Senior Citizens and Car Accidents
Offered by the Karam Law Firm
What you need to know about your legal rights
Car accidents can harm people from all walks of life, and that includes older adults. When seniors who are already dealing with health issues are further injured by a crash, the road to recovery can be exceptionally challenging.
As attorneys who represent people hurt in car accidents, including older drivers and passengers, we’ve seen these challenges firsthand. Here’s what you need to know about car crashes involving seniors.
In general, senior drivers are no more dangerous than adult drivers
Every town sees the occasional headline about an elderly driver who mistook the gas for the brake or became confused while trying to maneuver, but the truth is that senior drivers (age 65+) are not all that much more dangerous than adult drivers (age 25-64). This is true even though some of the effects of aging, such as vision loss and cognitive impairment, directly affect driving skills.
In part, this is because older drivers are by and large quite good at self-regulating. Many drive less overall, and in particular, avoid driving at night, at peak traffic times, or on highways at high speeds. Moreover, older drivers who are no longer able to be safe behind the wheel may self-select out of driving entirely, while their peers who drive comparatively well stay on the road.
That said, while older drivers on the whole are fairly good at self-selecting, any individual senior driver may be reluctant to limit their driving. It’s important for friends and relatives of older people to pay attention to their driving and initiate a conversation about when it’s time to stop.
It’s an important conversation to have, because when seniors are involved in car accidents – whether as drivers or as passengers – they are extremely vulnerable to serious injuries.
The elevated risks of injury for seniors in car accidents
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older drivers, especially those older than age 75, have significantly higher crash death rates than adult drivers (age 35-54). The CDC says that this is mainly driven by older drivers’ increased vulnerability to injury, not their driving skills.
Seniors tend to have more fragile bones, which is a problem in a car crash for two reasons. Fractures (broken bones) are more common and heal more slowly, and brittle bones provide less protection for the internal organs during a collision. Older people also have somewhat weakened immune systems, which makes them highly vulnerable to infection if dirt or gravel from the road enters a wound. Moreover, comorbidities such as diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis can complicate an older patient’s recovery from injuries sustained in an accident.
In short, injuries that a younger person could recover from relatively quickly might have a much longer recovery time or even cause permanent damage in an older person’s body. For seniors who could look forward to many years of healthy, active living prior to the crash, this can be a devastating blow. Good legal representation is essential to find the best path forward in a bad situation.
Seniors injured in car accidents have legal rights
Like anyone else injured in a car accident, older people can file a personal injury claim or civil lawsuit to recover financial compensation for their losses. An experienced attorney can pursue several types of damages for the victim.
Economic damages are objectively verifiable losses tied to a specific dollar amount. That includes medical expenses, such as surgery, hospital bills, rehab facilities, follow-up doctor’s visits, home health care, and other treatment that may be needed because of the injury. For older people who are still working, economic damages also include compensation for lost wages and future earnings. In addition, a lawyer can pursue compensation for assistive technologies and devices, modifications to a home or vehicle to accommodate a permanent disability, and any other economic losses that can be documented.
Non-economic damages are more subjective – but no less real – losses as a result of the injury, such as pain and suffering. Pain is not just physical discomfort. It’s loss of the ability to get down on your knees to play with your grandchildren or go out and enjoy activities in your community. It’s the loss of quality of life and damage to marriages and family relationships that should be enjoyed in the golden years.
Pursuing non-economic damages can be difficult for older victims because of the misconception that there just isn’t much quality of life left to lose at that point. Again, the reality is that most older adults can look forward to many years of enjoyment of life, not to mention the value of care and guidance that they provide to their younger relatives. Health has value, at any age, and an injury caused by negligence steals that value.
After a car accident, talk to an attorney in your area
Holding people who harm others in car accidents accountable is important for two reasons. First, while no amount of money can truly undo what happened, it can help you move forward and maximize your remaining quality of life. Second, accountability makes our communities safer. By holding negligent drivers accountable, we can send a strong message that prevents further accidents on our roads, protecting everyone – but especially the most vulnerable members of our community.
The key is to act quickly. Every state has a legal deadline (called the statute of limitations) that puts a time limit on legal action after a car crash. Moreover, evidence can disappear quickly after a car accident as memories fade and physical evidence is washed away by weather. Time is particularly important when the injured person is a senior citizen who may have difficulty remembering or articulating what happened.
The sooner you get legal advice, the better. Car accident attorneys offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee, so there’s no risk involved in talking to a lawyer about your options. If you or someone you love has been hurt in a car accident, contact an attorney in your jurisdiction today to talk about your legal options.
The Karam Law Firm is a personal injury law firm in McAllen, TX.