Katherine: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining this interview. We’re talking with Attorney Jim Bendell, and this month, under the topic of personal injury, we’re going to talk about automobile accidents. I want to say first of all, Welcome back, Attorney Bendell. How are you?
Jim B: I’m doing fine, except I’ve got a little hay fever because of our pollen, so excuse me if I sneeze.
Katherine: Oh, Bless you, Bless you, Bless you in advance, then. Man, that’s no fun. That is no fun. Whenever we have that here in North Carolina, everything is yellow or yellow-green. Do you have that same problem?
Jim B: Oh, yeah. It’s nasty stuff.
Katherine: Yeah, so that’s not fun to deal with at all, so I’m saying “Bless you” in advance, if I don’t say it when you sneeze, but we’re going to jump right into our discussion for today. One of your blog posts that I saw on the website was definitely interesting, too, not quite what I was thinking about, but I want to include it because I see it happen all the time, when a car cuts off a big truck and not paying attention to all the weight that’s behind them. I always see how this is distressful to the driver of the big truck.
This in itself, I’m the civilian, so I don’t know if they’re breaking the law or doing something they shouldn’t be doing, other than something that’s dangerous, that they’re causing a potential accident, this little car is. I see it, and I’m just like, “Oh, that just makes me so nervous.” When we’re thinking about car accidents and the personal injuries, in an instance like that, a small car or a smaller car and these big old trucks, they’re cutting off these eighteen wheelers and possibly causing an accident. I don’t know if we’re looking at who’s at fault for that when that happens, but when you have a scenario like that, how do you advise people who live through getting run over by a big truck, when they cut in front like that?
Jim B: You’re talking about a situation where a truck’s going down the road and a car, very imprudently, cuts right in front of the truck in such a way that the truck doesn’t have time to brake and stop?
Jim B: Yeah, the person who caused the crash, then, is the driver of the car, because there’s no way a truck driver can somehow violate the laws of physics. These big trucks, we’re talking 30, 40 thousand pounds, so to bring these things to a stop, they just can’t stop on a dime. They apply their brakes; a lot of them have these air brakes, the so-called Jake brakes. If the truck driver applies the brake as soon as he can and can’t stop in time, then it’s the driver of the car who’s at fault, so he or she would not have a valid lawsuit against the truck.
In fact, if the truck driver took evasive action to avoid the car to save the life of that irresponsible driver, and the truck driver smashed on the side of the road into a telephone pole or something, the truck driver could actually sue the driver of that car. Every person driving a vehicle has an obligation to proceed in a prudent and safe manner; in fact, your example could even be used for bicyclists. In other words, if a bicyclist dashes across a road right in front of a car or truck and gets hit by that truck or car, the bicyclist does not have a valid lawsuit, because the bicyclist’s negligence caused the crash.
Katherine: Wow. That’s something to think about, because oftentimes that moves to another type of accident. The motorcycle, the other bicyclist, you don’t always see them. Just like we would be in blind spots on the truck, so could the cyclist be in a blind spot of ours, so we do have an obligation when we’re on the road to look out for ourselves as well as for others. It’s dangerous out there. If we keep talking about it, we’ll make people a little bit paranoid, but it’s dangerous out there on the road if you’re not looking and looking again and then looking again before you get over, because you could cut off a whole other car, let alone a bicyclist or a motorcyclist. The motorcyclist, they seem to whiz through the traffic, and that makes me a little nervous when I’m out there driving, as well.
Going back to the tractor-trailer example, in a different approach, because a lot of those drivers own their own trucks, so they’re in business for themselves. I’ve heard horror stories of these truckers basically losing everything after being in an accident. I don’t know all the details, of course, but they have plowed into someone. I don’t know if they have fallen asleep or switched lanes or if the person cut them off, but it changes everything for that truck driver, because this is their livelihood on the road, and now things are changed. Even if the driver of the car is the cause of the accident, this trucker no longer has their truck; they have to get a new truck.
Things change for that truck driver in situations like that, and some of my truck-driver friends that I’ve talked to, they say, “Just be careful when you’re out there. Don’t cut in front of a big truck. Stay out of the blind side.” They give me the tips, because it’s a lot of weight there. Whether there’s a load in it or not, there’s still that big old heavy truck that has to brake and not hit anything or anyone when you cut them off like that. We don’t think about that, because I’m in a little teeny-weeny car, I can tap my brakes and stop a whole lot faster than they can. Have you experienced any instances where a truck driver was at fault and things, like I said, just changed for him? He owned the truck, and now his livelihood is gone.
