According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, motorists in Utah were involved in 61,496 auto accidents in 2021 alone. Fortunately, over two-thirds of these crashes resulted in only property damages. However, over 18,000 accident victims suffered personal injuries, and nearly 300 people were killed.
Utah has hundreds of miles of scenic highways and byways leading through national parks and many other recreation areas. Washington County and Iron County are not exceptions. These areas are growing exponentially, and the crashes that occur there are devastating. It also has densely trafficked urban areas like Salt Lake City, West Valley City, and Provo. More crashes occur in urban counties, including Salt Lake County, Weber County, Cache County, and Utah County. Sadly, crashes that occur in rural counties more often result in fatalities.
If you are injured in an auto accident, it’s helpful to understand some basics of Utah personal injury claims.
Auto Accident Liability
There are many different causes of auto accidents, including:
- Driver error including,
- Improper look out,
- Failure to yield,
- Failure to obey traffic signs,
- Driver impairment or fatigue,
- Texting while driving,
- Faulty brakes or other malfunctioning vehicle equipment.
- Poorly marked or maintained roadways.
- Deer and other wildlife.
- Hazardous weather conditions.
The law allows individuals to recover compensation for damages from people or entities that are legally liable or “at fault” for an auto accident. An injured person may have legal claims against other drivers involved in the collision, a manufacturer of a defective vehicle or component, a business or government entity that failed to keep the roadways in a reasonably safe condition, and more.
What If You Are Partially at Fault for an Accident?
Sometimes, a driver’s own negligence contributes to a collision. In Utah, if the driver is less than 50% at fault, they can still recover damages for their injuries, although the amount of their recovery will be reduced. This doctrine is called “comparative negligence.”
For example, if a court determines you were 10% at fault for a collision because you failed to signal before changing lanes, it will reduce the amount of any damage award by 10%. If the court finds you are equally (or more) liable than all the other parties to your action combined, you will not be able to recover anything.
Accidents May Have More Than One Cause
Often, an accident is caused by several contributing factors. Some are unavoidable, while others indicate someone has breached their legal duties. If an accident was caused by more than one person or entity, an injured person might be able to file claims against all of them. A court or jury may find that more than one defendant’s actions played some part in causing the accident and assign each a percentage of the fault.
Example: Two cars collide while making left turns. Both cars are going at a relatively high rate of speed. The crash causes both cars to be forced off the road where they hit a pedestrian. The pedestrian has claims against both drivers for comparative fault or comparative negligence.
Claims against other drivers are usually based on negligence. To prove legal liability, an injured driver must show another party failed to use the amount of reasonable care required of drivers to prevent accidents and injury.
What Is No-Fault Insurance Coverage?
All automobile owners or operators in Utah must carry a minimum amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance as part of its mandatory vehicle insurance coverage requirements. As of 2022, the minimum amount of coverage is $3,000.00 (although you can purchase higher levels of coverage if you choose).
If you are injured in an auto accident, you must first make a claim to your own PIP insurance provider. If your medical bills exceed the amount of your PIP coverage, you can file a claim or lawsuit against another driver or at-fault party.
Recovering Damages in Auto Accident Cases
Modern vehicles have many safety features to protect drivers and passengers. Nevertheless, if you are involved in an auto accident, you may suffer from broken bones, soft tissue injuries, strains, sprains, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), internal bleeding, organ damage, spinal cord injuries, and other severe trauma.
“Compensatory” damages are those that compensate you for your losses related to an accident. You may be able to recover both “economic” and “non-economic” compensatory damages.
Economic damages are expenses and costs related to the accident, both those you have already incurred and those you can reasonably expect to incur in the future. These include:
- Medical bills.
- Lost wages and reduction in earning capacity.
- Childcare costs.
- Home healthcare and assistance costs.
- Car repairs.
- Rental of a replacement vehicle.
- Insurance deductible.
- Future medical expenses.
Non-economic damages compensate an injured motorist for damages like pain and suffering, disability, loss of companionship, disfigurement, PTSD, and mental distress. Non-economic damages can be substantial, especially in cases involving severe injuries.
The monetary value of these damages is often established by the victim’s testimony and the opinions of medical and occupational health experts. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you fairly calculate these damages as part of your claim.
In certain limited circumstances (like accidents involving a drunk driver), an attorney may even be able to recover punitive damages. These awards are intended to “send a message” and punish the responsible party for their actions or failures to act.
Property Damage Claims
Property damage costs that are recoverable as part of a claim for compensatory damages include:
- Costs to repair your vehicle.
- Transportation expenses while your car is out of commission.
- The value of any personal property in the vehicle damaged in the accident.
- Any other property damages related to the collision.
Generally, you are entitled to have your car repaired at the shop of your choice, and you are entitled to have a rental while your car/truck is being repaired.
If your car is not repairable, or if the repair bill exceeds the value of your car, then the insurance company will declare your vehicle a total loss. If your car is “totaled,” you are entitled to be compensated for the “Fair Market Value” of your car or truck. This is usually based on its Kelley Blue Book value, accounting for its age and condition at the time of the accident.
You can make sure an offer is fair by doing a little homework. Visit www.nada.com and check the local newspaper before talking to the insurance agent about this claim. Any recent maintenance or upgrades may increase what the insurance company is willing to offer. You will need to provide receipts to the insurance company for it to consider any recent work.
Don’t Wait to Contact an Attorney After a Car Accident
If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, you should contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Why?
● There are time limitations for filing legal claims. These are called “statutes of limitations,” and they vary from state to state. In Utah, most personal injury suits must be filed within four years of the occurrence, including those related to auto accidents. However, some types of claims have shorter statutes of limitations. The shortest statue of limitations is only a year.
● An attorney can help you build your best case. After a car accident, recovery can involve surgery, rehabilitation, physical therapy, chiropractic care or other long-term medical treatment. An attorney can help you understand how to best document your damages, treatment, and progress. This will help put you in the best position when you file your claims.
● An attorney can help you find medical providers and specialists that will help you.
What If I Can’t Afford an Attorney?
Many lawyers take motorcycle injury cases on a “contingency” basis. Rather than charging an hourly rate to provide legal services, they agree to take a percentage of any settlement or damage award. In most cases, a fee of 1/3 is common,
although the rate can range from 25% to 50%. At Injury Smart Law we never charge more than 1/3, even if the case goes into litigation and goes to trial. In addition to the set percentage, the client will be required to pay other fees like court filing fees, fees to obtain documents and records, expert witnesses fees, and various additional costs and expenses. At Injury Smart Law we advance those costs and they are repaid at the end of the case. You will never get a call from us asking form money to move your case forward.
If a lawyer agrees to a contingency fee arrangement for your case, they will give you a summary of the terms in writing before they begin, which you must sign and authorize. When your case resolves, your attorney will provide you with an itemized accounting of fees and costs before disbursing the settlement proceeds or award. If you do not recover damages, your lawyer does not collect any fees.
Do I Really Need a Lawyer?
You may be tempted to just accept an insurance company’s settlement offer without sharing the proceeds with an attorney. Why do you need an attorney for an auto accident claim in Utah?
Many people injured in auto accidents significantly undervalue the amount of their damages. An experienced personal injury lawyer better understands the many types of compensation you can get and can more accurately value your claim.
Contact the attorneys at Injury Smart Law today if you’ve been injured in an auto accident. Our compassionate, dedicated team has many years of experience fighting for the rights of injured drivers and passengers. Learn what you may be able to recover and how we can help you get back on the road. Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today.