Causes of action for injuries resulting from motor vehicle collisions include claims based on: a tortfeasor’s (the responsible party) individual liability for the tortfeasor’s own acts and omissions; vicarious liability; contract; an injury to another (i.e. derivative claims); based on wanton and wanton conduct; and the right of subrogation. Negligence is the most often pled cause of action based on a tortfeasor’s own acts or omissions that give rise to a personal injury claim arising out of a motor vehicle collision.
What is important to recognize, however, is that not only the other driver that collided with your car or the driver of the car you were a passenger in might have been at-fault, but the negligence of others who were nowhere near the accident when it occurred may give rise to a cause of action against them. Other persons or entities may also be vicariously liable for the negligence of the at fault driver, meaning they are liable simply because of the type of relationship they had with the at fault driver or because of a contract insuring you. Derivative claims are claims made by persons not based on injuries they suffered in the collision, but are based on their relationship to someone who was injured or killed in the accident and the damages sustained as a result of the effect of the accident on that relationship. A cause of action based upon the willful and wanton conduct of a tortfeasor is one for punitive damages, intended to deter and punish.
Claims made by or against a minor may be brought by or against the minor through a next friend, usually a parent or guardian. In cases where it appears that your damages may exceed the insurance policy limits of the at fault driver, it is suggested that you bring a claim against as many parties as can be named consistent with the facts, rules of ethics and the economic practicalities of the case.
You may ask why do this in cases where an insurance policy will cover both the at-fault driver and, for example, another party brought in under a theory of vicarious liability, but yet will provide the same amount of coverage regardless of whether just the at-fault driver was sued, or both the at-fault driver and the vicariously liable party were both sued. One reason is that the vicariously liable party,such as an employer or parent, may have assets to satisfy all or part of an excess judgment that the at-fault driver does not have. A second reason is that any party at risk of losing personal assets will have an incentive – that a judgment proof at-fault driver would not have – to put pressure individually or through excess counsel on the insurer to settle within policy limits by making telephone calls, writing letters and showing up at a settlement conference. This increases the chances of the case settling, with the insurer paying a higher amount. Also, in cases that do not settle under such circumstances, the insurer may be willing to provide its insureds with a protection letter providing coverage without limit in order to avoid a bad faith claim being asserted against it for not settling within policy limits.
While this is a lot of information, the main takeaway is that if you’ve been injured, there may be parties that are responsible for your injuries that you were not aware of and should be held accountable. The personal injury lawyers at Kidneigh & Kaufman know this and are here to help you receive the compensation you deserve.