22 Oct

Understanding Pedestrian Accidents In Nevada

dangerous crossing

About one in four of the traffic fatalities in the Silver State are pedestrians, and that figure is well above the national average. Many, if not most, of these fatalities occur outside crosswalks in non-urban areas during non-daylight hours (between dusk and dawn), and most victims are either young children or older adults.

These facts mean a lot. Many vehicles slow down around intersections, especially if traffic is heavy, and speed up in non-intersections, especially if traffic is light or moderate.

Further, as a rule of thumb, visibility is about 300 times greater during daylight hours. And, since many non-crosswalk areas are unlit, the difference may be even greater when it comes to pedestrian accidents. Lack of visibility also explains why so many young children are victims, because it is simply harder for motorists to see them, especially if they are not really looking for pedestrians in the first place.

Injuries in Pedestrian Accidents

In collisions, several layers of glass, plastic, and steel, not to mention multiple restraint layers, protect vehicle occupants. However, in similar situations, pedestrians are completely exposed to the risk of injury. Some common wounds include:

Head Injuries: With no seat belts or airbags to hold them in place, nearly all pedestrians are launched into the air in these cases. The jarring motion when they land, even if they do not land on their heads, often causes permanent brain injuries.
Broken Bones: Fall-induced fractures in young people often heal quickly with little medical intervention. In almost all other cases, and for almost all other victims, surgeons must use metal screws, pins, or plates to set the bone.

After several weeks or months of near-total immobilization, most victims require weeks or months of expensive and painful physical therapy to regain a minimal amount of lost function.

Blood Loss: Because of the serious nature of the injuries, and because many of these incidents occur relatively far from first responders and hospitals, the victims often lose vast amounts of blood before they can be properly stabilized, and the weakened state of their bodies makes their other injuries even worse.

All these injuries often mean huge medical bills and significant time away from work, so victims are entitled to compensation for these economic damages. There are intangible wounds as well, such as loss of enjoyment in life and emotional distress, and victims are entitled to compensation for these noneconomic damages as well.

Fault and Liability in Pedestrian Accidents

Speed is a factor in about a third of fatal car crashes. First, excessive velocity greatly increases stopping distance, which is thinking distance (reaction time) plus braking distance (amount of time required to stop safely). At 20mph, stopping distance is about three car lengths for most passenger vehicles. At 40mph, stopping distance triples to nine car lengths, or even more in some cases. In practical terms, if a pedestrian is in the path of a slow moving car, for whatever reason, the motorist can nearly always avoid the crash by slowing down, stopping, or changing lanes. However, if a pedestrian is in the path of a fast moving car, a collision is basically inevitable.

Speed-induced crashes also have much more force, because of Newton’s Second Physical Law. That is why, as a rule of thumb, pedestrian accidents at under 20mph are typically survivable and often do not even cause serious injuries, and collisions at greater than 40mph are nearly always fatal.

Next, alcohol is a factor in about a third of vehicle crash fatalities. After only one drink, most people are unable to make good judgements because alcohol is a depressant and have problems controlling their motor skills because alcohol is a tranquilizer. After another drink or two, these symptoms significantly worsen and joined by blurred vision because of bloodshot eyes; most people are essentially comatose if they consume much more alcohol.

In terms of pedestrian accidents, the slowed reactions increase stopping distance, the impaired vision makes it more difficult to see pedestrians, and the impaired motor skills make it more difficult for drivers to control their vehicles in emergencies.

Distracted driving causes many other fatal and serious injury crashes. Cellphones garner considerable attention in this area, because these devices combine all three types of distracted driving:

Visual: People who are looking at screens are not watching the road. Moreover, at highway speeds, a vehicle can travel the length of a football field in the time it takes to send a text message.
Manual: In addition to using cellphones for communication or web-surfing, people also take their hands off the wheel to adjust the radio or air conditioner.
Cognitive: Both live and virtual conversations require concentration, so drivers take their minds off driving when they talk on cellphones, send messages, post on social media, or talk to passengers.

