Reckless driving can lead to tragic, and sometimes fatal, accidents. San Diego’s busy streets and growing population make it prone to serious motor vehicle accidents, often caused by one or more drivers’ reckless behaviors.
If you were in an accident with a reckless driver, you should always seek medical attention, even if you believe your injuries are minor. You should also seek legal representation to ensure that you recover compensation for the full cost of your injuries. Your wreck may involve extenuating circumstances, including third parties who caused the accident, such as company owners, other vehicles, dispatchers, and more. Even vehicle manufacturers could share in the responsibility of a reckless driving accident if a car part failed and caused an accident.
Contact an experienced San Diego reckless driving accident lawyer today to determine your eligibility to pursue a legal claim.
San Diego Crash Statistics
In a recent year, San Diego saw 5,607 accidents with severe or fatal injuries. Of those, 791 were speed-related, and 402 were hit and run accidents, and those are just two types of reckless driving. With a population of over 1.4 million, the risk of injuring or killing someone with reckless driving is relatively high in San Diego.
Nationwide, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 87 percent of the drivers across the United States drive recklessly, according to iDriveSafely. These statistics are alarming but not necessarily surprising.
Reckless Driving Behaviors
People who drive recklessly do not consider the safety of others.
Reckless driving behaviors include:
- Tailgating. When someone tailgates you, and you have to stop quickly, the driver could ram into you, causing severe injuries or even fatalities, especially if the reckless driver’s vehicle pushes you into another vehicle, a stationary object, or off a steep dropoff.
- Speeding. The California Department of Transportation posts speed limits that it has deemed are safe for the road conditions. When drivers ignore the speed limit, they put others in danger because they could more easily lose control of the vehicle, either because of a quick jerk on the steering wheel, a sharp curve, or even a pothole or debris in the road. If a driver is speeding in residential neighborhoods, the driver could hit children playing outside, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
- Driving too fast for conditions. You do not have to exceed the posted speed limit to drive too fast for conditions. You could drive the speed limit, but, for example, if it is raining hard and visibility is limited, then the speed limit may be unsafe for the conditions. In this situation, police could deem a lower speed than the posted speed limit as driving too fast for conditions. Other conditions that require lower speeds include fog, snow, ice, and high winds.
- Weaving in and out of traffic. In most cases, those who weave in and out of traffic are also speeding or driving too fast for conditions. Often, those who do this also fail to signal their lane changes. The reckless driver rarely looks long enough to ensure that no one is going to move into that spot and could sideswipe another driver.
- Lane-splitting. Squeezing between lanes of vehicles makes for a tight squeeze. You can never count on one person being more to the left or right. Reckless drivers who lane-split run a high risk of causing an accident.
- Driving on the shoulder. Most people do not expect someone to pass them on the shoulder. A reckless driver driving on the shoulder could startle a driver in the next lane, causing the startled driver to turn into the reckless driver, which may result in an accident with potential catastrophic injuries or death.
- Impaired driving. It doesn’t matter what the impairment is—whether driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, distracted driving or driving while tired—driving while impaired is reckless behavior because you could easily cause an accident that causes severe injuries and death.
The above is just a partial list of reckless driving behaviors. Reckless drivers not only face the potential for civil lawsuits, but such drivers may also face criminal penalties, including fines and jail time.
Reckless Driving and Criminal Prosecution
California law defines reckless driving as driving in such a manner that the reckless driver has a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. In addition to facing a lawsuit from the injured person, the reckless driver also faces the potential for criminal prosecution.
Those who drive recklessly could face up to 90 days in jail, but not less than five days in jail, and/or a fine of up to $1,000, but not less than $145. If the reckless driver does not injure another person, the driver will face a misdemeanor charge.
If the reckless driver injures someone, the driver faces additional charges for the criminal act of reckless driving. The reckless driver faces up to six months in jail for bodily injury, but not less than 30 days. The reckless driver also faces a fine of at least $220, but not more than $1,000. The court can hand down both punishments if it so chooses.
The Difference Between Criminal and Civil Charges
Even if the state prosecutes and convicts the reckless driver criminally, you can still settle with the driver’s insurance company or sue the driver for damages in civil lawsuit. This does not constitute double jeopardy, because the reckless driver is facing charges in two different courts—the criminal court and the civil court.
Even if the court sentences the reckless driver to time in jail or prison, you can still collect damages from the driver’s insurance company. If you have to sue the driver in addition to his or her insurance company, you might have to wait until the reckless driver finishes his or her jail sentence to collect.
Why Reckless Driving Accidents Have a High Risk of Severe Injuries or Death
Reckless driving often involves high speed, passing on blind curves, driving under the influence, going around railroad barriers, speeding excessively, ignoring stop signs and red lights, quickly changing lanes, and passing school busses while loading and unloading students.