Jim B: All the truck accident cases I have had have been truckers driving for a company. I do know, though, that there are individuals who are owner-operators, and the key for these folks is to make sure that they buy plenty of insurance, both property insurance to pay for a damaged truck, because if they’re in a crash caused by an uninsured driver, they’re going to have to rely upon having plenty of insurance of their own.
The other problem is, sometimes in these crashes folks are seriously hurt, in which case they would be prudent to own disability insurance. Disability insurance can be expensive, though, and if you have any kind of pre-existing condition, like high blood pressure or something, sometimes you can’t even get disability insurance. Those folks who are owner-operators, they are taking a risk. As you say, their entire livelihood is driving down the road at 60 miles an hour every day.
Katherine: On a smaller scale, smaller accidents, not the big trucks, but you bump into someone, and I have to raise my hand. I recently tapped someone’s car, and it did enough where it scraped paint off of our cars onto each others, and a dent on the side of their car, and a little piece of plastic popped off of mine. Nothing major, I say, but the person said their personal injury was high blood pressure. I’d never heard of that before in my life, as a result of the accident, so I’m throwing myself out here and being transparent. Is that possibly an injury related to the accident?
Jim B: There is this saying in the law that “The tortfeasor takes his victim as he finds them.” What that means is the tortfeasoris the person who causes a crash. For example, let’s assume I’m driving down the road, I might tap somebody at five miles an hour. Unbeknownst to me, the driver ahead of me was born with a genetic defect that his skull was paper thin, not like a regular skull, and he bangs his head against the head rest and develops this fracture and brain damage. Even though it’s an unlikely event, because I’m the wrongdoer, I am liable for thousands and thousands of medical bills and possibly permanent disability from a brain injury.
In your example, there have been cases where you have people who have real psychological sensitivity. I heard of one where a person was on a bus, and the bus got hit by a car. All the other passengers were fine; the one person started screaming and actually had to be taken to a mental hospital, he had such a panic reaction. Yes, it’s theoretically possible that that’s a real injury, but I would say that what’ll happen is, if you get sued, you’re insurance-appointed attorney will subpoena all that person’s medical records, and I’m willing to bet you probably will find that the blood pressure was there before. I’ve never heard of a person developing blood pressure from a car wreck. It may be possible, I’m not a doctor, but it sounds fishy to me.
Katherine: I was like, “Wow,” because it shocked me, it definitely shocked me, and the insurance adjuster, she said, “Listen, there’s really no worry. That’s why you pay insurance,” but I was like, “Wow, blood pressure?” She calmed my nerves, but I was shocked by that. When we are traveling along the highways, and where everybody got their license and everybody thinks they’re a good driver, maybe some think they’re better than other drivers, but what are some of the things that you find you deal with often, with your clients, when it comes to personal injuries? I guess the thing that I want to know, too, is, how many times is someone not quite telling the truth?
Jim B: First, I’ll go to the second part first. People lie all the time, unfortunately. No, they do, and sometimes the lie is not a blatant lie; it’s shaving the truth. If a person, say, was in a 55-mile zone and they were going 75, “Well, I may have been going a little too fast.” What is “a little?” It depends on … I think 20 is more than a little. When I work with the clients, I make it real clear from the beginning that we’re going to go forward on a base of truth. One, because it’s the moral thing to do, and two, if you lie, got a good chance it’s going to get determined, anyway. In terms of what kind of things I see happen a lot, I’d say number one is distracted driving.
That, in a way, has always been with this with people, tuning their radio or putting in a CD, but with the advent of the cell phone, it has skyrocketed. You have people talking on the phone, and even if people use one of these remote, so they’re not talking with their phone near the ear, it’s one of those remote things, statistics show it’s still distracting. In other words, you could be in a car with somebody next to you and just gabbing away; that doesn’t affect your driving, but when you’re talking to somebody over a phone line, our brain can only go in so many directions at once. We have talking on the cell phone, but the worst of all is texting while driving, which, statistically, is worse than drunk driving. That is the affect it has on the car crashes.
We have cases all the time, especially young folks who like to text, they’ve done calculations. If you look down at your cell phone to do a text for seven or eight seconds, where you’re going 60 miles an hour, they’ve done studies showing, you may go 150 feet where you’re not looking at the road. You can imagine what that can result in.
Katherine: Yeah. Wow. I know we say, “Oh, you know, not me. I’m real good at this.” Just don’t take those chances. I have to say for the record, for those that are listening, I was not on the phone and I was not texting. I’m going to tell you what I did. I was cutting over a lane, and I have a little small car; I have a Mitsubishi Mirage. I’m thinking my little teeny car can get into places, so I was coming across two lanes and going for the third lane to get into the gas station, and that third lane didn’t have traffic sitting still like the first two lanes.
