The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
How Does Personal Injury Civil Litigation Work in Minnesota?
June 30, 2018
To best see how personal injury civil ligation works in Minnesota, let’s consider the misadventures of Tim Tortfeasor (negligent driver) and Vince Victim.
One fine day, Vince is eastbound on Highway 55 heading to Walmart; Tim is westbound heading towards Maple Lake for some reason. Their paths cross right around the intersection of Highway 55 and 40th Street, near the feed store. Tim is either surfing or texting on his cell phone, so he is weaving slightly. Vince sees that Tim is distracted but does not really react in any way. Tim crosses the center line and hits Vince, seriously injuring him. There were no witnesses to the crash itself.
Vince sustained a head injury, so his medical bills are extremely high. He wants to file suit not to punish Tim, but just to get the money he needs to get better.
This seemingly straightforward car crash case has a lot of legal complexities. The insurance company has lawyers to represent Tim. Therefore, Vince definitely needs a Buffalo Lawyer of his own.
Collecting Evidence in a Minnesota Personal Injury Civil Litigation Case
Since the victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof, collecting evidence is one of the first priorities for Vince’s lawyer.
The police report is always a good place to start. However, it is just a starting point. The police officer who wrote this report was highly experienced, so Vince is lucky in that regard. However, this particular Minnesota State Trooper is definitely not an accident reconstructionist.
There is a bigger problem with the report. Vince was unconscious when the ambulance took him to the hospital, and Tim was treated at the scene. Therefore, the police report only contains Tim’s side of the story.
In a case with no leads, you have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is often the Event Data Recorder. The EDR captures and records a number of vehicle metrics. Most importantly for Vince, most EDRs record steering angle. So, if Tim was weaving for a while, the EDR will record that activity. Such erratic driving increases the possibility that Tim was legally negligent, as outlined below.
As mentioned, there were no witnesses to the crash. But Vince’s attorney is no dummy. She knows that the feed store was pretty crowded that day. Hence, there is a pretty good chance that someone saw something. Even if the witness did not see the crash itself, that testimony can still be valuable.
A Theory of Recovery
Once Vince’s Buffalo lawyer has some facts, she can plug those facts into a compelling theory of recovery. In distracted driving cases, this phase of the process is a little tricky. Minnesota basically has three distracted driving laws:
Web Access and Texting: M.S. 169.475 makes it illegal for any driver to send or view any electronic message while the vehicle is in motion or stuck in traffic. That includes texts, e-mails, instant messages, status updates, and so on. If the driver uses a built-in hands-free device, this law does not apply.
Under 18: Minors cannot use any cell phone, hand-held or hands-free, for any purpose other than calling 911. This same prohibition applies to school bus drivers.
Reckless Driving: M.S. 169.13 applies to any driver whose actions “demonstrate a disregard for the safety or rights of others.” Such activity could be texting while driving, eating while driving, or doing just about anything else other than driving.
Do any of these laws apply to Tim? We’ll assume he is over 18, so that takes out the broad cell phone prohibition. In the police report, Tim said he was surfing the web. But if he was texting, he violated 169.475. Vince’s attorney might be able to look at his cell phone records during discovery. There’s also the blanket reckless driving law. If Vince had been driving erratically for several minutes, this law might apply.
Why does that matter? If Tim broke a safety law, it is easier to establish negligence, or a lack of care. Otherwise, Tim’s lawyers could argue that he was careless but not negligent. Those are two different things.
In head-on collisions like this one, the last clear chance defense comes up a lot. If Driver A has a chance to avoid a collision, maybe by changing lanes, yet fails to do so, Driver A is legally responsible for the crash even if Driver B was negligent.
In this case, Tim’s lawyers could argue that Vince had the last clear chance. Vince saw Tim coming, but Vince did not try to avoid the crash.
However, there is a difference between the last clear chance and any possible chance. If Tim was all over the road, it would have been difficult or impossible for Vince to evade him. Furthermore, if there was a decent amount of traffic that day, a sudden lane change would have been just as dangerous.
Call Today To Speak With A Buffalo Minnesota Personal Injury Attorney From Carlson & Jones
These three items pretty well detail how personal injury civil litigation works. For a free consultation with an experienced Minnesota Personal Injury Attorney in Buffalo, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.