Any type of car accident may cause serious injury or even death. Side-impact car accidents are especially dangerous because the victim often has less protection than in a head-on or rear-end collision. And in many cases, injuries sustained in a side-impact accident may not be visible immediately after the impact.
What Is a Side-Impact Accident?
A side-impact accident refers to a collision between two vehicles at an approximately 90-degree angle. Unlike a head-on or rear-end collision, a side-impact accident means one vehicle directly strikes the doors on one side of the second vehicle. Such accidents are often called “broadside” or “T-bone” accidents, the latter referring to the shape the two vehicles make upon impact.
Side-impact accidents most frequently occur at intersections. For example, Driver A lawfully proceeds through an intersection. At the same time Driver B, who is traveling in the perpendicular direction, runs the red light at the intersection and hits the side of Driver A’s vehicle.
Why Are Side-Impact Accidents Dangerous?
Modern cars and trucks are designed to withstand much of the impact of head-on or rear-end collisions. In other words, if you are hit head-on, your bumper, engine, and driver’s side airbag–in addition to the “crumple zones” of the second vehicle–will absorb a great deal of the kinetic energy from the accident, hopefully minimizing any injury to you or your passengers. In contrast, there is usually nothing more than the door and window to protect you in the event of a side-impact accident.
Additionally, a side-impact accident may cause the impacted vehicle to spin or roll over. This can lead to additional collisions with other vehicles, pedestrians, and even stationary objects such as buildings. You are therefore much more likely to bear the full brunt of a side-impact collision–even if the collision occurs at a relatively low speed–relative to any other kind of accident.
According to the most recent statistics published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, approximately 25 percent of all fatal car accidents are the result of side-impact collisions. In 2015, the last year for which there is complete data, 5,593 people died nationally in side-impact accidents. The majority of these deaths (about 3,800) occurred among car passengers, with the rest divided between trucks and sport-utility vehicles.
What Types of Injuries Can I Suffer?
Even a non-fatal side-impact car accident can produce serious, lifelong injuries. Here are some of the more common problems accident victims face:
- Neck and spinal injuries. Whiplash occurs when there is sudden, rapid movement of the neck. When you are in a car crash, your head remains stationary at the moment of impact. This means your neck absorbs most of the energy. The ligaments and muscles in the neck stretch. Eventually, your head “catches up” with your neck and pulls it back in the opposite direction. All of this can lead to serious spine damage.
- Traumatic brain injuries. Whiplash can also lead to a concussion, which is just a nice way of saying traumatic brain injury. Separate from whiplash, any blunt force impact to the head–say, if your head hits the steering wheel or the window during the accident–can cause a concussion. A traumatic brain injury may not be immediately obvious. You may not lose consciousness and the effects of your cognitive functioning may not be known for hours, days, or even weeks after the accident.
- Injuries to limbs. Broken bones are common in side-impact accidents, as limbs are often slammed into the door, the dashboard, or even other seats in the car. As with brain injuries, some limb injuries are not immediately detected. You may not notice any symptoms until some time has passed.
- Chest injuries. Finally, a side-impact accident may cause bruising or contusions to the chest. In many cases these are just superficial wounds. But they may also signal broken ribs or even internal bleeding, which may require surgical intervention.
Is the Other Driver Responsible for My Injuries?
The critical question in side-impact car accidents is determining who had the right of way. As noted above, these types of accidents usually occur when one driver ignores traffic signals or the other driver’s lawful and superior right to be in the intersection. In many cases this is actually pretty simple to figure out. Indeed, the responsible driver may even admit fault if it is obvious.
But if things devolve into a “he said-she said” situation, then you must take steps to preserve any evidence that may help prove the other driver’s liability:
- Call the police. Even if there is no immediate disagreement between you and the other driver over who is at fault, you should always obtain an official police report of the accident.
- Take pictures. Fortunately just about all of us now carry a high-resolution camera in our pockets via our phones. You should not only take pictures of your damaged vehicle, but also of any skid marks on the road. This can be helpful in later reconstructing the accident.
- Locate witnesses. If there were other drivers or pedestrians who saw what happened, take down their name and contact information. Make sure they also speak with the police when they arrive at the scene.
Dealing With Insurance Companies
If the other driver concedes liability, his or her insurance company may offer you a quick settlement to avoid a potential personal injury lawsuit. You should always be skeptical of an insurer’s first offer. Remember, the insurer is there to protect their insured and themselves, not you.
Since many serious injuries, such as whiplash or concussions, may not be diagnosed until several weeks after a side-impact accident, it is often a bad idea to settle quickly. Do not let the other driver’s insurance company pressure you into taking a deal that may not fully compensate you for your injuries.
Indeed, aside from the police and your own insurance company, the only person you should speak with following a side-impact car accident is an experienced Seattle injury attorney. Contact the Khan Law Firm, PLLC, if you need to consult with a qualified car accident lawyer who knows how to deal with insurance companies.