Crashes in the US and especially in Pennsylvania are often caused by drivers traveling the wrong way, and these accidents are often catastrophic or even fatal. A lot of the deadly wrong way car accidents in Pennsylvania occur on main roads and highways.
Wrong-way crashes take place when drivers inadvertently veer onto one-way streets, finding themselves driving against the flow of traffic due to a lapse in attention or sometimes a lack of awareness of local traffic laws. Other motorists may cause wrong-way collisions by driving under the influence of alcohol or engaging in distracted driving.
Irrespective of the underlying cause, a wrong-way incident can jeopardize lives and inflict grievous injuries. When having to assign responsibility in the aftermath of a wrong-way car accident, the burden rests on the injured party to demonstrate the negligence of the other driver. This is usually relatively straightforward since a basic traffic law was violated.
However, because wrong-way car accidents often lead to head-on collisions, they are usually very serious. If both or one of the cars was going very fast (as they typically are on highways), serious or deadly injuries are even more likely. As the vehicles crash into each other, they can roll over and collide with more cars or other obstacles.
Injuries that are common in head-on collisions include broken bones, particularly of the legs, arms, collarbones, or ribs. Compound fractures usually require surgery, and if a front seat driver struck their face, they may need reconstructive surgery. Spinal cord injuries due to the downward force of the collision can lead to partial or full paralysis, and the injured person may need medical care for the rest of their lives.
Traumatic brain injuries with long-term effects, internal organ damage from blunt force trauma from the seat belt, and whiplash are also common outcomes of a head-on collision. Severe whiplash can cause chronic pain, headaches, fatigue, and anxiety. Further, roughly 10% of all driving fatalities are attributed to head-on collisions.
Do These Types of Crashes Happen Often?
Wrong-way crashes are less common than other types of crashes, but they have a high fatality rate. Between 2010 and 2018, there were 2,921 fatal wrong-way crashes and a total of 3,885 deaths. That works out to an average of 430 deaths per year. A slight majority of the deaths (52.8%) were the wrong-way drivers themselves. Only 5.7% of the deaths were other passengers in a wrong-way car, and 41% were people in other cars.
In that nine-year period, wrong-way car crashes accounted for just 3.7% of fatal divided highway crashes. The likelihood of someone being a wrong-way driver increases with blood alcohol concentration and with the age of the car. Older people are more likely to be wrong-way drivers, as are people without a license or with a revoked or expired license.
People who are less likely to be wrong-way drivers include bus and truck drivers, and drivers with passengers. This could be because passengers may tell the driver they are going the wrong way or along a one-way road. Women are less likely to be involved in wrong-way accidents (29.1%) than men, though this could be because they are less likely to be the car driver.
However, these figures just contemplate crashes with fatalities. Across the US in 2020, there were a total of 5.25 million police-reported crashes, in which 2.28 million people were injured in some way. That year alone, nearly 39,000 people were killed in vehicle accidents.
Common Causes of Wrong-Way Car Crashes in Pennsylvania
Accidents resulting from a car going in the opposite direction to the legal flow of traffic on an access ramp or high-speed divided highway commonly take place on freeways and on freeways’ exit and entrance ramps.
They can happen for various reasons, including a confused driver who is unfamiliar with the streets and roads of a new city, or, as mentioned, drivers who have been drinking or taking drugs. Wrong-way crashes can also result from poor weather conditions, where fog, rain, snow, or even strong winds impact the visibility of road signs.
Other hazardous road conditions include deep potholes, animals or people crossing the road that a driver may swerve to miss, and faded line markings or overgrown foliage that obscures oncoming traffic. Similarly, missing or confusing road signs can contribute to wrong-way crashes, or heavy construction zones that lead to misunderstandings about lanes and directions. Switching lanes or passing another car in an inappropriate lane is also a reason why drivers may end up going the wrong way.
Wrong-way car accidents also include instances when a driver suddenly turns in order to avoid a collision with another vehicle, pedestrian, or object.
Construction Zones Can Be Confusing
Wrong-way accidents often happen within construction zones, where the configuration of lanes on the road can undergo significant alterations to accommodate ongoing work. The responsibility for wrong-way collisions in these scenarios can extend to construction companies, especially when the accident stems from a particularly unclear or inadequately marked new lane setup. Moreover, if a company has allowed construction equipment or debris to obstruct travel lanes, forcing a driver to abruptly change into the opposite lane, the construction company can also be held accountable. Their general duty involves ensuring a reasonable level of safety for passing commuters within the construction zone.
To assess the potential liability of a construction company in a wrong-way crash, a legal representative will scrutinize various factors. These may include photographic evidence from the accident scene to establish whether appropriate warnings and markings were in place, evaluating the proximity of company equipment to the roadway, and determining the adequacy of the work zone’s design to prevent situations where drivers lack visibility of oncoming traffic or need to execute sudden and drastic maneuvers to navigate through the zone.
