Sideswipe collisions are not the first kind of accident that comes to mind when we think about bad car accidents. We usually think of a sideswipe accident as causing minor damage to the car, but they cause nearly 3 percent of all fatal crashes. Still, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports nearly a quarter of a million of them each year, resulting in about 27,000 injuries and 2,500 fatalities.
If you were one of the thousands of people injured by a sideswipe accident, a lawyer can help you recover compensation.
What Is a Sideswipe?
So what is a sideswipe collision? A sideswipe accident happens when one vehicle hits or scrapes the side of another vehicle, usually but not always going in opposite directions. Both vehicles may move in a sideswipe, or the sideswiped vehicle may be stationary.
What Causes a Sideswipe?
The vast majority of car crashes involve driver error in one way or another. That said, particular kinds of driver error are more common in sideswipe accidents than others.
These common causes of sideswipe accidents include:
- Distracted Driving – Distracted driving is probably the fastest-growing cause of motor vehicle accidents. Though most of us think of distracted driving as texting while driving, it includes using a handheld cell phone to talk, eating, adjusting navigation devices, adjusting entertainment systems, talking to others in the vehicle, putting on makeup, and playing games. We seem to have concluded that paying attention to operating the 4,000-pound heavy machinery that we are driving is no longer necessary, and distracted drivers can be a detriment to others on the road.
- DUIs – Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol affects your judgment, slows your reaction times, and generally makes you a serious injury risk.
- Fatigued Driving – Tests show that driving without the right amounts of sleep can be as bad for your driving as drugs and alcohol. A driver who has not had a sufficient amount of sleep will:
- Nod off behind the wheel
- React more slowly to changing road conditions, other drivers, or pedestrians
- Make bad decisions
- Forget the last stretch of road
- Repeatedly fall asleep for a few seconds at a time
- Experience tunnel vision
This kind of fatigue can result from simply being awake for too many hours, not getting enough sleep for several days, sleep disorders or medications, and the impact of your body’s daily sleep/wake cycle.
- Aggressive Driving – Many behaviors that constitute aggressive driving also increase the risk of a sideswipe accident. Among these aggressive causes of sideswipes are:
- Cutting off other drivers
- Running someone off the road
- Illegal passing
What to Do After a Sideswipe Accident?
After an accident, you probably aren’t focusing on what steps you should take to protect yourself and your rights. You probably aren’t capable of taking some of those steps right then.
However, you should be sure that you or someone acting for you (like a personal injury lawyer) does the following soon after your accident:
- Get medical attention – Even if you don’t think you were hurt badly or at all, get checked out. If your doctor finds an injury and prescribes a treatment regimen, follow it. An insurance company might claim that a failure to seek medical care or follow up on treatment is a sign you don’t have serious injuries.
- Don’t leave the scene – Under most circumstances, the law requires you to stay at the scene of an accident. Only if law enforcement personnel or emergency medical staff tell you it’s okay to leave should you leave the scene.
- Contact the police – Make sure that law enforcement is called and notified about the accident. They will come to the scene and issue various reports or citations in most cases.
- Document the Scene – Take photos if you can and keep any dashcam footage you may have. If you can’t do this, send someone to the scene to do it as soon as possible after the accident. Take notes or record your impressions on your phone.
- Contact Information – Most states require that parties to an accident exchange certain data, including names, contact information, and insurance information. You should also get any potential eyewitnesses’ names and contact information.
- Stay off Social Media – As you’ve no doubt heard in every crime drama ever, anything you say on Facebook can go against you in an insurance claim. Don’t talk about your case, and don’t talk about the other drivers. It’s best to leave the entire incident off your social media pages.
- Contact a Car Accident Lawyer – A car accident lawyer can help you with most of these tasks and can begin to negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf, leaving you free to focus on healing mentally and physically. Contact an experienced sideswipe accident lawyer for a usually free initial consultation and case evaluation. Let them advocate for your cause.
Typical Injuries from a Sideswipe
Injuries in a sideswipe depend on several issues. The severity varies based on the relative sizes of the vehicle, the speed both were going, whether one vehicle was stationary, the force of the impact. Even a minor sideswipe can cause one or both drivers to lose control of their vehicles and cause further accidents with more severe injuries.
All that considered, common injuries in sideswipe accidents include:
- Traumatic Brain Injuries – Even a minor collision can cause the driver or a passenger to hit their head against the vehicle or cause something to strike or pierce their skull. In this event, the injured individual may suffer a concussion or traumatic brain injury resulting from tearing, stretching, or bruising of brain tissue. TBI can result in loss of motor and cognitive function and is a major cause of death. Even seemingly mild brain trauma can result in potentially fatal complications. The mild TBI nomenclature relates only to the initial presentation of symptoms and not to the victim’s overall prognosis. TBIs that medical professionals deem mild can still be severe injuries resulting in serious and lasting effects and complications. If you are diagnosed with any type of TBI, you should remain on watch for any symptoms of complications or lingering effects.
