Every so often I get a call from a prospective personal injury client who correlates the "bad" behavior of the responsible party with the value of their potential personal injury case.
For example, I got a call recently from a prospective client (Jennifer) who was rear ended in a mall parking lot. It was a low speed impact, and Jennifer was in mild discomfort. As it turns out, the responsible party (a young man in his 20s) was driving with an expired license and was rude to her at the scene of the accident. He wasn't a very nice guy.
Apparently, he also refused to provide Jennifer with his insurance information at the scene because, in his estimation, the accident was so "minor" and there was no visible damage to either car. However, after much heated discussion, he offered to pay for the damage himself because he did not want to "involve" the insurance companies. Jennifer felt he was hiding the ball and wasn't being honest with her. He reluctantly gave her his insurance information when she threatened to call the police.
She told me, "I can't believe this guy! He didn't want to give me his information...he was driving without a proper license...and he was rude to me! He probably doesn't even have insurance on top of that!" I told Jennifer that I understood her frustration. However, her focus on his "bad" behavior, while understandable, was probably irrelevant to whether or not she had a claim for personal injury worth pursuing. I explained, "Jennifer, I understand your concerns but whether or not the other party was mean to you, had no license, cussed at you, doesn't go to church on Sundays, or is rude to his own mother has very little to do with your case."
At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is this:
(1) Was he at fault?
(2) Were you injured?
(3) What is the likelihood of proving the injury to the satisfaction of a jury or insurance adjuster?
(4) Is there insurance available from the responsible party? If not, then is there "uninsured motorist" coverage? Is it worth going after him personally in court?
Jennifer was so focused on his rude and irresponsible behavior that she lost sight of the facts that actually matter most. She just wanted him to "pay for his actions." She wanted me to essentially "go after" this guy and "punish" him for his misdeeds! I explained that unless we can show he was drinking while driving (arrested at the scene) or doing something totally crazy, then our chances of seeking "punitive" damages (damages designed to punish someone for their actions) are little to nothing. Even though it might be a factor, his insurance company is not likely going to pay "punitive" damages. They don't cover him for that.
In most cases, if the responsible party admits fault, their "bad" or reprehensible behavior at the scene of an accident is generally irrelevant, even if it makes you angry or upset. Just because someone was a jerk at the scene of an accident, or was driving with an expired license, or doing anything else that was "bad" in your opinion, doesn't mean your case is necessarily worth pursuing. For example, if you got rear ended but there is minor or little property damage, then your case is probably not worth pursuing even if the defendant was the biggest jerk in the world at the scene.
It is certainly understandable to be upset with the responsible party for causing the accident, and especially being upset if they weren't obeying the law or were rude to you. That is a perfectly legitimate human response. However, when all is said and done, the focus should be on two things - liability and damages. Without clear liability and significant damages, discussing the bad or rude behavior of the responsible party won't get you very far with most juries and insurance companies. If the responsible party admits to causing the accident, his/her behavior after that won't matter much in most cases.
If you want more information or need help with your personal injury matter, please call our office at (661) 414-7100. We will let you know if we can help with your accident case.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and surrounding communities.