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What Causes Accidents on State Route 4 in Southwest Ohio?

The intersection of New Carlisle Pike/Lower Valley Pike and State Route 4 is one of the most dangerous stretches of roadway in Ohio. The expressway-like intersection is uncontrolled, and the median is too narrow to permit safe large truck left turns. Between 2012 and 2018, more than a dozen crashes at this intersection killed three people and seriously injured 20 others.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has considered and rejected a number of fixes, such as traffic lights, roundabouts, and traffic pattern changes. The remaining alternatives include a restricted crossing U-turn (RCUT), which would limit U-turns and cross traffic. But these remaining alternatives would cost well over $1 million, and the state simply does not want to spend the money.

Additionally, even if the ODOT spends the money to address these problems, this action does nothing to compensate the victims and survivors of the multiple crashes that have occurred on State Route 4 in recent years. These families need money to pay accident-related expenses and to find a way to move on with their lives.

When bureaucrats refuse to act, and families need compensation, a Hamilton personal injury lawyer stands in the gap. Attorneys bring pressure on governments and other entities to make public roads safe for everyone. Additionally, attorneys work hard to obtain compensation for the victims of prior wrecks. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

The Legal Definition of “Cause”

In Ohio, “cause” basically means substantial cause. Several factors often contribute to a tragedy, like a car crash. But one of these factors is the substantial cause. Any other factor is a contributing cause.

Bad weather, which we have a lot of in Ohio, is a good example. Ice, snow, rain, and other everyday bad weather contribute to car crashes. One of the factors discussed below, usually driver negligence, substantially causes these crashes.

That’s because all drivers have a duty of care, regardless of environmental conditions. They must drive defensively, obey the rules of the road, and avoid wrecks if possible. Bad weather doesn’t ease this burden. If anything, bad weather increases the duty of care. When conditions are less than ideal, drivers must slow down and be more careful to adjust to the bad conditions.

Earthquakes, smoke from wildfires, lightning strikes, and other extreme weather events are about the only exception to this rule.

These events substantially cause wrecks because they are not foreseeable (possible). People should anticipate rain and snow and adjust to it. But very few people can predict earthquakes and wildfires.

Road Design

Sometimes, a defectively designed or maintained roadway, by itself, substantially causes a car crash. These claims are quite complex, mostly because of the limited sovereign immunity doctrine.

Back in ye olden days, it was legally impossible to sue the king, queen, or another sovereign. People believed God appointed these individuals, and since God could not make a mistake, the sovereign could not make a mistake either. Sovereign immunity also extended to the king’s appointed ministers.

Now, we live in a democracy, and voters make mistakes. Therefore, the sovereign immunity doctrine is gone, or at least mostly gone. The key question is whether the complained-of shortcoming is a discretionary function or a ministerial function.

High-level road design decisions (e.g., we should put a road here) are discretionary decisions. These decision-makers have sovereign immunity. People cannot sue the government because it raises taxes or puts a road in a certain place, even if that decision harms them.

Low-level decisions, like trimming branches away from stop signs, are ministerial acts that require no discretion. If you put up a stop sign, you must maintain that stop sign. The sovereign immunity doctrine does not apply to such ministerial decisions.

These two extremes leave a very large area in between. Specific design decisions, like RCUT placement, could be ministerial or discretionary decisions. If a judge rules that the complained-of action was a ministerial action, and the judge rules that the defective design, as opposed to something else, substantially caused a wreck, a Hamilton personal injury lawyer usually resolves the claim out of court.

Defective Products

Defective roadway design substantially causes a few wrecks on State Route 4, and defective products cause a handful as well. Defective tires are the most common culprit. The other two areas require a Hamilton personal injury lawyer to prove negligence or a lack of care. But manufacturers are strictly liable for the injuries their defective products cause. The most common kinds of product defects are:

  • Design Defect: In the 1970s, Ford produced the Pinto, a small and cheap car designed to compete with the other small and cheap cars on the market at that time. To save weight and money, designers put the Pinto’s gas tank behind the rear axle. That design flaw led to many fireball rear-end collisions.
  • Manufacturing Defect: Since their introduction in the 1970s, airbags have saved thousands of lives. Takata soon became the world’s leading airbag manufacturer. To save money, Takata stopped using a stable chemical propellant and started using ammonium nitrate, which is explosive. Exploding airbags shattered steering columns, killing and seriously injuring hundreds of people.

Cause is usually the hardest element to prove in these claims. For example, if someone rear-ended a Pinto, did the driver’s negligence or the defective design substantially cause the victim’s injury? Generally, that is a question for jurors to answer.

