A car accident on Main Street in West Springfield, Massachusetts on November 23, 2020, that left one person dead and four people seriously injured has its residents once again concerned about how a major roadway within its small city has been used as a speedway for years.
One resident who heard the crash likened it to an atomic blast, attesting to the speed involved in the crash. Residents of West Springfield have long voiced their distress over the risk to them from motorists who use Main Street as a cut-through route to the North End Bridge. City officials have promised changes that would apparently make Main Street less attractive to such motorists. A city councilor commented that a recently approved memorial project will make the necessary changes but did not offer a timeline.
The speed limit of 30 mph on Main Street is apparently rarely enforced. Even increased law enforcement, the installation of new signs, or other traffic calming measures would make the street less hazardous, according to some residents. Some have said that the roadway has been hazardous since their childhoods.
Liability in the West Springfield Fatal Accident
Assuming the decedent in this case was not the driver who caused the accident by speeding, the administrator for the decedent’s estate can bring a wrongful death action against the responsible motorist. The decedent may have been a passenger in the negligent driver’s vehicle, another motorist, or a passenger in another involved car.
An experienced Boston car accident attorney is essential in most wrongful death claims because of the damages involved as well as likely contested issues of liability and insurance coverage asserted by any defendant or its insurer. Your car accident attorney can retain investigators and accident reconstruction experts that would include obtaining statements from the surviving parties, any eyewitnesses, and residents who heard the impact or possibly sounds of braking or emergency evasive maneuvers. An investigator can also canvass businesses and residences that may have had surveillance footage of the impact or of a speeding vehicle just seconds before impact. Experts can examine the damage to the vehicles, analyze any skidmarks, and roadside debris that can often provide clues as to how the accident occurred, the speed of the vehicles, and force of impact.
The city may also find itself liable for the accident to some degree. Negligent road design and the city’s failure to implement measures to reduce speed through this area may have contributed to the accident. The city had apparently been on notice for a long period of time regarding the hazards its residents and local motorists have experienced for years, but neglected to do anything about the unreasonable risks. A traffic expert may be retained by a car accident attorney who can review city council records about resident complaints, and analyze how the design of the roadway, its lack of signs or calming measures, and the lax enforcement offered passing motorists the opportunity for speeding. If relatively inexpensive measures like traffic signs or signals could have been implemented to reduce speeds, then the city may find itself culpable for its negligence in addressing these issues. Further, it may be possible to see if an equipment failure or mechanical issue on the culprit’s vehicle may also have contributed to the accident, such as a steering, tire, or braking issue. If a defect is found, then a claim may be brought against the car or equipment manufacturer.
If the city is made a defendant, there are different notice and presentation of claims issues where such a claim must be brought pursuant to the state tort claims act. Also, the city may claim immunity. In most cases, compensation is limited.
With multiple injured parties, insurance coverage from one or more of the drivers if often insufficient to fully compensate the decedent’s family or the seriously injured parties. Even with a policy of $100,000/$300,000, no one party could receive more than $100,000 out of a pool of $300,000. This is a major reason why the responsibility of the city and others must be explored to see if they were negligent in failing to prevent this accident.
If the injured parties did possess underinsured motorist insurance (UIM) coverage, which is optional in Massachusetts, then their car accident attorney could pursue a UIM claim against the injured party’s own insurer. However, the coverage must be more than the liable party’s coverage. For instance, you cannot collect anything if the UIM coverage does not exceed that of the liable party’s policy. And, if the liable party had $50,000 in auto liability coverage and your UIM limits were $100,000, you could only collect up to $50,000 from your carrier.
Damages in a Fatal Car Accident Claim
In a wrongful death case, the administrator for the decedent’s estate may bring a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver on behalf of the decedent’s immediate family members. Damages in wrongful death claims typically include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses incurred before death
- Lost earnings the decedent would have earned over his/her life and were used to support the family member
- Pain and suffering if the decedent was observed to have consciously suffered
- Loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, counsel, and guidance
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was willful, wanton, or grossly negligent
Punitive damages are only available if awarded by a judge or jury and are not covered by insurance. In such cases, only the defendant’s personal assets are at risk.
Retain a Car Accident Attorney From Burns and Jain
Wrongful death claims and any claim concerning a municipality often present difficult and contested issues of liability, insurance coverage, and proof of damages that only an experienced car accident attorney can handle. If you were injured or a loved one was injured or killed in a car accident, contact the law offices of Burns and Jain at (617) 286-3594 for a free, in-depth discussion of your wrongful death or injury accident claim.