June 11, 2014

Drivers Can Learn

This week, comedian Tracy Morgan was critically injured in an accident that involved his commercial vehicle and a Wal-Mart tractor trailer. While it appears that he will recover, he may have a long hospital stay.

Tracy Morgan’s car accident case illustrates three important parts of South Carolina law, although this collision happened in New Jersey. Tracy Morgan is an award-winning comedian and actor. My wife and I loved watching him on “30 Rock” and we still watch the re-runs on Netfix. Tracy Morgan and those in his vehicle were critically injured and one of his companions was killed.

As I read the coverage, I was relieved when Wal-Mart agreed to take “full responsibility” if its driver was at fault. New Jersey police investigating the crash have said that the driver of the Wal-Mart truck was at fault for the collision and cited sleep deprivation as a possible contributor. However, some media outlets reported that the driver may dispute that he is at fault.

Tracy Morgan’s case illustrates three important parts of South Carolina law that drivers should know. One, in South Carolina “full responsibility” means paying for more than medical bills. Two, drivers who are cited as at fault by police officers may dispute that in court. Three, you need more car insurance.

Wal-Mart was reported to accept “full-responsibility” if its driver was determined to be “at-fault” for the crash. Full responsibility under South Carolina law requires the at fault driver to pay money damages to the injured for all the harms and losses they caused. Harms and losses include medical bills, loss of income, future medical bills, mental anguish and distress, and pain and suffering, as well as many others. I hope Wal-Mart understands that full responsibility means more than paying for Tracy Morgan’s medical bills.

Even though Wal-Mart was reported to accept “full responsibility” the media outlets have not reported on whether Wal-Mart has agreed that its truck driver was “at fault.” Typically, the police will investigate car crashes and make a determination of who they believe contributed the accident. However, the police officer’s determination of who is at fault is not allowed as evidence in a civil case. Even worse, the person who caused the crash, or their insurer, can challenge that they are at fault at trial.

You need more insurance. You need more insurance because car accidents, especially on the interstate, or with large commercial trucks can be devastating. Tracy Morgan’s reported injuries include a broken leg, broken nose, and several broken ribs. He will likely be in the hospital for weeks and have multiple surgeries. Imagine the size of those hospital bills.

Commercial trucks are only required to have $750,000.00 in liability insurance. In this case, that money would have to be distributed to all those people the truck driver killed and injured. In the face of multiple people who are critically injured, $750,000.00 may not go that far. Once the liability limits are reached, there may be no more money to help the injured with their harms and losses. The solution is for you to get more car insurance, specifically underinsured motorist coverage. This coverage pays for an injured person’s harms and losses when the at-fault insurance policy runs out. Considering South Carolina minimum limits for liability insurance is $25,000.00, you should call your insurance agent today. Hospital bills and emergency medical care can quickly exceed $25,000.00 and an injured person can be stuck with those bills if they don’t have underinsured motorist coverage.

High profile crashes, like Tracy Morgan’s accident, are devastating. However, I hope that learning about these three areas of South Carolina law can help other people better plan for potential disaster.