend to “test it out”. The friend was visibly intoxicated, and took the vehicle out on route 30 to race it. This car driver caused a collision injuring the person who became my client.. It was clearly a case where the owner of the motor vehicle as well as the driver could be held jointly responsible for all the injuries caused to my client, the innocent person.
Be careful about lending your car to people who suffer from seizures, are drunk, over medicated or do not have the experience necessary to safely operate a vehicle. If you do, there could be considered negligent entrustment, and the liability for the car accident can be yours.