The topic of negligent driving has received much attention in the news this week, as Progressive Insurance has come under scrutiny for trying to deny compensation to a deceased policyholder’s family.
Negligent Driving and the Law
Car accidents are a leading cause of injury and fatality. In 2010, the Washington State Department of Transportation reported 460 fatalities, 2,474 serious injuries and 43,966 minor injuries due to vehicle accidents. Nobody wants to be responsible for an accident, but we don’t all engage in safe driving.
In Washington, the law governing driving defines negligence as “the failure to exercise ordinary care…the doing of some act that a reasonably careful person would not do under the same or similar circumstances or the failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under the same or similar circumstances” (RCW 46.61.525).
Progressive vs. The Right Thing to Do
Kaitlynn Fisher, a vibrant 24-year-old, was struck and killed in 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland when the other driver ran a red light.
The other driver was underinsured, and her family only received $25,000 from Nationwide Insurance. Fortunately, Kaitlynn had an uninsured or underinsured driver policy with Progressive for $100,000. According to that policy, Progressive should have settled with her family for $75,000, but the company refused.
Under Maryland law, if a driver is even 1% at fault for an accident, the insurance company does not have to pay them or their family. Progressive claimed that Kaitlynn could have possibly prevented the accident according to conflicting eyewitness accounts, a claim that Kaitlynn’s family says is completely untrue.
5 Ways to Prevent Accidents on the Road
Although accidents like Kaitlynn’s may truly have not been avoidable, the best way to stay safe on the roads is to pay attention and operate with caution. Following these suggestions will help you to avoid causing a car accident and can even help you react in time to prevent an accident in the case of a fellow driver’s negligence.
1. Avoid Distractions. Distracted driving gets a lot of press, because people cannot seem to keep their eyes off their phones and on the road. Washington State law prohibits the act of texting while driving and requires the use of hands-free devices while talking on the phone. Despite that, on August 4, 2012, a Washington teen was nearly killed after veering off the road and hitting a fence while using his phone. If you are involved in an accident while in violation of cell phone laws, you may be charged with negligence. If you cannot wait to check your email, update your Facebook status or respond to a text message, pull over before you do it.
2. Drive Sober. Driving under the influence will land you with stiff fines, a stint in jail and a mark on your record. It can also land you in a courtroom on the losing side of a costly personal injury lawsuit. Alcohol is not the only intoxicant. Drug use, both prescription and illegal, also counts as a DUI. A prescription for a certain drug does not mean you are legally allowed to drive while you are taking it. Read the warning labels carefully, and take note if they caution against driving.
3. Heed the Rules of the Road. Obey the speed limit, yield to the right, make complete stops and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists. Failure to adhere to routine traffic laws can be grounds for negligence because those laws fall under the realm of “ordinary care.”
4. Take Caution when Lending Someone your Keys. If you knowingly allow a negligent driver to take your car for a spin, you may be liable for any damages they incur. Consider that next time your buddy with a DUI on his record asks to borrow your keys, or even if your teenager just shy of earning her driver’s license wants to drive around the block by herself for practice. Just because you are not behind the wheel, does not mean you are not guilty of negligence.
5. Exercise Extra Caution Around Vulnerable Users of the Roadways. Washington State law RCW 46.61.526 expressly protects vulnerable users such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and even those riding an animal or driving a tractor. Substantial harm done to a vulnerable user is taken extremely seriously and could result in fines, community service and a suspended license. So even if that tractor is going 25 m.p.h. down the road, be patient and wait until you can safely pass them.
Hard Won Victory for Kaitlynn’s Family
The Fisher family had to take the other driver to court in order to prove that he was 100% responsible for the accident. Meanwhile, Matt Fisher, Kaitlynn’s brother, wrote a blog post slamming the insurance company for denying the settlement and even for helping to defend the other driver in court. After the court decision assigned fault to the other driver and amidst a barrage of public outrage, Progressive finally settled with the Fisher family.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident, contact us immediately. You may be eligible for compensation for damages to your person and property. We offer a free consolation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys.