When the COVID pandemic surged in March of 2020, it changed the way we lived dramatically. Personally, I went from being in 3-4 courthouses a day to staying home or staying in my office. The amount of miles that I drove for those few months were dramatically less. It continues today, with virtual meetings and phone and virtual court appearances.
Interestingly, the statistics show that as it related to crashes, the number of auto accidents changed in the opposite way from what you would have thought would have occurred.
“We compared motor vehicle crash rates before and after the March 23 stay-at-home order,” said Eastern Connecticut State University Professor Mitchell Doucette, in a statement. “We found that single-car crash rates overall and single-car crash rates that involved a fatality increased significantly in the initial period of the stay-at-home order (March 23-April 30), after accounting for large drops in traffic volume. Overall, the single-car crash rate increased more than two times while the fatal, single-car crash rate increased around four times.”
My theory regarding crash numbers during this time is that people felt comfort driving on the roads with less traffic and felt more inclined to speed. People also were less concerned with police pulling them over because during this time, it seemed like the police were less inclined to pull someone over, especially with the Court closed.
One study in Missouri echoed this trend, analyzing traffic patterns and accidents during the lockdown periods.
“We have found that there was a significant reduction in road traffic accidents resulting in minor or no injuries (mean 14.5 versus 10.8, p < 0.0001) but not in accidents resulting in serious or fatal injuries (mean 3.4 versus 3.7, p = 0.42) after mandated societal lockdown. Furthermore, there was a significant reduction in road traffic accidents resulting in minor or no injuries after the mandated social lockdown (parameter estimate -5.9, p = 0.0028) in the time series analysis. There was an increase in road traffic accidents resulting in minor or no injuries after expiration of mandatory societal lockdown (mean 10.8 versus 13.7, p = 0.04).”
It is an interesting cautionary tale regarding driving habits and potential outcomes of behavior – that somehow, during a period of a shutdown, there could be an increased amount of accidents. It is a reminder to us all that we should slow down, avoid distracted driving, focus on the road and remember that just because we may be able to get away with it, doesn’t mean it is a good idea for us!
Rear End Collisions: Who is at fault and why?
Rear end collisions are one of the most common car accidents that occurs on our roadways and the general rule is the trailing vehicle is at fault for following too closely. The concept is that the trailing driver is in the best position to maintain a safe following distance and if they fail to do so, they should bear the burden of the accident.
Rear end collisions can be caused by a driver taking their eyes off the road, going too fast, being distracted or sudden changes in condition that require vehicles ahead of you to stop.
I have been handling rear end collisions for years and the most common examples that I see in Connecticut are the following:
Stop light / stop sign accidents – where the trailing driver thought the lead driver was going to start moving and didn’t, or where the lead driver started and then stopped. I see these all the time on Route 15 at the stop signs at the end of the entrance ramps. This is very common. We should all take extra care to make sure that the driver in front of us actually starts to go and commits to entering the highway.
Intersections – an obvious one – but the most common situation seems to be where the car in front of you brakes for a stop sign or changing light and the trailing driver isn’t observing, doesn’t slow down or stop.
Rear end collisions are the most common car accidents and generally, have no dispute as to the liability of the driver. The mechanics of the injury along with the speed of the collision become the most important part of the analysis. Although it is a straightforward case from a liability standpoint, these cases can become very challenging from a damages standpoint.
The left turn accident – the speed of the driver with the right of way:
Generally speaking, in a left turn accident, the driver proceeding straight has the right of way and the turning driver has to yield the right of way and can only turn when it’s safe to do so. Obviously, if a collision occurs, it is on the turning driver to bear the burden of the loss. I do see the argument made often about the speed of the driver going straight and have a few observations about this.
First, speed is so difficult to estimate for a lay person making an assessment in a moment. You would be shocked to hear the range of speeds that eyewitnesses can come up with for the same car. One man’s 20 miles an hour is another man’s 30, and when it comes to higher speed accidents the variance seems to get even higher. How a car looks to the driver that is at a stop, waiting to turn left, and how the recollection is impacted by the collision that occurred after also shapes the estimate.
