Car Accident Claims and Reckless Driving
We can all imagine a driver who is a danger to others on the road. It could be somebody driving at an excessive speed, drinking and driving, or rapidly changing lanes in busy traffic. While it is easy to picture reckless driving, it isn’t always so easy to define.
Read on to learn more about what constitutes reckless driving in Boston and how to recover if you were injured by a reckless driver.
How Does the Law Define Reckless Driving?
Massachusetts law punishes several types of driving that are particularly dangerous to the public and that cause injury to another person, vehicle, or property:
- Operating a motor vehicle recklessly
- Operating a motor vehicle negligently so that the lives or safety of the public might be endangered
- Operating a motor vehicle upon a bet or wager or in a race or for purposes of making a record
- Failing to provide information after colliding with or causing injury to any other vehicle or property
- Loaning or knowingly permitting a license or learner’s permit to be used by any other person
- Making false statements in an application or a license or learner’s permit
- Making false statements in an application for registration of a motor vehicle
The above violations come with a variety of criminal penalties depending on the offense and whether it is the individual’s first offense or whether they have a history of similar violations. These criminal penalties range from fines of $20 to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to five year.
The statute and associated penalties are criminal, meaning any charges will be pursued by the state and local prosecutor. This will not result in compensation for any parties injured by reckless driving. That recovery must be pursued in civil court.
Building a Reckless Driving Case
While the state and prosecutor will handle criminal charges against a reckless driver, injured victims of the accident are left to manage their own recovery in civil courts. To secure a recovery for injuries, a victim will need to build a case of negligence against the reckless driver.
There is no standard definition for reckless driving, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines the similar category of “aggressive driving” as occurrences when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses to endanger other persons or property. The American Automobile Association found that aggressive driving was a factor in 56 percent of fatal crashes between 2003 and 2007.
Other driver actions can constitute reckless driving, including:
- Driving under the influence: Alcohol and similar substances drastically impair a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle, including their ability to react quickly to changing road conditions. There are more than 100 fatalities in Massachusetts each year from drunk driving. Massachusetts law prohibits any person from operating a motor vehicle (a) with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater; or (b) while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, narcotic drugs, depressants or stimulant substances, or while under the influence from smelling or inhaling fumes of any substance having the property of releasing toxic vapors. Based on the law, an individual is guilty even if their BAC is below 0.08 percent. Evidence that a person is “under the influence” even at a lower BAC includes slurred speech, strong smell of alcohol, failed field sobriety test, or any evidence combined with an elevated BAC.
- Speeding: Drivers are expected to comply with posted speed limits and also to adjust their speed for weather and road conditions. Nearly two-thirds of vehicles exceed the posted speed limit on U.S. roads. When a vehicle is traveling at a faster speed, a driver cannot so easily react to a change in road conditions, the movements of other drivers, or the presence of pedestrians or bicyclists. Additionally, more time is required for a speeding vehicle to come to a controlled stop. The higher the speed, the more likely it will be considered reckless driving—and the more likely that serious injuries or fatalities will occur. The faster the speed of the car, the great the force of impact in a crash.
- Distracted driving: The number of distracted driving accidents in Massachusetts rose 170 percent from 2014 to 2016. Anything that diverts a driver’s attention from the road increases the risk of an accident. Massachusetts law prohibits drivers from using cell phones or other mobile devices to text or email while driving and goes so far as to prohibit drivers from holding or using a mobile device—even when stopped in traffic. Drivers under the age of 18 are banned from using hands-free technology to use a mobile device.
- Driver fatigue: The hope is that all drivers would avoid driving or pull over if they felt drowsy. In fact, a shocking one of 25 adults in a survey reported falling asleep while driving in the preceding 30 days. Given this statistic, it isn’t surprising that drowsy driving causes an estimated 83,000 crashes in the United States every year. Drivers can’t give driving the attention it deserves while they are fighting to stay awake and are not likely to react quickly to road hazards. Studies show that the risks of drowsy driving compare to driving under the influence of alcohol. Commercial drivers and shift workers are particularly susceptible to drowsy driving.
- Failure to obey traffic signals: Traffic signals like traffic lights and stop signs are important for the safe flow of traffic. A driver’s blatant disregard for traffic signals is evidence of reckless driving. Failure to comply with traffic signals increases the likelihood of a dangerous T-bone or head-on collision and puts more vulnerable individuals like bicyclists and pedestrians at risk.
