As the county seat and the largest city in the Imperial Valley, El Centro has its share of traffic. In addition to local drivers and the Imperial Valley Transit buses running through town, we have motorists zipping through on Interstate 8, which runs from San Diego to Interstate 10 in Arizona, and State Routes 86 and 111, which take travelers north to the Salton Sea and Coachella Valley and south toward Mexicali.
With all of that traffic, accidents are bound to happen—especially when so many drivers fail to pay attention to the road. If you were injured in a car accident in El Centro, you can pursue compensation for your medical expenses and the impact that your injury has had on your life through a personal injury lawsuit.
Call the El Centro car accident lawyers at Gomez Trial Attorneys now, or read on for more information about car accidents, the legal options available in your situation, and how we want to help you recover compensation.
The Causes of Car Accidents
A car accident in El Centro resulted in the death of an 82-year-old Holtville woman and caused a man from Brawley to suffer a broken leg. The fatal accident occurred as a woman was driving northbound in the southbound lanes of Highway 111 near Evan Hewes Highway. Before the accident occurred, emergency dispatchers received numerous calls reporting the driver who was dangerously driving on the wrong way of the highway. Ultimately, the woman’s vehicle collided head on with a pickup and both drivers were transported to a nearby hospital. The woman, who was fondly remembered as devoted to her family and active in her church, died a short time later.
Car accidents in El Centro result in deaths or injury of more than 100 people each year, including other motorists and their occupants, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
The main cause of most car accidents is human error, which is a broad term that describes activities that people do while they’re driving that reduce the safety of the driver, his or her occupants, the occupants of other vehicles, and other people on the roadway.
Some common examples of human error that result in car accidents include:
Speeding: Driving faster than the posted limit or too fast for the conditions of the road is a major contributor to car accidents. This is because people struggle to maintain control of the vehicle at higher speeds and may not stop in time to avoid colliding with another vehicle, bicyclist, pedestrian, or other obstacle. Speeding reduces the amount of time that a driver has to perceive a roadway hazard and react to it, while simultaneously increasing the amount of space that a vehicle needs to come to a safe stop after the brakes have been depressed.
Distracted driving: Distracted driving is another major source of car accidents, resulting in more than 2,500 deaths in the U.S. each year. There are generally three categories of distractions: Manual distractions cause the driver to take his or her hands from the wheel; visual distractions cause the driver to take his or her eyes from the road; and cognitive distractions draw the driver’s mind from the task of driving safely. Texting is a particularly dangerous distraction as it falls in all three categories. In the time it takes an individual to read or reply to a text while driving at highway speeds, a person would have traveled the length of a football field without both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, and mind on driving. Other distractions include miscellaneous cell phone use, adjusting stereo or vehicle controls, visiting with other occupants in the car, eating or drinking, applying makeup, and external distractions such as work zones, billboards, previous accidents, and other people and cars.
Alcohol impairment: While the legal limit for driving after having consumed alcohol is 0.08 percent blood alcohol content, the effects of alcohol impairment on driving actually begin with the first drink. Alcohol impairment results in the deaths of more than 10,000 people annually in the United States, as it produces dangerous deficits in many of the skills needed for driving, including the ability to multitask, to pay attention, to maintain speed and lane position, to track moving targets, and to make sound decisions.
Unfamiliarity with the roadway: People, when becoming lost on an unfamiliar road, often make hazardous errors, such as darting across traffic lanes to avoid missing a freeway exit, or completing U-turns where prohibited. Unfamiliarity with the roadway is also a main source of head-on collisions as the driver accidentally navigates his or her vehicle the wrong way onto a roadway that is designated for only one direction of travel.
Fatigued driving: Drowsy driving can affect any person who has not gotten enough rest before getting behind the wheel. However, those at most risk of driving drowsy are night shift workers and long-haul truck drivers. This is because these two groups of people are often either driving during the nighttime hours when visibility is dramatically reduced or because they have been awake during the period of time in which the body is biologically wired for sleep. When a driver has gone for more than 20 hours without sleep, the impacts to his or her ability to drive safely are similar to that of a person with a .08 percent blood alcohol content—the legal impairment limit.
Aggressive driving/road rage: Aggressive driving is a series of traffic infractions, including tailgating, speeding, improper lane changes, and improper turns that a driver commits, often during traffic congestion in an attempt to get through the congestion more quickly. Road rage often consists of these same behaviors, but is committed for the sake of “punishing” another driver. Road rage also can include behaviors such as honking, rude gestures, yelling, exiting the vehicle to physically confront another driver, or attempting to bump or ram a vehicle off of the roadway.