The best question to ask on the speed estimates by the left turning driver is “why did you turn if you saw the vehicle before the collision?” If they saw the vehicle and made a misjudgment of the cars oncoming speed, that goes to their liability. If they didn’t see the vehicle prior to the collision, they aren’t qualified to make an assessment of the vehicles speed.
Absent independent witnesses or video (dashcams are getting more and more popular!) speed assessments are appropriately left to experts. In cases with significant injuries, thousands of dollars will likely be spent on experts who can comment on speed based on the damage to the vehicles. In smaller accidents, this cost is less likely to be incurred and we will be left with the assessments of the parties involved. That is why, in framing your accident case, it is important to be able to push back on the claim of improper speed by the non at fault driver – because the end goal for the defendant driver is that the injured party ends up with his award being reduced by a percentage of comparative negligence.
Big firm, little firm – who should I hire?
It’s a great discussion to have and consider, and there really isn’t a right answer that works for everyone. Each person is different in what they expect.
The big firm argument is that because they do a higher volume, they are more qualified and efficient. They have larger staff, they have more resources, they are the big guys. We have all seen the commercials, the bus ads and the promises from tough talking attorney spokesman who promise you to make the other guy pay. A few thoughts I have on the ads themselves and the “Big firms” is that in my years of practicing, I rarely see the guys on the billboards or buses in court. Sure, their firm is there – but not the guy in the picture. He has someone else doing the work, so if you hire that “big firm” you don’t even know who your attorney will end up being. Oftentimes, big firms won’t even assign you to an attorney for over a year after your accident – instead you will have a case manager, paralegal or other support staff working on your case.
The little firm is sold on the idea of a personal relationship with the client and specific attorney, along with the idea that you are less of a number and more of an individual. As an attorney at a “little firm” I work directly with all my clients. I text, I call, I email – and if you call my office you get me on the phone. The little firm model is based on the idea that if you hire an attorney, you should work with that attorney.
The push back on the little firm is that the little guy may not know the system as well or may not have the same level of collective experience of the big firm. I find this to be generally false. For someone like myself, I have 12 years as of this writing in personal injury. I have the time working for an insurance defense firm and I have millions of dollars of results behind me. Contrast that to some of the newer, less experienced attorneys taking entry level attorney jobs for the big firms and learning as they go and you can see why I feel that way. Big firm doesn’t mean better experience or better representation.
More so then a big firm or little firm – you should be looking for personal fit. So, in a way, I think that shows my preference for small firms because it is tough to have a personal fit with larger offices. But sticking with personal fit for a moment, you should consider someone who connects with you and can understand who you are and your world. I have always had my best client relationships with blue collar clients because I have a blue collar background and come from a blue collar family. Most of my clients fit into that category because they feel comfortable with me and that is the person I appeal to most. I have never been mistaken or a “stuffed shirt” lawyer who is the “corporate guy” and my clients appreciate that.
When people are making their decision of who to hire, there isn’t an easy answer. There are good attorneys at big firms, lesser attorneys at big firms and the same can be said for small firms. I encourage people to meet with an attorney and try to pick one who they connect with. You do want someone who focuses on a particular area of law – but you should also ask questions about communication, communication style, and overall demeanor in your assessment.
One final thing on the little firm / big firm debate. I believe, having owned my own business for over a decade, that the guy with his name on the door will always care a little differently than the guy punching the time clock for a check. Not to diminish the 9-5er – not at all – but when your name is on the door it becomes your life in a different way than if you are an employee. The nights, the weekends, the worry, the thought – it’s something that I can tell you from living that is so much different for a business owner. I personally love it – because I love the idea of sinking or swimming on my own efforts. This makes me hungry and makes me work harder every day.
As a Hamden CT personal injury attorney, I work tirelessly toward securing the compensation you need to pay for all accident-related costs, including medical care and lost income, as well as pain and suffering. Your award may also include compensation for property damages, such as any damage done to your vehicle. You and your family shouldn’t have to experience financial strain after your accident. Hold the liable party responsible by filing a claim with my help. I am not afraid to stand up to insurance companies in pursuit of fair compensation for my clients.