Auto Accidents Involving Elderly Drivers

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With the Baby Boomer generation aging into senior citizenship in droves, there are more older drivers on America’s roads and highways than at any other time in history according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). What’s more, older drivers are keeping their licenses longer than previous generations and spending more hours driving in general. In 1970, only about half of Americans over age 65 had a driver’s license compared with 84 percent 40 years later.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicated that by 2018, more than 45 million licensed U.S. drivers were over age 65, representing a 60 percent increase since 2000. With one in six drivers in that demographic, older Americans are at increased risk of involvement in automobile-related accidents.

An individual who has been injured in a motor vehicle accident involving an older driver may be entitled to compensation for damages to their person and property resulting from another’s negligence. Car insurance companies sometimes refuse to cover the full cost of financial losses suffered following an accident. In such cases, a personal injury lawsuit may be the only recourse for a victim to receive financial compensation.

The knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorneys at Berry Law can guide you through the process of a personal injury suit and help you recover what you lost while you focus on your health.

Is Age a Risk Factor for Car Crashes?

There’s been considerable research done that has attempted to prove or disprove the risks associated with driving as people grow older. Overall, studies show that older adults are more likely than younger drivers to engage in safer driving habits like wearing a seatbelt, driving only in safe weather conditions and during daylight hours, and refraining from driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Still, age does pose a slight increase in risk for driver-related crashes, which can also include car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists. Drivers older than 65 are 16 percent more likely to cause a motor vehicle accident than those 25-64. A RAND Corporation study found that older drivers cause approximately seven percent of all crashes involving at least two vehicles.

It seems that the older a person gets, the more at risk he or she is for being involved in a fatal accident. When adjusted to account for the number of miles traveled, fatal crashes increase at age 70 and peak at age 85 according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Men across all age groups have a substantially higher risk of death than women when it comes to motor vehicle accidents.

Why Does the Risk of Motor Vehicle Accidents Increase in Older Adults?

The risk of being involved in a traffic crash increases as we age for a number of reasons, including declines in vision and cognitive abilities. The fading capacity to reason and remember can contribute to age-related car accidents.

As we age, disconnects between visual processing and the brain sometimes don’t allow for relay of information quickly enough for the body to react to avoid an accident. Reduced reaction times can lead to otherwise preventable crashes. Since our reaction time slows as we age, we require more time to react than when we were younger, putting older drivers at risk for rear-end and weather-related accidents.

Physical changes to muscle tone and strength, which typically decline the older we get, are also contributing factors. Failing eyesight can put a person at an increased risk for a car crash, especially if they are not regularly following up with an eye doctor to check for changes to vision, or if they refuse to wear necessary glasses or corrective lenses. Driving at night can also become more difficult due to changes in the eyes over time.

The use of prescription medications increases as we age and may contribute to delayed reaction times and drowsy driving. A report from AAA showed that 90 percent of older drivers use prescription drugs, with two-thirds saying that they take multiple medications.

Does Being Older Put a Person at Higher Risk for Injury or Death in a Motor Vehicle Crash?

In addition to the increased possibility of causing a crash as we age, individuals over age 65 are also more prone to injury and death as a result of motor vehicle accidents. The higher crash death rates for his group are likely due to increased physical vulnerability to injury when a crash does occur.

Roughly 250,000 adults over age 65 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries they sustained in traffic-related accidents in 2019. An additional 8,000 died as a result of their injuries that same year. This means that on a daily basis, more than 20 older adults are killed and almost 700 are injured while traveling on the nation’s roadways.

How Does the Eggshell Plaintiff Rule Apply if I’m At Fault for Hitting an Older Driver?

A driver who is found to be at fault for an accident involving an older adult may be subject to the legal guidelines governing Eggshell Plaintiffs. The term refers to an individual who is especially vulnerable to injury given his or her age or medical conditions.

One of the most common defenses that insurance companies sometimes use to avoid paying out claims or damages in a personal injury suit is the pre-existing injury defense. An attorney or insurance company may ask for years of prior medical history for a claimant in an attempt to locate evidence of a previous injury or any recent treatments that may be even remotely related to the plaintiff’s current complaint.

The idea is that if the insurance company can show that the plaintiff already had a condition that wasn’t directly caused by the accident, then the defendant is not responsible for that condition. However, Nebraska law requires that a claimant in a personal injury lawsuit is taken as they are at the time of the accident.

This means that even when a plaintiff is more vulnerable or physically fragile than the average person, the at-fault party is responsible for any aggravated injuries that were caused due to their vulnerability or pre-existing conditions at the time of the accident. For example, a defendant who is involved in a crash with a plaintiff who has osteoporosis and requires extensive medical care following an automobile accident is responsible for all resulting damages, regardless of whether or not a healthier driver would have sustained fewer injuries.

The law goes on to say that if damages from an accident can’t be separated from damages that existed before the accident, then the defendant is liable for all damages. Consequently, a defendant in a personal injury case may find himself or herself responsible for considerably more damages than they realized.

Conversely, many would-be claimants with underlying conditions assume that they don’t have a valid claim and may not realize the extent of the compensation they are owed.

How Can a Personal Injury Attorney Help?

Personal injury cases are based on the following four assumptions:

  • A driver assumes a duty of care for others on the road when he or she gets behind the wheel. If a driver knowingly or unknowingly operates a motor vehicle without the physical or cognitive ability to do so safely, the driver is said to have breached his or her duty of care.
  • Drivers who breach their duty of care are considered negligent in the eyes of the court and are responsible for any damages caused by the accident.
  • Injuries sustained by the claimant are a direct result of the defendant’s negligence.
  • The accident resulted in monetary damages to the claimant.

A claimant may be eligible for medical compensation from emergency services, hospital admissions, x-rays, physical therapy, and more. Even with losses that are covered by car insurance policies, it’s often difficult to recoup the full amount of damages owed.

Days missed from work, lost income, and loss of sick and vacation leave or benefits while recovering from the injuries caused by a car wreck can pile up quickly. An attorney can calculate these hidden expenses into damages awarded in a personal injury case.

The cost of property damage to a vehicle, such as bodywork and repairs, can also be figured into your total damages. In cases where an insurance company totals a vehicle, a personal injury settlement may award an owner fair market value for the vehicle, more than an insurance company is often willing to pay to replace it.

Insurance alone will not typically cover out-of-pocket expenses like copays, rental cars, prescription medication, medical equipment, or private or skilled nursing. You may also be entitled to damages for pain and suffering, which is the physical and emotional distress an accident caused you. Pain and suffering are assessed as punitive damages, with the court determining the amount awarded to the plaintiff.

An insurance company may attempt to settle quickly so that a claimant will accept a cash-in-hand settlement and sign away his or her rights to future compensation instead of pursuing a potentially lengthy and expensive personal injury suit. It’s best however to avoid accepting any compensation until an attorney can assess the full cost of injuries and losses. An experienced personal injury attorney can ensure that you’re treated fairly and will fight to get you the compensation that you deserve.

Contact Us Today for Help

While most personal injury cases never see the inside of a courtroom and are settled outside of court, it can be a long, drawn-out process. A seasoned attorney won’t seek a rushed settlement. If you’ve been involved in any capacity in a car accident involving a person over age 65 or are yourself injured due to another person’s negligence, hiring a personal injury attorney can provide peace of mind and help put you back on the road to normal. Reach out today to speak with a team member.

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