Hands-free devices, whether they are built into the vehicle or hand-held devices in speaker mode, are not much safer than hand-held devices, and because they give drivers a false sense of security, they may even be more dangerous.

15 Oct

Understanding Bicycle Accidents – Nevada

Close-up of a bicycle accident on the city street

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, around 50,000 people per year are injured in bicycle crashes. But researchers estimate that only about one in ten injury bicycle crashes are reported to police, so the actual number is probably more like 500,000 people a year, or roughly 1,300 per day.

These incidents are very common in Nevada, due to the almost year-round warm weather and the opportunities for both urban and off-road biking. Yet despite the number of bicyclists in the state, bicycles are not “vehicles” according to Nevada law. This distinction, which is somewhat unique to the Silver State, has some effect on liability in bicycle accidents.

First Party Liability in Bicycle Accidents

Despite their special status, bicycles are still subject to all the normal “rules of the road,” including right-of-way. Nevada also has two versions of a move-over law. On multi-lane roads, if a bicyclist is in the right lane, drivers must move into one of the other lanes if at all possible; on single-lane roads, drivers must give bicyclists at least a three-foot cushion when passing.

This law is an important tool in negligence cases, because if a motor vehicle collides with a bicycle, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is presumptively liable for damages under the negligence per se (negligence “as such”) rule. In most negligence cases, the plaintiff must prove five elements – duty, breach, cause-in-fact, proximate cause, and damages. However, in negligence per se cases, the plaintiff must only establish:

Violation of Statute: The tortfeasor must break a safety law, such as driving while under the influence of alcohol, ignoring a traffic control device, speeding, or not giving a bicyclist sufficient room; non-safety laws, like an emissions violation or an expired drivers’ license, do not count. The three-foot measurement is often rather subjective, but if a car makes contact with a bicycle, it is quite clearly less that three feet away from it.

Cause: There must be a direct connection between the statutory violation and the victim’s damages. If a motorist brushes too close to a bicyclist who then veers off the road and strikes a pedestrian, the pedestrian’s injury may or may not be foreseeable under Nevada law.

Damages: Although the victim must sustain a tangible injury, such as a personal injury from a fall or property damage to the bicycle, the victim is also entitled to compensation for intangible and noneconomic losses.

Negligence per se also creates a presumption in favor of punitive damages in Nevada, and in recent years, judges have been much more willing to instruct juries in this regard. Essentially, the victim is entitled to additional damages if the jury concludes that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) acted with conscious indifference for the safety and property of others. In the liability portion of a trial, the victim must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, but in the punitive damages portion of a trial, the victim must present clear and convincing evidence. A damages cap may also apply, in some cases.

Third Party Liability in Bicycle Accidents

A little over 12 percent of Nevada drivers are uninsured, which is slightly below the national average. That’s probably because the Silver State has one of the lowest auto insurance requirements in the Union. So while most drivers technically have insurance, in many cases they are under-insured, because their policy limits are insufficient to cover the victim’s losses, especially if the collision involves a catastrophic injury, like a wrongful death.

In some cases, under-insurance is not a factor, because most people have at least some assets and tortfeasors are usually personally liable for any part of a judgement that the insurance company does not pay. In other cases, there may be an applicable third party liability theory. Some common employer liability theories include:

Respondeat Superior: If the tortfeasor was an employee acting within the scope of employment, respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) applies and the employer is liable for at least some of the damages. Almost all workers are “employees” for negligence purposes, even if their bosses classify them as something else. Moreover, employees were within the course and scope of employment if they were doing anything of value to the employer.

Negligent Entrustment: If respondeat superior does not apply, the employer can still be liable, because bosses have a duty to carefully hire their workers and properly supervise them while they are on the job.

In terms of third party alcohol liability, Nevada does not have a dram shop law that holds alcohol providers liable if their customers negligently injure someone else. However, negligent undertaking is a recognized third-party theory. Assume Party Host promises to take Intoxicated Guest home but fails to do so, and IG crashes into a bicyclist on her way home. Under those facts, PH could be liable for the victim’s damages.