Automobile Liability 101
Automobile Liability cases appear at first glance to be the simplest type of legal cases to resolve. After all, there are rules of the road and in most cases, fault is obvious. Shouldn’t these cases be east to settle? The answer is NO for several reasons. The basic litigation points in automobile cases include the following:
Percentage Of Comparative Fault
First, in most cases, fault is obvious but in many, it is not and Vermont follows the rule that should a plaintiff driver bear some “comparative” fault for the accident (driving over the speed limit, failure to adjust to obvious wet or snowy conditions, etc.) then a trial court may assign some partial blame to the plaintiff. In Vermont, partial blame which is deemed attributable to the plaintiff driver will reduce any award by his or her percentage of fault. So if the injury and damages from the accident are awarded to be $100,000 and the plaintiff is assigned 25% fault, then the award is reduced by the court to $75,000. Many cases include some evidentiary debate over this “percentage of comparative fault”. If the plaintiff driver is more than 50% at fault, the Vermont rule says they recover zero.
Second, some damages are easily ascertainable and some are not. Medical bills and lost wages, as well as property loss (the value of your totaled car for instance), are easy to calculate because the evidence and value of those things can be ascertained from real bills, paychecks and from resources and service providers who value vehicles. Other damages, such as how the injury has affected a person’s ability to do their job, raise their family or enjoy their free time, are very subjective and require a more detailed assessment of a person’s overall health, lifestyle, work and work history, and other factors. Most litigation over automobile accident cases involves a high level of attention and dispute over the value and anticipated awards for these types of damages. For instance, the impact of a broken bone on an otherwise healthy 25-year-old is significantly different than that same fracture on a 65-year-old. Complications, disability time, and the scope and success of recovery from this same injury can vary greatly from person to person.
Available Insurance Coverage
Finally, the issue of available insurance coverage is always an important component to these cases. Vermont’s minimum insurance limits ($25,000/person – $50,000/per incident), place tremendous importance on your own purchase of automobile insurance. The law only requires vehicle owners to have the minimum insurances noted above, however, should you or a family member be injured due to another person’s negligent driving, and their coverages are low, you need to be protected through your own auto coverage to the limits that you purchased to protect others. This area of the law and auto insurance market is called Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist Coverage which is also mandatory for all auto insurance sold in Vermont. If the negligent driver’s coverage is insufficient to cover the value of your claim or your family member’s claim, your own coverage is the next place to look for assistance and possible compensation.