It was clear as far as I could see, but I couldn’t really see around the car that was next to me, and that’s where the other car came. I couldn’t see it; I wasn’t going to be able to see it, and I just thought my little car would make it across there, and that’s what happened. I am in North Carolina, and North Carolina and South Carolina are borderline, touching each other where I was going to the gas station, so they said, “What state are you in, North Carolina or South Carolina?” I didn’t really know, because we were by Carowinds, so part of the park is North Carolina, part of it is North Carolina.
I don’t know, and I didn’t know, actually I was in North Carolina, because South Carolina gives you tickets for hitting people; North Carolina does not. I was like, “Ouch.” I’ll learn where I am next time. Where am I standing, North Carolina or South Carolina?”
The South Carolina police came out and wrote a ticket. It was my fault, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was no whining I could do, and “He was driving fast, and he made me hit him on purpose.” There was nothing I could do, so our cars were scraped up, and his car is getting fixed, and he has high blood pressure. Distracted driving certainly has been something that we’ve done a lot, women putting on makeup and trying to finish breakfast in the car on the the way to work, or trying to get kids strapped back down in seats, and, like you said, the radio.
Jim B: I’ve seen men use an electric shaver while they’re driving.
Katherine: Good, I’m glad you said that. I didn’t want to throw the men under the bus. I took it for the women, for the makeup. That’s why I don’t wear makeup, so y’all can’t talk about me, but automobile accidents, they could be not so serious, as well as, they could be extremely serious. What advice do you give your clients after the smoke clears and we find out who’s actually telling the full truth, and where some information may have been a little not quite so truthful? What advice do you give your clients after these instances, if you do?
Jim B: If a client comes, he’s been injured in a crash, before I even agree to take the case I have to do an investigation to find out whose fault it is. A lot of times you could be guided by the police report; on the other hand, people lie to policemen. I had a case once where a woman told the policemen, the other driver, said, “Oh, the light was green.” Fortunately, there were three witnesses that saw and said, “No, she went through a red light.” At that point, I say, “Fine, I’m going to take the case, because I know you’re telling the truth.”
In cases where my client, my “almost client,” I think is not telling the truth, I just say, “You know, based on my investigation, I’m respectfully declining the case.” That’s the way I do it. I don’t say they’re a liar; I just say I’m not going to take the case.
Katherine: Okay. We’ve covered just about everything, I think, as far as the accidents, automobile accidents call, and just be mindful on the road. You spend a lot more time with these cases than I do. I’m just looking at some of the stuff on the road that I think, “Ooh, that shouldn’t happen. Ooh, that’s reckless.” What are some things that you can share with the audience on today, that can help us be safer drivers and avoid accidents, as opposed to, saying, “Ooh, I’m going to get paid today,” and trying to encounter an accident?
Jim B: I would say, number one is don’t get involved in any kind of distracted driving. If there’s a really urgent phone call, pull over to the side and take the call. Second thing is, when you’re getting involved with any kind of lane change and you’re passing, don’t do it unless you feel 100% that you can do it. I had, here a very sad case about a week-and-a-half ago where a young lady was driving her parents, and she was like 21 or 22, and she went to pass, and she did not get back into the lane in time, she had a front-end collision. She has only minor injuries; her parents are dead.
Don’t pass, especially passing on a curve. Just don’t do it, because passing will just get you to where you want to go a little faster; it’s not worth being in a wheelchair to get home ten minutes faster.
Katherine: Right, and I know that we get on those long stretches of roads when we’re going a great distance, and definitely being sure that you can get over in their time. Think about your car. Can it really pick up speed? I don’t have a race car. I have a small car, but I don’t have a race car, so me, trying to go around somebody in front that I just think is creeping along, just may not work for me, because just as I think that they’re going slow enough for me to pass them, they may speed up while I’m over there. That driver may just not want you in front, and as you’re racing them on the opposite side of the road, you’re not paying attention because your attention is now on, “Why did they do that?” or someone’s coming at you. Just be careful.
Those things always scare me, and I will ride for a really long time, and it’s, “Okay, the lane is flat, me and my little car, we have enough time to pick up enough speed.” Even if I have to fall back and get back behind the car because they sped up, which doesn’t happen often, but sometimes, I just do what’s the safe thing, because like you said, it’s not worth getting there ten minutes early if I’m not going to arrive ultimately because of an accident. Thank you for bringing that up. That is awesome. How can people get in touch with you outside of this interview?
Katherine: You can go to my website, InjuryinIdaho.com. Injury in Idaho is one word, and there they can download my free book on accident cases. Written for Idaho, but most of the principles apply for any state.
Jim B: Awesome. Thank you, Attorney Jim Bendell, for being a part of the show today, and we will look to hear back from you on next month.
Katherine: My pleasure. Take care, Katherine. Bye-bye.