Driver Negligence

This category is the big one. Driver error, which is usually negligence, causes about 98% of car wrecks in Ohio, not just on State Route 4.

We touched on the ordinary negligence doctrine above. Usually, these claims have four basic elements:

  • Duty: Noncommercial drivers usually have a duty of reasonable care, as outlined above. Uber drivers, taxi drivers, and other commercial operators usually have a duty of utmost care. These drivers must take affirmative steps to avoid accidents. Noncommercial drivers have a duty to slow down in the rain. Commercial drivers arguably have a duty to stay home.
  • Breach: Impaired driving, like driving while fatigued or sick, and aggressive driving, like speeding or turning unsafely, both breach the duty of care, at least in most cases. These misbehaviors are not accidents. People accidentally forget their keys. They do not accidentally drive drunk.
  • Cause: Hamilton personal injury lawyers often refer to this element as “but for” cause. Many people drive on wet roads, but only a few of them cause wrecks. These wrecks would not have happened “but for” the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) negligence.
  • Damages: Generally, a crash must cause tangible personal injury and/or property damage. That damage could be as slight as a dent in a fender. Occasionally, if a crash did not cause physical damage, some other theories are available, such as negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Duty is a question of law for a judge to decide. Ohio law determines this issue. A Hamilton personal injury lawyer must normally prove the other three elements by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

Evidence in an ordinary negligence claim usually includes the police accident report, witness statements, and medical bills. However, this evidence might not be enough to obtain maximum compensation.

Witness statements are a good example. Some witnesses are legally incompetent, and others simply are not believable.

A Hamilton personal injury lawyer often turns to electronic evidence to supplement the proof in a negligence case. For example, a vehicle’s Event Data Recorder, which is an onboard computer, measures and records activities like:

  • Engine RPM,
  • Brake application,
  • Steering angle, and
  • Vehicle speed.

Legal teams put this evidence together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and accurately recreate the events leading up to the crash.

Overall, the evidence in a case draws the line between an accident and negligence. Fatigued driving is a good example.

Many people drive home after a long day at work. These individuals are drowsy, but they are not dangerously fatigued. A shortcut, like drinking coffee, is usually enough to wake them up and enable them to safely drive home.

Serious fatigue usually begins after about eighteen consecutive awake hours. At that point, judgment ability and motor skills are seriously impaired. Driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That is above the legal limit for commercial drivers in Ohio.

The negligence per se principle could apply to vehicle collision claims as well. Tortfeasors could be liable for damages as a matter of law if:

  • They violate a safety law, and
  • That violation substantially causes injury.

This doctrine only applies if emergency responders issue a citation in a serious injury wreck. They often do not do so. They are too busy securing the scene and tending to injured victims to worry about fault for the wreck.

Incidentally, there is a difference between fault and liability. Fault is a preliminary determination, which an insurance adjuster or emergency responder makes based solely on the evidence immediately available at the scene. Liability is a final determination that a jury makes based on all the facts, as well as all applicable laws. The liability determination is the only one that matters.

We mentioned some subsequently available evidence above. Some legal theories that affect illegal turn-related crashes, like the ones on State Route 4, include contributory negligence and last clear chance.

Comparative fault, one of the most common insurance company defenses in car wreck claims, shifts blame for an accident from the tortfeasor to the victim. Perhaps Tim was speeding when Alice turned illegally.

Ohio is a modified comparative fault state with a 51% bar. If Tim was less than 51% responsible for this hypothetical wreck, Alice is legally responsible for a proportionate share of damages.

Legal responsibility and financial responsibility are two separate things. More on that below.

Unlike comparative fault, the last clear chance defense could be a complete defense to a negligence claim.

Let’s change the facts of the Tim/Alice wreck a bit. Assume Alice was not moving as she tried to turn. Tim had a reasonable chance to avoid a wreck, but instead, he did nothing and smacked into Alice.

Under the last clear chance doctrine, Tim could be legally responsible for the wreck, even though he did nothing wrong.

Usually, an insurance company or third party is financially responsible for damages. If the tortfeasor had insurance, the insurance company has a duty to defend the tortfeasor in court. The insurance company is also financially responsible for damages up to the policy limit.

Respondeat superior employer liability may be the most common vicarious liability theory. It usually applies if the tortfeasor is an Uber driver, taxi driver, or another commercial operator.

Count on a Dedicated Butler County Lawyer

Injury victims are entitled to substantial compensation, whether their accident occurred on State Route 4 or elsewhere. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Hamilton, contact Kruger & Hodges, Attorneys at Law, by going online or calling 513-894-3333. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.

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