People might drive recklessly because they are upset, mad, just do not care, or are running from the police. Reckless drivers might be in a hurry because they woke up late and do not want to be late to work or an appointment, or they might be driving home after a night out on the town and had a little too much to drink. Truck drivers could be tired from driving all day or night if they broke the hours-of-service regulations. Whatever the reason for the reckless driving, the driver breached the general duty of care to drive safely and must face the consequences.
When someone hits you blindly or at a high rate of speed, the risk of catastrophic injuries or death is heightened. Also, the size of the vehicle that hits you contributes to the severity of the resulting injuries.
Injuries You Might Suffer in a Reckless Driving Accident
The severity of injuries depends on the circumstances of a wreck. Speed, the size of the vehicle, how the vehicle hits you, and other factors all play a part in the injuries you receive. Injuries could range from a few scratches and bruises to death.
Common injuries include:
- Bumps, bruises, scratches, scrapes, and cuts.
- Road rash if you get thrown from the vehicle.
- Thermal and chemical burns if the vehicle catches fire.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries, including mild concussions.
- Internal injuries.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Amputation of a digit or a limb.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Psychological and emotional injuries.
You could also suffer from secondary injuries, especially if you have underlying conditions, such as diabetes or immunodeficiencies, or are taking medications or treatments that lower your immunity. Even wounds created by doctors to repair accident injuries, such as the wound to repair a compound fracture or internal injuries, could become infected.
Some underlying conditions and treatments cause you to recover much slower, which significantly increases the risk of infection. Even severe burns could become infected if they take longer to heal, requiring additional care, including debridement.
Your accident injuries could also exacerbate pre-existing conditions. In both cases, the at-fault driver would also be responsible for the medical expenses and pain and suffering these secondary injuries cause.
The at-fault driver is responsible for these extra injuries because you would not have suffered through them but for the at-fault driver’s actions or inactions.
Recovering Damages After a Reckless Driving Accident
You can recover two types of compensatory damages, in addition to possibly recovering punitive damages after an accident in San Diego. Economic damages are compensation for expenses you have incurred or will incur in the future as a result of the injuries you sustained, lost wages, or other expenses incurred. Non-economic damages compensate you for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and other emotional injuries, which have a subjective value but no tangible expense. The court orders both damages in an attempt to make you whole again. If the court orders punitive damages, it is a punishment for the defendant’s grossly negligent or intentional behavior that violated the duty the defendant had to keep others safe from his or her actions or inactions.
Special damages, often referred to as economic damages, include:
- Past medical expenses for those incurred because of the accident and before a settlement or trial award.
- Future medical expenses for those incurred because of the accident and after a settlement or trial award. Future medical expenses could include additional surgeries, follow-up appointments, physical therapy, occupational therapy, cognitive therapy, and other psychological therapies.
- Past lost wages for those you lost because of accident injuries and before a settlement or trial award.
- Future lost wages for those you expect to lose after a settlement or a trial award because of disabilities caused by accident injuries. You could also receive partial future lost wages if you can work, but the disabilities caused by accident injuries prevent you from making the same salary or hourly rate.
Non-economic damages can include:
- Loss of quality of life if you have to take medication or use ambulatory aids for the rest of your life.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy or take part in family events and activities.
- Compensation for having to suffer from amputation, excessive scarring, and disfigurement.
- Inconvenience, if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, such as house cleaning, grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, and home repair and maintenance.
Why You Should Retain an Experienced Attorney
Sometimes reckless driving accidents involve more than one vehicle. Sorting out who is responsible for your injuries is often complex, especially if your accident involved a commercial vehicle. A reckless driver could wreck into another vehicle, pushing the other vehicle into you.
The second vehicle might not share in any responsibility for your injuries, but the reckless driver could have responsibility for your injuries and the other driver’s injuries. A San Diego reckless driving attorney can investigate to find all of the liable parties in your case.
On the other hand, if the second driver was antagonizing a reckless driver, and they both share the responsibility for causing the accident, you could recover damages from both drivers based on their percentage of fault.
If commercial vehicle drivers drive recklessly, their employers could share liability for your injuries. For example, suppose a dispatcher tells a driver that he or she has to deliver a load within six hours, knowing that it takes nine hours, and also insinuates that the driver’s job is on the line. In that case, the dispatcher could face penalties for encouraging a driver to break the federal hours-of-service regulations.
Your reckless driving accident attorney in San Diego will investigate the case to learn why a person was driving recklessly and add others who could share in the responsibility for your injuries.
Furthermore, insurance companies are in the business to make money and often attempt to minimize. Every claim that an insurance company pays out reduces its profits. Insurance companies will try anything to deny your claim or offer you a low settlement. They have tricks to do this, such as twisting your words and using them against you. This is where an attorney can help protect your rights.
You can notify an insurance company of an accident, but never give more than your contact information, the date and location of the accident, and your attorney’s contact information. If possible, let your attorney provide the insurance company a statement on your behalf.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a San Diego reckless driving accident, contact an experienced reckless driving attorney at Gomez Trial Attorneys today for a free case evaluation.