Chances are high that you have encountered a driver operating recklessly, regardless of where you live or what roads you travel to get to your place of business, a shopping center, or your house of worship. These drivers are putting everyone on the road at risk with poor judgment. However, how the laws define reckless driving can vary significantly.
The penalties for drivers who operate recklessly also vary, which is of little consolation to you if you are someone injured as a result of a driver who was driving recklessly.
This is why any accident victim should seek legal advice from a car accident attorney following an accident caused by a reckless driver. Attorneys who handle personal injury claims and have a proven track record of success can help guide you through an otherwise confusing and frustrating process.
Reckless Driving in Minnesota and Wisconsin
Someone increases their speed and change lanes, with little room to spare, to get ahead of a car in front of them. During rush hour traffic, a driver slows below the speed limit, resulting in the driver behind them having to slam on their brakes.
A driver approaching an intersection sees the light change from green to yellow and speeds up to get through the intersection. Any of these actions can result in an accident, and in most cases, regardless of whether you are driving in Minnesota or Wisconsin, they may be deemed reckless.
The Minnesota statutes define reckless driver as “A person who drives a motor vehicle or light rail transit vehicle while aware of and consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the driving may result in harm to another or another’s property …..”
In Wisconsin, the definition of reckless driving is a bit vague, merely stating, “No person may endanger the safety of any person or property by the negligent operation of a vehicle.” The statutes delineate specific situations and definitions, but the general description stands.
Reckless Driving Actions and Potential Consequences
There are many behaviors on the roadway which have potentially deadly consequences for other drivers, passengers in vehicles, and pedestrians.
Some of the actions a reckless driver may make which can have an impact on everyone’s safety include:
- Driving too fast for conditions. When someone is operating a motor vehicle at high speed, they may travel too fast for a wet, icy roadway. This poses a danger to everyone because they can lose control of their vehicle, causing a severe accident.
- Ignoring traffic signals. Drivers who fail to yield the right of way, speed up at intersections where a light has turned yellow, or drive through a stop sign, are putting motorcycle operators, pedestrians, and other drivers at risk for serious injury.
- Erratic lane changing. When traveling on a busy freeway, such as Minnesota’s Highway 1, or State Trunk Highway 35 in Wisconsin, there are times of the day when there is a lot of road congestion. Unfortunately, impatient drivers often take chances and change lanes frequently to get ahead of other traffic. Too often, these drivers miss other cars in their blind spots or fail to signal their intent. These types of actions can result in severe accidents with multiple victims.
These are only a few potential issues you may face daily when commuting to work, traveling to the shopping mall, or taking your children to a sports practice in the afternoon.
Keep in mind operating under the influence, racing on the roadways, tailgating, and erratic speeds also are considered reckless driving. Drivers who engage in any of these behaviors can cause motor vehicle accidents.
The Insurance Information Institute (III) has recorded some startling statistics that these behaviors cause on the roadways. Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), they mapped the leading aggressive driving information and showed the impact of reckless driving on our roadways.
Understanding Victims of Reckless Drivers
There are always dangers on the roadway, unfortunately. However, the risks are increased when we have reckless drivers on the street. Annually, thousands of people are injured on the road because of the reckless or negligent conduct of another driver.
Minnesota reported more than 101,000 auto accidents resulting in 1,310 injuries in one recent year. Wisconsin reported 115,694 accidents, with more than 32,000 injuries in the same year. These statistics should cause everyone traveling on the roadway to be concerned for their safety.
Every accident is different. All victims’ injuries are unique because every victim is different, and their bodies react differently, even when the accidents are the same.
Some of the factors which play a role in how seriously someone may be injured include:
- Age of the victim of an accident. A victim’s age can result in an accident being more serious. The younger someone is, the more quickly they are likely to recover from an injury. Let’s face it, the older we get, the slower we recover from injuries.
- Victim’s health. Someone in excellent physical health can recover from injuries more quickly than someone with underlying health concerns. Slower recovery times mean more lost time from work, and from doing the things the victim enjoyed before the accident.
In addition to physical and emotional health, other factors can affect how seriously someone is injured in a roadway accident.
Some of these factors include:
- Speed of vehicles involved. The faster vehicles are traveling at the time of impact, the more likely someone will suffer a severe injury. There are exceptions to this naturally, if someone is at a complete stop and is struck from behind, the chances of a serious injury can be significant.
- Size of vehicles involved. Auto drivers who are struck by a truck, motorcycle operators who were broadsided going through an intersection, and bicycle drivers who were struck by a moving vehicle: The less protection you have, the more chance of a severe injury. Trucks are several times larger than cars. A motorcycle operator has little protection when they are struck by a moving motor vehicle. Pedestrians and bicycle operators have no protection from a moving car.
