Connecticut is one of the most urban states in the country. With urbanism comes high traffic congestion, which overtime, causes damage to older highways and surface streets. Many of these roadways weren’t designed to handle so much traffic. Road damage, along with the high traffic rates may explain driver impatience. However, these inconveniences do not excuse certainly don’t excuse driver negligence. You may need a Connecticut auto accident attorney to fight for your rights if you ever find yourself in an accident while driving in Connecticut.
How a Connecticut auto accident attorney can help you
If you get hurt, taking on an insurance company by yourself after a car crash is like David taking on Goliath. Insurance companies have almost unlimited resources. For example, revenue for these companies exceeds $1 trillion in premiums alone. Investment and interest income adds much more to the pile. Usually, within a few hours of a wreck, insurance company lawyers and other professionals start looking for ways to reduce or deny compensation to the victims who need it.
A Connecticut auto accident attorney levels the playing field. A victim’s lawyer cannot match the insurance company’s resources. But in terms of resources, David had no chance to beat Goliath. Yet David won, mostly because he fought for the right cause. Insurance company lawyers fight for corporate profits. A Connecticut auto accident attorney fights for victims’ legal and financial rights. In other words, you have right on your side. So, the resource gap doesn’t matter as much.
The principles of negligence, or a lack of care, are pretty much the same in all fifty states. However, specific laws vary on certain points, and we’ll look at that below.
Additionally, the number of car wrecks is rising everywhere. The statistics in this state are especially grim. The number of traffic-related deaths in the state increased almost 20 percent in 2021, to the highest level in more than fifteen years. Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti described the increase as unprecedented and said that the pandemic, and the stress it caused, are primarily responsible for the increase. Unfortunately for victims, he does not expect the situation to improve anytime soon.
Generally, vehicle collisions aren’t “accidents.” People accidentally leave the lights on. They don’t accidentally drive drunk or speed excessively and cause wrecks. However, if negligence, or a lack of care, caused a collision, a Connecticut auto accident attorney can obtain compensation in court.
Many vehicle collisions involve the ordinary negligence doctrine. In the Constitution State, a Connecticut auto accident attorney's negligence claim has four basic elements:
- Duty: Most noncommercial motorists in the state have a duty of reasonable care. This legal responsibility is based on the Golden Rule, which says (if you didn’t memorize it in school), “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Uber drivers, taxi drivers, and other commercial operators usually have a higher duty of care in the state because these individuals are professional drivers.
- Breach: Driver error causes about 95% of the country’s vehicle collisions. Most of these errors, but not all of them, are a breach of care. For example, if Felix has a sip of champagne to toast the bride at a wedding, he is technically alcohol-impaired. But most jurors wouldn’t see that as a breach of the duty of reasonable care. On the other hand, if Felix drank two or three more glasses of champagne for good measure, that’s different.
- Cause: This part of a negligence case includes legal and factual cause. Legal cause usually means foreseeability (possibility). If Felix loses control of his car and hits Oscar, that’s a foreseeable injury, as far as Felix is concerned. If Oscar’s ambulance crashes on the way to the hospital, that’s not a foreseeable injury. A Connecticut auto accident attorney must also prove factual causation. That’s a connection between the breach and the damages.
- Damages: This element is a bit different in this state. Connecticut is a tort state, which means all victims may file legal damage claims. The only requirement is that they have sustained some tangible injury, like property damage or personal injury. If the accident was a near miss, negligence infliction of emotional distress might be available in some cases. But these cases are hard to win in the Nutmeg State.
These four parts make up a prima facie, or preliminary, negligence case. Some insurance company defenses are usually available, mainly depending on the facts of the case. State laws in this area are different from the laws in some other states. The seat belt defense and the contributory negligence doctrine, two of the insurance company defenses that Connecticut auto accident lawyers face most often, are good illustrations.
All states except New Hampshire have mandatory seat belt laws. These laws vary in different states. For instance, Connecticut’s version of the seat belt requirement only applies to passengers older than seven who are in the front seat.
The state limits the seat belt defense as well. In some jurisdictions, unrestrained victims are legally responsible for their own injuries. But in Connecticut, failure to buckle up is inadmissible for any purpose in any civil action.
That rule may seem odd from a safety standpoint. But it makes sense from a legal perspective. Victims don’t usually have a duty to mitigate, or voluntarily reduce, their damages before a wreck happens. Otherwise, people would have to wear fireproof suits and crash helmets when they drive to work.