- Failure to yield or check blind spot: Traffic laws and regulations have established requirements to yield on the road, such as taking a left turn on a green light or when there is a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Similarly, drivers are required to check their blind spot to ensure no obstacles exist before taking an action like changing lanes. If a driver blatantly disregards the requirement to yield or check a blind spot, it could rise to the level of reckless driving. Vulnerable individuals like pedestrians and bicyclists are at particularly high risk when a driver fails to take these actions.
Work with your lawyer to compile evidence of the reckless driver’s actions. One important piece of evidence will be a police report which will compile key pieces of information including citations issued against any driver for failure to comply with traffic laws. All this evidence will be important as you build a case for recovery.
For a free legal consultation, call 833-552-7274
Prepare a Damages Demand for a Car Accident Lawsuit
If the negligent or intentional actions of a reckless driver caused you injury, they are responsible.
The most obvious damages are any medical costs, but there are many additional ways victims suffer after a car accident.
- Medical expenses: Many reckless driving accidents result in physical injuries. These injuries are inevitably accompanied by medical costs, including doctor’s visits, costs of procedures, emergency transportation, and prescription medicine. The defendant is responsible for your medical costs, including any ongoing care like physical therapy or future procedures.
- Lost wages: If your injuries keep you from returning to work or require you to work a reduced schedule, include your lost wages in the damages demand. Work with your lawyer to consider the future impact on your ability to work including future lost earnings or lost earning potential. Include an estimate of these future damages in your demand.
- Property damage: If your property was damaged in the accident, the defendant is responsible for repair or replacement. Common property damage in a reckless car accident is damage to a vehicle, bicycle, or electronic devices.
- Emotional distress: If you are suffering emotional distress, including anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, because of the accident, include an appropriate monetary figure to compensate for this distress in your damages demand. Car accident victims are more likely to suffer emotional distress, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Emotional distress can seriously limit a victim’s ability to return to the life they knew before the accident.
- Loss of enjoyment: Our lives are made better by participating in activities that bring us joy. Unfortunately, victims of reckless driver car accidents often cannot participate in activities that previously brought joy to their lives because of their injuries. If you have suffered a loss of enjoyment because of an accident, work with your lawyer to include an appropriate amount of damages in your demand.
- Punitive Damages: The above damages are intended to compensate a victim for injuries suffered because of a defendant’s actions. Punitive damages are different because they are awarded as a punishment to the defendant for, particularly bad actions. Massachusetts law does not allow punitive damages in most car accident cases, but some exceptions exist. Your lawyer can advise whether your case warrants punitive damages.
Preparing a comprehensive damages assessment is a critical step in the recovery of compensation for your injuries. The demand will be evaluated by the jury when awarding damages if your case proceeds to trial. You are also likely to receive one or more settlement offers from the defendant or their insurance provider leading up to trial. Settlement is often preferred because it provides a guaranteed result for the plaintiff, but it is not likely to be for the full amount of the damages demand. Work with your lawyer to evaluate all settlement offers against the strength of your case and the full extent of your damages before deciding whether to accept.
Don’t delay in preparing your damages demand or any other step necessary to file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations for car accident claims in Massachusetts is three years. While this seems like a long time, it will pass quickly as you recover from your injuries, build your case, and assess your damages. If you miss this filing window, you will be barred from recovery.
Find a Skilled Car Accident Attorney
One of the most helpful things you can do after an accident with a reckless driver is to locate an experienced attorney you can trust.
An attorney will work with you to manage every facet of the case, including:
- Assess the strength of your case
- Prepare a case strategy
- Compile evidence to support your case
- Respond to evidence requests from the defendant
- Save and store important documents
- Understand the driver’s insurance coverage
- Manage communication with the defendant and their insurance provider
- Hire experts needed to prepare a damages demand
- Ensure all your injuries are included in the damages demand
- Analyze settlement offers
- Timely prepare and file court documents
Your car accident lawyer will also advise you of best practices as you wait for a resolution. For example, your attorney may recommend that you avoid posting on social media throughout the case. Imagine you posted a picture of the accident scene with the caption “A night drinking with friends turned bad quickly!”
The defense will use this as evidence that your alcohol consumption contributed to the crash. Social media posts can also undermine your damages claim. If you are seeking lost wages for inability to perform physical labor but post pictures out on a hike or playing football with friends, the defense will use these images to argue that you should have continued working.