Failure to yield: Stop signs and red lights are an indication that a driver needs to stop and yield the right-of-way to other roadway users. Failing to do so is a major cause of intersection accidents, such as broadside collisions—also known as T-bone collisions. It is also a common source of pedestrian accidents that occur in a crosswalk as the motorist fails to yield the right-of-way to someone traveling on foot.
Poor maintenance or defective auto parts: Poorly maintained vehicles pose a serious hazard to other motorists. Tire blowouts often result in loss of vehicle control and bad brakes can result in the inability to stop the vehicle. Regularly maintained vehicles that contain defective auto parts are also hazardous. Manufacturers and distributors of defective parts can face liability for injuries and even El Centro wrongful deaths caused due to the part’s malfunction.
Types of Car Accidents
With all of the different activities and behaviors that can cause car accidents, there are several types of accidents that occur as a result.
Some of the most common types of car accidents for drivers in El Centro and beyond include:
Head-on collisions: This type of accident occurs when the front of one vehicle collides with the front of another vehicle. Head-on crashes are often caused by wrong-way driving, and can also be caused by the force of an initial accident pushing a vehicle into oncoming traffic lanes.
Rear-end collisions: One of the most common types of two-car collision to have, rear-end accidents occur when the front of one vehicle collides with the rear of another vehicle. Following too closely—also known as tailgating—is a frequent cause of this type of crash, as the driver of the following vehicle does not have enough space to come to a safe stop if the driver of the lead vehicle brakes suddenly.
Broadside collisions: One of the most common ways for intersection accidents to occur, a broadside accident—also known as a T-bone or side impact crash—occurs when the front of one vehicle strikes the side of another vehicle. As vehicles have very little protection in the door areas, this type of crash often results in injuries to occupants sitting on the side of the vehicle that was struck. These injuries can be very serious, particularly if there is a size discrepancy, such as a commercial truck striking the broadside of a small passenger car.
Sideswipe accidents: Improper lane changes and drivers who drift out of their lane of travel due to impairment or fatigue are frequent contributors to this type of accident, which occurs when the side of one vehicle collides with the side of another vehicle.
Rollovers: Rollover accidents involve the vehicle overturning onto its side, roof, or even making a complete roll. Rollovers are common in single car accidents in which the vehicle has left the roadway, but can also occur in vehicles with a high center of gravity—such as commercial trucks, pickups, and SUVs—attempt to take a corner or curve too fast or when they are loaded improperly, with the top of the vehicle heavier than the lower part.
Single car accidents: This type of accident involves only one motorized vehicle, and includes pedestrian and bicycle accidents. Single car accidents can involve a vehicle running off the road, or can be caused by the vehicle colliding with something on the roadway.
Chain reaction crashes and pileups: A chain reaction crash involves three or more vehicles. Generally, these accidents begin with two vehicles colliding. The force of the accident may cause one of the vehicles to strike a third vehicle, or a third vehicle may come upon the scene of the initial accident and can’t stop before colliding with the wreckage. When many vehicles are involved in the accident, it is often referred to as a pileup.
Injuries Sustained in El Centro Car Accidents
El Centro Brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, two of the most serious and life-altering injuries one can suffer, are commonly caused by motor vehicle accidents. Each of these injury types typically result in permanent disability and a lifetime of costly complications.
However, other serious injuries one can receive in a car accident may include:
Internal damage: In the violence of the car accident, a person’s internal organs may become crushed or damaged either by the vehicle itself, or the impact of the person’s body against other objects. Internal organs can also become lacerated or punctured by the presence of broken ribs. Internal damage often is not detectable until the person receives medical treatment and can result in life-threatening implications, including internal bleeding.
Broken bones: Nearly any bone in the body can be broken in a car accident due to the force of the collision or the crushing weight of the vehicle on body parts that have become trapped. While most broken bones will heal within weeks or months, many individuals lose range of motion in an affected limb and face a risk of infection in fractures that have penetrated the skin. Severely damaged limbs may require amputation to remove the source of infection or when it becomes apparent to medical professionals that the limb is so severely damaged that it will impede the individual’s recovery.
Injuries from car accidents are expensive. Between the cost of medical treatment, the loss of wages due to being too injured to work or forced to miss work to attend injury-related appointments, the cost of repairing or replacing one’s vehicle, the loss of future earning capacity as the result of permanent disability, and the many impacts that the injury can have on an individual’s life, the financial aspect of an accident is particularly stressful.
Accident victims in El Centro have the opportunity to pursue compensation for their damages through a personal injury lawsuit. The source of this compensation is usually the insurance coverage of the liable party.