C.G.S.A. § 14-100(a) also applies to victims who weren’t wearing bicycle or motorcycle helmets. Since lack of protective headgear is inadmissible in most injury claims, a Connecticut auto accident attorney can obtain maximum compensation in these cases.
The principle of comparative fault essentially moves the blame for an injury accident from the negligent party to the innocent party. Let’s go back to Felix and Oscar. If Felix was a little drunk and Oscar crossed the street without looking both ways, they are each partially at fault, at least arguably.
The insurance company has the burden of production and the burden of persuasion in these cases. First, it must convince the judge the defense applies. If Oscar had the green light, he probably didn’t need to stop and look both ways. Second, the insurance company must convince a jury that both parties were at fault. If jurors are so convinced, they must divide responsibility proportionally.
Once again, the laws in various states differ on this point. Like most other jurisdictions, Connecticut has a modified comparative fault law with a 51% bar. If the jury finds that the tortfeasor is at least 51% at fault for the wreck, a Connecticut auto accident attorney can obtain a proportionate share of damages.
Negligence “Per Se”
Either reasonable care or utmost care, the duty of care usually sets the legal standard in an ordinary negligence claim. Following distance illustrates the difference between these two ideas. Noncommercial drivers usually must keep about two seconds between themselves and the vehicles in front of them. A truck driver’s following distance is usually about eight seconds.
Sometimes, a safety law sets the bar. This legal doctrine is called negligence “per se” (negligence as such). Most Connecticut courts follow the negligence per se rule. In these places, negligent parties could be responsible for damages as a matter of law if:
- There is a safety law violation.
- The violation substantially causes an injury.
Safety laws vary in different states. Cell phone and related distracted driving laws are a good illustration.
Connecticut has a broad cell phone ban. Most drivers can’t hold or use a device while behind the wheel. Additionally, individuals under 18 can’t use any device while driving, even a hands-free speakerphone.
Additionally, the cell phone law is a primary enforcement law. So, it’s easier for emergency responders to issue these tickets in the field. For this reason, it's also easier for a Connecticut auto accident attorney to use these citations in court.
Injury claims don’t blame anyone for a car wreck. Pointing fingers after a vehicle collision does victims no good. So instead, Connecticut auto accident lawyers file these claims to obtain compensation for victims. Following a familiar theme, this concept is the same everywhere. But the rules vary in different states.
For example, many states have damage caps. These caps often limit punitive damages, which are available in some extreme cases. In December 2021, Texas jurors ordered a defunct bar to pay $300 billion in punitive damages following a fatal drunk driving wreck. A few states also limit compensatory damages for losses like emotional distress and lost income.
Connecticut law restricts the amount of punitive damages in some cases. However, this cap usually doesn’t apply to car wreck claims. Also, there are no compensatory damage caps in the Provisions State.
Punitive damages are seldom available in car crash claims. So, Connecticut auto accident attorneys don't deal with this issue very often. However, the collateral source rule affects almost every car wreck claim in the state.
The collateral source rule applies if a third party, like a group health insurance company, paid part of the bill. In Connecticut, such payments are admissible. For example, suppose Oscar’s health insurance company paid 80% of his $100,000 hospital bill. If the case goes to court, he is only entitled to $20,000.
But this rule is limited. If Oscar’s Connecticut auto accident attorney negotiated with his doctor and reduced the hospital bill to $20,000, Oscar is entitled to the full $100,000 in court.
These negotiated reductions are common in car crash claims. Connecticut auto accident lawyers are good negotiators, as well as good litigators.
Different states also have diverse rules on vicarious liability or third-party liability. The $300 billion Texas verdict was based on that state’s dram shop law. Connecticut has a similar law. Commercial vendors in the state could be liable for car crash damages if they illegally sell alcohol to someone who causes a car crash. Selling alcohol to underage patrons and people who are visibly intoxicated is illegal.
Negligent entrustment is another example. This legal theory holds owners responsible for damages if they knowingly allow incompetent operators to use their motor vehicles, and those drivers cause car wrecks.
A parent letting a teen drive the family car is the most common negligent entrustment claim. Connecticut courts use the family purpose doctrine. So, these third-party liability claims are a little easier to establish.
All these formal rules apply in most courts in the state. But there are some informal variations in different parts of the state that Connecticut auto accident attorneys must consider.
The car crash statistics in Bridgeport, about halfway between New Haven and Stamford, are roughly in line with the numbers in the rest of the state. However, after several years of gradual decline, fatal accident figures shot up in 2020 and 2021.