Identifying every factor that can result in a severe injury would be impossible. When you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to a reckless driver, you should seek guidance from a skilled auto accident injury lawyer.
Holding Minnesota Reckless Drivers Accountable
Reckless drivers may be facing charges due to their behavior. When someone is involved in an accident due to driving under the influence, or other reckless behavior, there may be charges pending. However, this does not prevent a victim from seeking compensation for their injuries from the person who is responsible. These are two different matters of law. Criminal charges are part of the criminal code, while injury cases are heard in civil court.
In many cases, a civil court is the last resort regarding auto accident claims. In a roadway accident, numerous steps must be taken for a victim to file a claim for medical bills, damage to their vehicle, and other financial losses.
Minnesota car accident victims should know the state’s “no-fault” auto insurance regulations. Under these regulations, a victim files a claim with their insurance company. A victim may only pursue additional compensation from the at-fault party if they have incurred more than $4,000 in reasonable medical expenses or suffered a permanent injury with a few other exceptions. Permanent injuries are any injury expected to leave the victim disabled for 60 days or longer.
Minnesota drivers are required to carry a minimum of $40,000 in no-fault coverage. This is expected to cover up to $20,000 in medical expenses and $20,000 in other financial losses, such as lost wages. Claims should be started within six months of the accident occurring.
Insurance Claims and Accident Victims
Many drivers believe that settling an insurance claim is simple because of no-fault coverage. Let the insurer know you have been in an accident, submit proof of medical bills and other financial losses, and they will reimburse you for your losses. In at-fault states like Wisconsin, accident victims believe that filing a claim with the responsible driver’s insurer after obtaining a police report showing they were at fault will be all that is required. This is seldom the way it works.
Accident victims soon learn that insurers are not hurrying to settle their car accident claims. Many accident victims learn that regardless of what type of insurance claim they are placing, there will be a back-and-forth with the insurer disputing the amount or validity of the claim.
Understanding the Insurance Adjuster’s Role
After an accident victim files a claim, particularly if they have not hired an attorney, an insurance adjuster will contact them. Here, many accident victims ruin their chances of getting the proper settlement for their injuries.
Insurance adjusters are not there to represent the victims of an accident. They are representatives of the insurance company. This means their goal is entirely different than the goal of the victim of a reckless driver. Victims want to ensure they are not put at a financial disadvantage due to injuries that were not their fault. Adjusters wish to ensure the insurance company has to pay as little as possible for a claim.
Insurance adjusters may take some of the following steps:
- Offer a fast settlement. This is usually a sign they want to resolve the matter quickly. However, despite what many victims are told, the funds they offer are not the “maximum” offer that an insurance company will make. The premise is that by offering a fast settlement, the insurance company is off the hook for any future losses the victim suffers due to the injury suffered.
- Flooding victims with paper. Chances are a reckless driving victim will get numerous requests for documentation following an accident. Police reports, photographs, statements, and diagrams may be requested. However, insurance company adjusters may ask victims to sign a medical release. While they are entitled to seek copies of the reports from the injury suffered in the accident resulting in the injury, too often, the documents request complete medical records. Victims should never sign any paperwork sent by an insurance company without having it reviewed by a lawyer.
- Delaying response to claim. Adjusters may declare they are investigating the accident and the reports they have collected. This is normal, but they could delay responding to the claim in hopes the victim will get tired of waiting and accept whatever offer to settle is ultimately made.
All accident victims should be wary of an insurance adjuster who appears to be friendly and regularly calls with updates and “friendly” questions. Remember, they are trying to find reasons to minimize the victim’s claim. These adjusters may call friends, family, and coworkers, scour social media accounts, and take other steps to downplay the severity of the injury or impact on the victim’s life.
Hiring a Car Accident Attorney
When someone is in an accident with a reckless driver and has suffered an injury, they are often reluctant to contact an attorney. However, this is often the best option to ensure a victim is treated fairly. Insurers have lawyers on staff; when a victim works with an attorney, it can help level the playing field.
Most personal injury attorneys will offer accident victims a free consultation, and many work on a contingency fee basis. This means that if you hire them to represent you, they will not ask for fees upfront, and victims are only responsible for fees that are part of the process. Victims will not pay legal fees if the attorney does not successfully obtain a settlement on their behalf. Contacting a personal injury attorney to determine what legal rights and options are available is the best thing a reckless driving accident victim can do.