How do you show that someone else was liable for the accident that caused your injury? By proving the following elements:
The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. This duty depends on the facts of your case. However, in car accident cases, drivers generally owe each other the care to drive safely and lawfully.
There was a breach in this duty of care. The breach is the human error that resulted in the accident, such as fatigued driving, or alcohol impairment.
This breach caused the accident and resultant injuries and damages.
The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits are settled before the matter ever appears inside a courtroom. However, some cases do proceed to trial. The El Centro personal injury lawyers at Gomez Trial Attorneys feel comfortable both with the notion of negotiating a settlement on your behalf as well as litigating your case in court if a fair settlement is not forthcoming.
After a car accident in El Centro, you have many things to deal with: handling your medical recovery, managing your insurance claims, and, if you suffered serious injuries, filing an El Centro car accident claim. Do you have some of these commonly-asked questions about your claim and your legal right to compensation following an accident? If you have individual questions about your specific car accident claim, contact an experienced El Centro car accident attorney to learn more.
1. Who pays for my medical bills after a car accident in El Centro?
If you suffered injuries in a car accident in El Centro, you will likely have to take responsibility for paying for any medical bills associated with that accident. While a car accident injury claim can help you gain compensation for your medical expenses, it will not have the liable party pay your medical bills directly. Instead, you will pay those bills, then receive the funds from your car accident claim as compensation.
If you cannot pay your medical bills until you receive the funds from a car accident claim, talk to your attorney. In some cases, your attorney may write a letter of protection, which will establish your intent to pay your medical bills once you receive those vital funds. This letter will help you continue medical treatment and ensure that you do not miss out on important elements of that treatment because you cannot currently pay those bills.
Your health insurance. Some El Centro car accident victims can use their health insurance to pay the large medical bills that often come along with a car accident, especially if you suffer serious injuries like a traumatic brain injury, amputation, spinal cord damage, or if you require surgery. Contact your health insurance provider to learn more about your coverage and how you can use it to help cover the cost of needed treatment following your car accident. Make sure you understand the limits of your medical insurance policy and what it will cover.
What co-pays and deductibles can you expect to pay?
How much coverage will your policy offer for each type of treatment you need, including durable medical equipment and physical therapy, if needed?
What is your out-of-pocket maximum?
You should also ask your insurance provider how your car accident will impact your medical insurance claim. Better yet, have your attorney handle this communication on your behalf.
2. How much compensation should I expect after a car accident in El Centro?
The compensation you ultimately receive for an El Centro car accident claim may depend on who caused your accident as well as the extent of your losses.
Talk to us to learn more about how much compensation you should expect based on:
Who caused your accident? Most drivers carry insurance policies that will set the limits of the compensation you can receive for injuries suffered in a car accident. In California, drivers must carry insurance that provides a minimum of $15,000 in coverage to a single individual injured in an accident. Other entities, including Uber and Lyft, trucking companies, and auto manufacturers, may carry higher insurance policies that can provide more compensation for your injuries and the losses you suffered.
What injuries did you suffer, and how expensive are your medical bills? Your medical bills will, in most cases, form the foundation of your claim. Some injuries, like a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord damage, may cause lifelong limitations and ongoing medical bills. The higher your medical expenses, the more compensation you will need to request as part of your car accident claim.
In addition to your medical bills, you can also claim compensation for lost wages related to the accident and pain and suffering from your injuries. Consult an attorney to learn more about how to include these elements in your claim.
3. Who bears liability for my El Centro car accident?
Most of the time, in a car accident, the driver who caused the accident bears primary liability for anything that happened behind the wheel. This includes a driver who may have suffered from distraction or inebriation as well as one who ignored the rules of the road. However, in some cases, other factors may contribute to the accident.
Mechanical failure. Did the vehicle that caused the accident—either yours or the other party’s—suffer from a mechanical failure that caused the accident? Brake failures, tire blowouts, and even engine trouble can all cause serious accidents with severe injuries. During a mechanical failure, the driver may not have the capacity to control the vehicle at all, which can lead to worse circumstances and greater injuries than in an accident where the driver has full control over the vehicle.
If you suffered injuries due to a mechanical failure, liability may rest with:
The owner of the vehicle, if different from the driver. In the case of corporate ownership, that may mean that liability rests with a company that failed to properly maintain its vehicle.
The vehicle manufacturer.
The manufacturer of a specific vehicle component, like the tires.
A mechanic who recently worked on the vehicle and certified it as road-worthy although the vehicle did not actually get repaired, or who caused damage to the vehicle that led to the accident.