- Back and Spinal Cord Injuries – Injuries to the back often result in spinal cord problems. Because it is the central line of communications between the brain and the nervous system, damage to the spinal cord can be temporarily or permanently devastating. Destruction of a portion of the spinal cord will sever communications from that point downward, leading to loss of sensation or function and even permanent overall paralysis, paraplegia, or quadriplegia.
- Internal Injuries & Bleeding – Severe impact to the torso or rib cage can cause severe internal injuries. Damage to other organs can cause internal bleeding, require emergency treatment, or can lead to death from blood loss within just an hour. Broken ribs are particularly dangerous as they may pierce other organs. If the ribs pierce the lungs, collapsed lungs and compromised breathing may result.
- Burns – Although not common in minor accidents, if there is a severe size difference between the vehicles, the impact can cause an explosion. The resulting fires can cause severe burns. Burns are extremely painful, prone to infections, and slow to treat, often requiring long hospitalizations. Further, the scarring can cause long-term emotional and mobility issues.
- Fractures, Crushing Injuries & Amputations – Any collision can cause broken bones. In a sideswipe or a secondary collision caused by a sideswipe, especially where the vehicles differ considerably in size, the fractures can result in amputation, or a crushing injury may ultimately require amputation. Even without that complication, fractures in accidents are likely to be severe, often with the bones protruding from the break, leading to infections and lengthy healing and treatment times.
- Whiplash and Soft Tissue Injuries – Whiplash is a painful injury to the muscles, tendons, and nerves of the neck caused by sudden violent movement. Although often derided for lack of seriousness, whiplash can result in lifelong chronic pain and limited mobility. Other soft tissue injuries include bruising and abrasions, which can be severe and painful.
How Can I Recover Damages on a Sideswipe?
Like most personal injuries and car accidents, a sideswipe usually results from someone’s careless or reckless behavior on the roads. Recovery from this is based on the legal theory of negligence.
To recover in a negligence action, you must allege and prove that:
- The at-fault driver owed you a duty of care – This one is relatively simple because the acceptance of a driver’s license impliedly imposes a duty of care for all other road users.
- The at-fault driver breached the duty of care – You demonstrate this by showing by the at-fault driver’s conduct in breaking the rules of the road, driving under the influence, driving distracted, and so on.
- The breach of duty caused your injuries – You must show that, but for the careless conduct, you would not have suffered injuries (cause in fact) and that the injury resulting from the careless conduct was reasonably foreseeable (legal cause).
- The breach resulted in injuries for which monetary compensation or damages will make you whole.
Can I Afford to Sue?
By asking if you can afford to sue, you mean: Can I afford a lawyer? And the answer is yes. Virtually all lawyers take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. A contingency fee arrangement means you will pay attorney’s fees only if the case ends in your favor, through a settlement or a verdict. If so, the attorney will receive a portion of your award; if not, the attorney receives no fees.
A contingency fee agreement must be in writing, must specify the percentage the attorney will receive, and state whether case fees and expenses will be net or gross of the fee. Contingency fee arrangements make it much easier for injured parties to seek compensation.
Impact of No-Fault Insurance Laws
Some states have no-fault insurance laws that allow you to sue for damages if (1) your damages exceed your coverage under your policy or (2) if death or serious injury resulted from the accident.
Under the no-fault law, a serious injury results in:
- Significant disfigurement
- Loss of a fetus (miscarriage)
- Permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function, or system
- Permanent consequential limitation of the use of a body organ or member
- A medically determined injury or impairment which prevents the victim from performing most of the material acts which constitute the victim’s usual and customary daily activities for at least 90 of the 180 days immediately following the accident
How Long Do I Have to Act?
State laws vary, but New York generally allows three years from the date of an accident for filing a lawsuit to recover damages. This period may seem like a long time, but the gathering and reviewing of evidence and building your case can be time-consuming. Further, there are circumstances where New York imposes a shorter statute. In fact, it can be as little as 90 days.
What Are Typical Damages in a Sideswipe?
The law allows for three general classes of damages in personal injury cases.
- Economic or Special Damages – Economic damages are, in essence, out-of-pocket costs or losses. They are generally easily provable with things like pay stubs and paid invoices and include such items as:
- Medical and hospital expenses resulting from your injuries in the accident.
- Devices or services needed for assistance in daily living
- Loss of past and future wages and income
- Non-economic or General Damages – More subjective and less easily proven than economic damages, non-economic damages may require expert testimony and often require consideration of costs and payments long into the future. These can include:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium and personal relationship
- Loss of earning capacity
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Punitive Damages – Punitive damages do not compensate the victim; they punish the at-fault party and deter others from similar conduct. Courts rarely award punitive damages, because they require virtually intentional reckless conduct. Also, if you do receive them, punitive damages are likely taxable, unlike economic and non-economic damages.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer
A car accident lawyer can help you with most of these tasks and can begin to negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf, leaving you free to focus on healing mentally and physically.
Contact an experienced sideswipe accident lawyer for a usually free initial consultation and case evaluation. Let them advocate for your cause.