How Is Fault Established in a Wrong-Way Car Accident?
While proving fault may seem initially straightforward when someone was driving the wrong way, the above-mentioned issues, like construction zones, obstacles, and unclear signage, can complicate the matter. Yet fault does need to be established in order to allocate blame and determine whose insurance company has to pay out.
There are four key factors that come into play when establishing fault:
- Duty – The first is duty. The other driver took on a duty to drive with reasonable caution and care. Anyone who drives has the responsibility to do so in a common sense fashion, including being aware of their surroundings, controlling the car, maintaining the vehicle’s equipment, observing right-of-way laws for pedestrians, and avoiding alcohol or drugs.
- Causation – The second factor is causation, meaning the extent to which the person’s wrong-way driving caused the accident to happen. It must be proven that the breach of duty caused the harm or injuries. For example, if the driver hadn’t looked down to read a text, they wouldn’t have swerved, and the accident wouldn’t have happened.
- Damage – The third factor considered is damage. If you were hurt because of the other person’s lack of care, and you can provide evidence of your medical expenses and injuries, then this contributes to the fault of the wrong-way driver. Damage also includes other costs associated with the accident, such as compensation for missed work.
- Breach – The final and most important factor is breach. This is related to duty. Duty is easy to prove since under the law, all drivers must drive safely and follow road rules in order to protect others on the road. Breach of duty involves establishing that the driver violated their duty to drive safely. They must have acted, or failed to act, without upholding a reasonable amount of caution. Obvious breaches include going through a traffic light, driving too slow or too fast, or failing to use the car’s turn signal. Breach is a bit more difficult because it can be hard to know what a person was thinking or why they started driving in the wrong direction. This can be especially challenging for accidents that happened without warning or very suddenly.
Ultimately, fault can be decided by mutual agreement between the people involved in the crash or by the driver self-accusing in the heat of the moment and making an admission that they didn’t see the stop sign, for example. Fault can also be decided by the police report, the insurance companies, through arbitration, or by a jury in court.
Nevertheless, even if you are not sure about the exact reason, a lawyer can conduct a thorough investigation into the situation and work out what happened. Here, a copy of the police report that was written up after the crash can help determine if the driver was intoxicated, for example.
Steps to Take If You Have Been in a Wrong-Way Crash
If you have been a victim of a wrong-way accident, you may be able to make a claim for compensation not only for present but also future medical bills. These expenses can include physical therapy, hospital stays, or other costs for treating an injury that resulted from the accident.
In addition, you could receive compensation for lost wages and lost earning capacity, rehabilitation and physical therapy, mental anguish and emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of daily activities, loss of companionship (for example, due to not being able to show affection to children or partners), and wrongful death damages if a family member was killed.
To protect your claim, it is important to do the following after the car crash:
- Request a copy of the police report. This report will encompass comprehensive details pertaining to the car collision. Additionally, it will include the police’s professional opinion concerning the sequence of events and potential liability. This information holds significant importance as insurance companies rely on it to ascertain fault and facilitate negotiations for settlement.
- Contact the relevant insurance companies. You must notify your insurance provider about the car accident, even if you were not at fault. Inform them that injuries were sustained if that was the case.
- Maintain a detailed record of post-crash expenditures. This should encompass not only medical costs but also documentation of work absences and damage to property.
- Book your medical appointments. Prioritizing your health is crucial; thus, regular follow-ups with your medical practitioner after a car accident are essential. This approach not only facilitates your recovery process but also provides a clearer timeline for your recuperation. This information is pivotal in evaluating the potential value of your claim.
- Exercise caution before accepting any settlement offer and speak to a lawyer. Typically, initial settlement offers from insurance companies tend to be as low as they can go. It is strongly advised not to agree to any settlement until you have consulted with a legal expert, such as a car accident attorney like Tyler J. Wilk.
Wilk Law Pennsylvania Auto Accident Attorneys
Tyler J. Wilk is the founder of Wilk Law and a very experienced lawyer who specializes in personal injury. He is committed to defending clients in auto accident cases against insurance companies that want to minimize their monetary expenses. He has ongoing success in personal injury matters and will fight aggressively for his clients and for consumer rights.
Tyler will provide one-on-one attention after your accident, including legal guidance and the appropriate personal care and sensitivity to people suffering from the sudden disruption and pain of a serious collision. He is able to provide such care due to his academic honors in law, his experience in fighting car accident cases, and also because he too has been a victim of a car accident – he was seriously injured by a drunk driver while walking home one evening.
A car accident lawyer at Wilk Law can provide you with access to prompt and solid legal advice, caring attorneys, and aggressive negotiators with a track record of success. Claim evaluations are free, and a Wilk Law attorney will answer your car accident questions and go over your options. Wilk Law works on a contingency fee basis, which means that you will have no legal expenses to pay unless the firm is able to collect money for you.