Improper company regulations. A driver on the clock at the time of an accident may share liability with his or her employer. This includes truck drivers as well as delivery drivers, construction workers, and others who drive as part of their daily employment responsibilities.
The company may share liability if:
The company insisted that a truck driver exceed the federally limited number of hours spent behind the wheel each day.
The company ignores needed maintenance on a vehicle.
The company forces the driver to drive in unsafe conditions, including while inebriated, while excessively drowsy, or in unsafe weather conditions.
The company may also share liability if it continues to employ a driver known to cause accidents regularly.
4. What should I do if the insurance company contacts me soon after the accident and offers me a settlement? Should I take it?
Sometimes, insurance companies will try to get ahead of potential injury claims by contacting you soon after your accident to issue a settlement. In fact, you may get a settlement offer while still in the hospital or before you have a chance to learn what the full extent of your medical bills will look like.
In the case of severe injuries, including incomplete spinal cord injury, you may need an average of six months or longer for your doctors to give you a solid idea of your prognosis. Before that point, you may not know how much mobility you will regain or how much time you may need to spend in the hospital. Likewise, if you have severe burns, you may need more time before you can determine how much time you will spend in the hospital or how many procedures you will need for your recovery. Burns can result in numerous complications, which can add to the time needed for recovery and add to your medical bills.
The insurance company may attempt to take advantage of your lack of knowledge. Since you do not yet know what your medical bills will actually cost, the insurance company may try to get away with offering you less than you really deserve in compensation for your injuries. That offer may even sound very tempting, especially in the early days, when you have just started to worry about your finances and your medical expenses. If you accept that offer, however, it may prevent you from getting the compensation you really deserve for your injuries.
Instead, consult an experienced El Centro car accident attorney before accepting any offer for your injuries. An attorney can provide you with valuable advice about when to accept an offer and when to continue negotiations.
5. When should I contact a car accident attorney after my El Centro car accident? Do I really need one?
Ideally, you should contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident. An attorney’s assistance can begin immediately after the accident, as the attorney helps you collect critical evidence related to your claim. The attorney may, for example, try to find witnesses who saw the accident and can offer a reliable report about what happened. The attorney may also try to find video evidence of the accident or revisit the scene of the accident to see if any features of the area contributed to the accident.
All of those tasks can grow more difficult as time passes after your accident. The longer you wait, the more difficult it is to collect essential evidence related to your accident. The less evidence you have, the harder it can be to make your claim and receive the compensation you deserve.
You should also contact an experienced car accident attorney before you have any dealings with the liable party’s insurance company. An attorney can provide you with valuable perspective that will help you better understand when to negotiate and when to accept an offer issued by the insurance company. An attorney can also communicate with the insurance company on your behalf.
6. How much does an El Centro car accident attorney cost?
For many accident victims, a car accident attorney can prove more affordable than you think. Many attorneys will start with a free consultation to review your claim. During that consultation, you can get a better understanding of your legal rights related to the accident and even what an attorney can do for you.
After that consultation, if we take your case, we do so on a contingent fee basis. If you accept that offer, you will not pay your legal expenses upfront. Instead, we will base our fees on a percentage of your claim. If you do not win your claim, you will owe us nothing.
Most accident victims find that working with an El Centro car accident attorney can increase the compensation they receive, even after they pay their legal expenses. Having an attorney on your side will also decrease your stress during this difficult period of your life.
7. How long should I expect it to take to settle my car accident claim? Will I have to go to court?
It can take time to settle a car accident claim. You should expect it to take time to settle your claim and make appropriate arrangements to pay your bills, especially if you know you cannot work during your recovery.
Several things can contribute to the time it takes to settle your car accident claim.
Collecting evidence. Your attorney will collect evidence related to your claim. You may need to wait for your attorney to locate and interview witnesses or to check out video footage of your accident. The other party’s insurance company or attorney will also want to review evidence related to your claim, possibly including health-related information like your medical records and bills.
Negotiating. It can take several rounds of negotiation to reach an agreement concerning your car accident claim. That does not mean that you should stop negotiation or accept a low offer simply to speed up the process, but it can help you understand how long the process might take to ensure a reasonable outcome.
How much you seek. Insurance companies will often fight harder to reduce your settlement amount when you ask for a significant amount of money due to severe injuries. If you suffer severe injuries, expect it to take more time to resolve.
Court times, mediation, and more. When you cannot reach an agreement through negotiation, you may turn to mediation: a meeting with a court-appointed mediator who can help offer valuable advice and give you the last chance to reach an agreement with the liable party. If you cannot reach an agreement through mediation, you will need to go to court, which will add more time to your claim. Most car accident claims, however, settle out of court.