When you’re injured in a car accident that comes about due to someone else’s negligence, you are entitled to compensation for what was lost due to those injuries. But there is one caveat—the injuries have to be traceable to the crash. While this may seem obvious in some incidents, it won’t always be the case. And it’s vital for your attorney to be diligent and engaged on all facets of the investigation, to prove that the car accident caused your injuries.
Causation in Car Crashes
The legal issue at stake is known as causation, and it’s a standard part of all personal injury cases. Perhaps the best way to explain causation is to illustrate when it might not be present.
A driver gets rear-ended by another vehicle. There’s no dispute about the fault of the other driver, and the plaintiff now has a wrenched back and problems with their neck. On the surface, this would seem a pretty clear-cut case of cause-and-effect. But maybe not.
What if the plaintiff has a history of back problems? The defendant’s insurance company will be able to access medical records, and it should be assumed that they will do so. They might make the case that at least part—if not all—of the explanation for the injuries lies with a pre-existing health condition.
There’s also the possibility the defendant’s insurance company could simply allege that the plaintiff was never really injured at all, or is at least exaggerating the severity of their injuries. They might seek out evidence of the plaintiff engaging in activities that would seem unlikely for an injured person to do.
The saying “first, do no harm” is one that has its roots in the medical profession, but it can apply to legal cases in circumstances like these. An injured plaintiff ought to first, observe the rule of silence after an accident.
Perhaps, in the immediate aftermath of the accident, the plaintiff still feels okay. Maybe, being a good-natured person, they want to offer that reassurance to the other driver, who may feel guilty. Or, if word of the accident, has gotten around, they want to let family and friends know that all is well.
This is a mistake. In the first place, injuries can take a few days to manifest themselves. The person who suffers from a concussion might deal with memory loss a day or two after the event. Back and neck problems are notorious for having delayed reactions to physical trauma.
Telling someone else “I’m okay” won’t automatically preclude you from collecting a personal injury settlement. But those words will almost certainly be introduced as evidence by the defense, and the plaintiff’s attorney will have to deal with them. It’s an obstacle that can be avoided by simply maintaining a prudent silence.
By all means, that silence ought to extend to social media. The words, and especially the photos that people share with each other, can be used to undermine a personal injury claim. Even if one’s social network is set to private, it should be assumed that the defendant’s insurance company will gain access to any content there, either through legal discovery, or through the content simply slipping out.
It’s important, in this context, to point out that New Hampshire uses the principle of modified comparative negligence in personal injury settlements. What that means is that a court can assign both the defendant and the plaintiff a percentage of the blame for an accident. A court could well decide that, while the car accident for which a defendant was at fault, did cause injuries, that pre-existing conditions bore at least a small portion of the explanation for the injuries.
So, let’s say a court decides a defendant is 10 percent responsible for the accident itself. Then, their pre-existing health issues are responsible for 15 percent of the ensuing injuries. They are now 25 percent at fault. Which means they can only collect 75 percent of the total settlement. If a settlement is $500,000, the plaintiff has just lost $125,000.