Causes and Consequences of Side-Impact Crashes

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Side-impact crashes, also known as T-bone accidents or broadside collisions, are among the most dangerous type of motor vehicle accidents for drivers and passengers alike. These collisions occur when the side of a vehicle is struck straight on or at an angle. Since there are few structural barriers between the occupants and the striking vehicle, this type of crash more often results in serious injuries and fatalities. The experienced team at Berry Law can help victims to navigate the legal process of seeking damages and to receive the compensation they deserve following a side-impact crash.

In rear-end and front-end accidents, several feet of space typically separates the bodies of drivers and passengers from the outside of a vehicle. Areas like the hood, trunk, and bumpers act as buffers to absorb the majority of the impact from a collision. This may cause a vehicle to crumple at the impacted location but keeps the overall frame intact.

When the frame of a vehicle buckles due to a side-impact crash, the likelihood of devasting injuries or death increases significantly. Side impact accidents kill between 8,000 and 10,000 Americans each year, more than rear-end and head-on collisions combined. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), an estimated 24 percent of all motor vehicle accident fatalities occur in a side-impact crash.

Types of T-Bone Accident Injuries

The speed and size of the striking vehicle typically determines the severity of a collision. Injuries are greater when the striking car is larger with a higher bumper and traveling at a faster rate of speed. However, even at low speeds, side-impact crashes have still been shown to cause serious injuries to occupants of the struck vehicle.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) concluded that these are the most common injuries resulting from side-impact accidents:

  • Head injuries- These injuries can occur with blunt force trauma from hitting the head against the vehicle during an accident. They also happen when the body itself takes a blow that allows the brain to bounce against the inside of the skull, resulting in brain bruising or bleeding.

Concussions, fractures of the skull, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are possible outcomes and should be documented and treated immediately. Failure to seek medical help can lead to long-term symptoms that include headaches, chronic pain, loss of coordination, dizziness, memory loss, and more.

  • Injuries to the neck and back- Along with concussions, whiplash is more common in side-impact crashes than in other types of motor vehicle accidents. Approximately 66 percent of insurance claims involving a side impact accident include minor neck injuries.

Neck and spinal injuries occur when the weight of the body accelerates first on impact while the head stays still. This causes the neck to absorb the force of impact, stretching muscles and ligaments when the weight of the head abruptly pulls the neck back, resulting in whiplash.

Fractured, slipped, or herniated discs, nerve and spinal cord damage, and paralysis can cause chronic, life-long pain and disability.

  • Crush injuries to chest, abdomen, and pelvis- Crush injuries to occupants on the struck side of a vehicle are particularly common in side-impact collisions. A buckling car frame can result in serious, life-threatening damage to the torso. Organs most impacted include the thoracic aorta, heart, and spleen. Internal bleeding can be difficult to identify and is a leading cause of death in crush injuries.

Occupants on the non-struck side of a vehicle are more likely to sustain injuries to the chest and limbs. This happens when the vertical pillar behind the front door collapses in on them or in the event that another passenger in the vehicle hits them upon impact.

Despite continual improvements to vehicle safety features like seatbelts, airbags, and bumpers, the focus has mainly been on how to make rear-end and head-on collisions less deadly, leaving drivers and passengers involved in side-impact crashes largely unprotected. Some vehicle manufacturers have begun to include side airbags to offer another layer of protection in these crashes, but they are not currently standard safety features.

A study by the NCBI found that three main factors influence the location and severity of injuries in T-bone accidents:

  • Occupant position- Drivers and passengers on the struck side of a vehicle are most likely to be fatally injured in these types of crashes.
  • Location of impact- Impacts occurring to the lower, middle portion of a vehicle, where an occupant would be sitting behind the car door result in more deadly injuries. This is because the door often collapses into the vehicle cabin.
  • Crash direction- Broadside collisions that come from the 10 or 2 o’clock positions are more deadly than from other directions.

What Are the Common Causes?

Like other types of motor vehicle accidents, side-impact collisions can be caused by distracted driving, when a driver takes his or her full attention off of the road because he or she is texting, changing the radio, or talking to a passenger in the car. Drivers who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol can also be the cause of broadside collisions.

The most frequent location for these types of collisions is at intersections, where a driver fails to yield and runs a red light or stop sign. Speeding or driving too fast for road conditions, in icy weather for example, can cause a vehicle to unexpectedly slide into an intersection and strike another car.

Illegal passing that reduces a driver’s ability to see traffic ahead can also result in T-bone accidents, as can reckless or aggressive driving and failure to look for oncoming traffic before making a turn.

Determining Fault

Side impact accidents are almost always the result of negligence. Drivers assume a duty to act with care while operating a motor vehicle to avoid harming others on the road. When a driver has failed to exercise reasonable care, as in the case of distracted driving or driving under the influence, he or she has breached that duty and can be held liable for injuries and expenses incurred by the occupants of the other vehicle.

In broadside collisions, issues of liability can be more complicated than in other types of crashes, making it difficult for insurance companies and courts to determine fault. For example, T-bone accidents most often occur when one vehicle strikes a second vehicle as they are traveling through an intersection or when one driver cuts in front of another. In either of these cases, both drivers might claim that they had the right of way.

Crash witnesses, skid marks, and points of damage on a vehicle can offer clues to accident investigators that will help to determine fault. In some cases, both drivers could be found negligent in a side-impact collision. Even when traveling through a green light, a driver is still responsible for looking both ways before proceeding.

Insurance companies and courts will often consider speed, visibility, traffic conditions, and other circumstances at the time of a crash to determine damages. The amount of damages that can be recovered during litigation may depend on whether the state where an accident occurred is a fault and no-fault state.

Nebraska is a Modified Comparative Fault state. This means that a claimant must prove that he or she is 50 percent or less at fault to recover any damages.

Taking Legal Action

Following a side-impact collision, seek medical attention immediately. Some serious injuries may not be outwardly visible, as in the case of internal bleeding. It’s important to be treated as soon as possible and to have injuries documented in medical records.

If possible, exchange insurance information with the other driver and obtain contact information for potential witnesses of the accident that can be used later to establish fault. While monetary compensation can’t repair physical damage to persons and property, it can ease the financial burden that comes with medical bills, rehabilitation and loss of income.

An experienced attorney has the knowledge necessary to guide claimants through the litigation process, which can be complicated and time-consuming. Find an attorney with a background in personal injury law. The litigators at Berry Law can obtain and navigate medical records, accident reports, and court proceedings so that their clients can focus on recovering.

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