Head-on Collision Accidents
Head-on collision accidents are among the most violent and deadly highway crashes seen in the practice of an Atlanta personal injury and wrongful death lawyer. This is because of the effect of combining the speeds of two vehicles traveling in opposite directions. If two cars are traveling 55 miles per hour in opposite directions and collide head on, the impact is equivalent to a car colliding with a concrete barrier at 110 miles per hour. No wonder head-on collisions are so deadly.
Causes of head-on collisions often include drinking, speed, distractions such as cell phones and texting, and occasionally mechanical failure. In urban areas, head-on collisions most often result from someone driving the wrong way on a one way street or in the wrong direction on an expressway, often when impaired by alcohol or drugs. For example, we had a case in which a driver drank way too much celebrating passage of her real estate licensing exam, entered an exit ramp on an expressway, and drove several miles northbound in the southbound lanes. She collided head-on with a young man on his way to go bowling with friends, killing him instantly.
However, 83% of head-on crashes occur on two lane roads, where they often result from improper passing or veering into the opposite lane on a two lane highway due to speed, fatigue, intoxication or distraction. We had a case in which a delivery truck driver failed to slow behind a car that was making a right turn at an intersection, swerved into the opposite lane and had an offset collision with a pickup truck coming the other way. The impact sheared off the driver’s side of the pickup, trapped the driver inside, and caused a serious permanent injury.
Survivability of head-on collision accidents has improved with changes in safety features of cars. Better automobile structure, crumple zones to absorb impact, seat belts and air bags often make the difference between life and death in head-on crashes. Automobile manufacturers have gradually improved upon the minimum federal requirements which have required dual front airbags in passenger cars since 1998 and light pickups since 1999. Many vehicles now have side airbags for head and torso protection, driver knee airbags, curtain airbags for the side windows, and pillar airbags, even though those are not required for new vehicles.
Offset head-on collisions – in which 25 percent or less of the front of the car collides with either another vehicle or a hard, stationary object -- can be even worse. In the offset head-on crash, the car doesn't come to a full stop immediately after the collision. It pulls to the side and continues slightly ahead and may pivot or spin around. In full frontal collisions, the vehicle’s structure and crumple zone absorb much of the kinetic energy. In an offset head-on collision, the impact can miss frame rails and leave only a fraction of the crumple zone available to absorb the impact. When that happens, deceleration time decreases in milliseconds which can make the crucial difference between life and death.
Also, in an offset head-on collision, there is usually an almost instantaneous rotation after contact, throwing vehicle occupants rapidly to the side as well as forward. In such rotational movement, occupants may either miss or bounce off the front airbags and hit the center console, the “A” or “B” pillars, doors, or windows. Even if the victim survives the immediate impact, they may later die or suffer permanent impairment due to brain, spine or internal organ injuries from striking surfaces within the vehicle. Having one’s body slammed against a hard surface can cause internal organ damage and internal bleeding that leads to death or disability. Rotational trauma can cause neurological damage to soft brain tissue even without impact against a hard surface.
As with many car crash cases involving serious injury or wrongful death, the greatest challenge is often in finding enough insurance and assets to fully compensate the client for the losses and harms that have been suffered. Experience in insurance law and practice, including a decade representing insurance companies and chairmanship of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute, provides a valuable background. By “thinking outside the box,” we often have been successful in recovering several times more money than was available in the obvious sources of insurance.
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