We mentioned that Connecticut is in the middle of a huge urban area. So, Bridgeport is almost in the middle of the middle, if that makes any sense. In addition, pretty much everyone in town works out of town. So, these individuals spend a lot of time on the road. As a result, Fairfield County jurors are usually more sympathetic to car wreck victims than jurors in some other parts of the state.
That sympathy usually drives up the settlement value of a negligence claim. The settlement value of a case is like a new car’s sticker price. These numbers serve as a jumping-off point for financial negotiations between an insurance company and a Connecticut auto accident attorney.
Financial settlement negotiations usually begin once medical treatment is mostly complete. At that point, a Connecticut vehicle collision lawyer can accurately determine the amount of future medical expenses. However, if cases settle too quickly, victims could be financially responsible for these costs in the future.
Overall, the vehicle collision figures in New Haven are significantly higher than the numbers in Bridgeport and some other parts of the state. News stories about fatal and serious injury collisions always make the headlines in New Haven. Therefore, residents know well that the roads are more dangerous than ever.
Usually, that knowledge makes jurors more sympathetic toward victims, as outlined above. However, in New Haven, the effect is not as strong.
Insurance company lawyers are unusually aggressive in New Haven County. Since many large insurance companies have a strong presence in this part of the state, they almost see New Haven as their home court. We all know how hard athletes work to defend their home turf. Connecticut auto accident lawyers often approach cases in their backyards with similar tenacity.
Medical treatment is another possible difference. New Haven is one of the largest communities in the state. Therefore, it’s usually easier for a Connecticut auto accident attorney to connect victims with doctors who focus on car crash injuries. These physicians can better diagnose and treat conditions, like whiplash, that are unique to vehicle collisions. So, victims in New Haven are more likely to get the treatment they need, instead of the treatment insurance adjusters are willing to pay for.
Some people see this town as part of New York City, since Stamford is almost directly on the Connecticut-New York border. Compared to the other cities listed in this blog, it’s also a relatively small community. Therefore, most residents work out of town, and much like jurors in Bridgeport, jurors in Fairfield County often sympathize with car crash victims. Furthermore, since Stamford is not as big as New Haven, the insurance industry’s corporate presence is not as large. Insurance company lawyers do not roll over and play dead in Fairfield County. But, they are usually not quite as aggressive here.
The number of vehicle collisions varies significantly by location in Stamford. There are many wrecks along Interstate 95, which hugs the coastline. The further north you go, the more the number of car crashes tapers off. In the extreme north of Fairfield County, car wrecks are somewhat rare.
Stamford courts have some special rules that Connecticut auto accident attorneys must follow. The city also has specific rules regarding truck routes. Truckers who fail to follow these rules may not be negligent as a matter of law. However, their refusal to follow these laws is evidence of a general disregard for the health and safety of other people.
Most people who live and work in the state’s capital are government workers. These individuals, especially in blue states like Connecticut, are usually in tune with car wrecks being a social justice issue. A disproportionate number of these victims are women and people of color. These jurors are often willing to award additional compensation to victims to send a message.
Additionally, the number of car crashes in Hartford County is unusually high. That’s somewhat surprising, since Hartford is very far from Interstate 95. This anomaly shows that it’s not easy to predict car wreck patterns. It’s even more challenging for a Connecticut auto accident attorney to predict jury behavior. So, all the jury observations in this part of the blog are just general observations. When twelve different people consider the evidence in a car wreck claim, there is no telling what they may do.
Like many other urban areas, Hartford has some unique rules regarding e-scooters and other such vehicles. These rules limit these vehicles’ operation and also make it easier to establish liability for damages in these wrecks.
If there’s a rural part of western Connecticut, where most of the state’s people live, it’s probably Waterbury, which is on the western edge of New Haven County. But this community still sees lots of traffic. Waterbury is one of the only towns in the states where four major highways come together. In other words, if you’re going anywhere in Connecticut, you’ll probably go through Waterbury.
As a result, car crash claims in Waterbury often have venue issues. The venue is the court that has the power to hear a legal claim. Usually, victims may bring legal actions either where the accident occurred or in their home counties. Either alternative involves some pros and cons, which your Connecticut auto accident attorney will review with you.
If you were hurt in a car wreck anywhere in the state, a Connecticut auto accident attorney knows all about these formal and informal rules. So, a lawyer is well-positioned to obtain maximum compensation for your serious injuries.