Sometimes, an “accident” is a completely unavoidable event. Many people believe that the Universe formed by accident. But in a negligence context, this word is synonymous with “unintentional.” Most tortfeasors (negligent drivers) do not intentionally harm car crash victims. So, to that extent, the wreck is accidental. But over nine times out of ten, these accidents have specific causes. That cause is almost always excessive speed, alcohol impairment, or something similar.
We all cause accidents from time to time. And, we must all accept the consequences of these accidents. Determining the proper consequences, or in this case the proper amount of damages, is usually a combination of art and science.
Establishing Settlement Value
Minnesota is a tort jurisdiction. So, car crash victims are entitled to compensation for their economic losses, such as medical bills, and their noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and other economic damages are usually easy to calculate. One simply adds up the bills. Many Minneapolis medical providers offer discounts in these cases. But the calculation always involves the fair market value and not the discounted amount.
Noneconomic damages are much more difficult to determine. As a starting point, some Minnesota Personal Injury Attorneys use a per diem figure, such as $100 a day, for every day that the victims cannot go about their normal activities. Other lawyers use a multiple, like four times the economic losses.
These methods are just starting points. In either case, the specific figure largely depends on the three areas discussed below.
Evidence in the Minnesota Car Accident Case
The victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof in a negligence case. Typically, that burden is a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest evidentiary burden in Minnesota law. The victim’s statement, along with the police report, may be sufficient to establish liability. But to award significant damages, the jury needs to hear more.
Fortunately, in addition to these two items, there are a number of other sources of evidence available. Some of them include:
Witness Statements: For various reasons, many witnesses do not want to talk to police officers. However, they will come forward when a victim’s attorney approaches them. The victim/plaintiff also has the same subpoena power that the tortfeasor has.
Physical Evidence: Almost all locations have at least one video camera in the close vicinity. Other electronic evidence includes the Event Data Recorder. This gadget automatically records things like vehicle speed and steering angle.
It’s important to act quickly to preserve this evidence. Memories quickly fade and physical evidence often disappears. To counteract the former, the witness can make a statement to a lawyer now and use it to refresh recollection later. To counteract the latter, an attorney usually sends a spoliation letter to the custodian. This letter prevents the custodian from “accidentally” disposing of physical evidence.
While all this is going on, the insurance company has a posse of lawyers who are working hard to deny fair compensation. The tortfeasor does not have the burden of proof, so evidence is not as essential. Instead, insurance company lawyers often focus on legal defenses. Some of the most common Minnesota car crash defenses include:
Contributory Negligence: Many car wrecks involve multiple fault (g. the victim was intoxicated and the tortfeasor was speeding). Minnesota is a modified comparative fault state with a 51 percent bar. For the victim to recover a proportional share of damages, the tortfeasor must be at least 51 percent responsible for the wreck.
Sudden Emergency: This clip from Tommy Boy is a good illustration of this absolute defense in Minneapolis. Unlike a jaywalking pedestrian or a stalled car, a hood fly-up is a completely unexpected event and therefore a “sudden emergency.” But Tommy did not react reasonably by pulling over to the side of the road. He drove recklessly. So, the defense would not apply.
Last Clear Chance: This defense comes up a lot in rear-end crash cases. If the victim failed to avoid the wreck, perhaps by changing lanes, the tortfeasor is not liable for damages. Significantly, the victim must have the last reasonable chance as opposed to the last possible
Other defenses, which do not arise very much in car crash cases, include assumption of the risk and statute of limitations.
The final element in this calculation is not on a spreadsheet or in a law book. There are a number of intangible factors to consider, and we’ll look at one as an example.
People in some jurisdictions are more conservative than people in other jurisdictions. For example, cities like Buffalo usually have lots of residents who have not lived there for very long and own no property. As a result, individuals are sometimes unfavorable to victims.
But the opposite is true in a place like St Cloud. These residents usually have significant ties to the community and are therefore more victim-friendly. Conservative jurors like these individuals often award higher damages based on favorable evidence.
These are obviously very broad generalizations that are not present in all cases. However, a Minnesota Personal Injury Attorney needs to at least examine this area.
CALL TODAY TO SPEAK WITH A MINNESOTA CAR ACCIDENT LAWYER AT CARLSON & JONES
Estimating the settlement value is an important part of a car crash case. For a free consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer in Minnesota, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.