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Earlier this year, a man in Brooklyn died while attempting to re-park his minivan.1 It was street sweeping day, and, as anyone who has ever lived in a big city can tell you, being parked on the wrong side of the street when the sweepers come through always leads to a costly and irrefutable ticket.
When you live somewhere as big and busy as New York City, you quickly learn when and where it’s safe to leave your car and, on street sweeping day, it’s a kind of ritual to set an alarm, get up, and move your vehicle to the other side of the road or down the block beyond the purview of that day’s cleaning route.
Xin Xheng Lin was no stranger to this routine but, on the morning of January 23rd, he chose to stick his head out of the window of his van rather than using the mirrors while parking. In what can only be described as a freak accident of fantastically poor timing, Lin’s extended head became wedged between his vehicle’s frame and a large tree as he was backing into a space, killing him on the scene to the shock and despair of his neighbors. The tree had never been a problem before, and Lin was reportedly a familiar face on the street, but all it takes is one moment of freaky bad luck.
Nobody likes to think of themselves as someone prone to freak accidents; they wouldn’t be called that if they were common or mundane. The problem is that most of what we call freak accidents could have been prevented by just a little bit of spatial awareness or situational sensitivity.
Vehicle accident lawyers, in particular, see thousands of cases per year where poor timing, short attention spans, and bad luck converge to create bad accidents that sometimes result in loss of life. Knowing how to protect yourself against freak accidents and what to do if you find yourself a victim of a freaky circumstance is absolutely crucial to guarantee that you’re covered in case the worst happens.
While Mr. Lin’s case, above, serves as a particularly gruesome example of why cars have internal and external mirrors, it’s at least comforting that no innocent passers-by were injured while the unfortunate scenario played out; this is often not the case with vehicle-related accidents.
For instance: In January of this year, a thirteen-year-old girl was injured when a man fell asleep at the wheel and sent his car careening into her as she stood by on the sidewalk.2 It’s an unfortunate fact that people fall asleep at the wheel relatively often; the freakiness of this accident has to do with how specifically the car seemed to beeline for the girl, who attempted to flee from the impending impact but was, instead, sent flying as the car crashed into her.
To add another layer of freakiness to the whole equation, she was barely injured, suffering only scrapes and a minor leg injury. Witnesses described her leaving the scene relatively unscathed as “a miracle.”
This case illustrates an important point that we all learn in driver’s education courses: A set of car keys is a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. Staying alert on the road can be difficult, especially when you drive the same route every day; our cars are so connected and insular that it can be easy to tune out and settle into the familiar motions of driving a familiar route.
The problem is, when unfamiliar variables enter a familiar, relaxing pattern, many drivers tend not to react appropriately as they would if they were paying proper attention. Alert drivers are safe drivers, no matter how well they may know the route.
Inebriation is another big factor in automotive freak accidents, for very similar reasons. Even if you feel alert enough to drive after a few drinks, the fact of the matter is that small amounts of alcohol consumed within the wrong timeframe can have devastating impacts on our reaction times and ability to respond appropriately to unexpected factors like pedestrians or other erratic driver behavior while behind the wheel.
Any car injury lawyer will tell you from experience and common sense that abstaining from alcohol while driving is probably the number one way to prevent accidents, freaky or not.
Distracted driving is deadly driving. If you’ve ever spent five minutes driving in a heavily populated area, you’ve definitely seen people driving with phones in hand as they look up maps, parents reaching into the back seat to interact with car-seated children, people fiddling with AC and dash controls as their cars inch forward in traffic, and the general crush of traffic that comes with lots of people driving in an unfamiliar area all at once.
Constant vigilance behind the wheel is an absolute must when it comes to avoiding hazardous driving behavior, but cars can pose a threat to your safety even when there’s no one behind the wheel.
Many will recall last year’s tragic death of Anton Yelchin, up and coming star of J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboots, as well as many other film and television projects. Yelchin had parked his car in his Los Angeles driveway and gotten out to check the mail before being fatally pinned to his large mailbox when his car unexpectedly rolled backward and directly into his body. He was only twenty-seven years old.
While this sad story is truly a freak accident in every sense of the word, it serves to illustrate a point that automobile accident lawyers see driven home every day on the job: Cars are dangerous in more than just the obvious ways, and it’s all too easy to take their deadliness for granted when they’re so ubiquitous and necessary to most of our modern lives.
Should you be involved in an accident, the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure that everyone’s okay. Make sure the vehicle has come to a stop, check with any other passengers in your car, and call the police.
It’s important to remain calm after an accident, as accurately relaying things like your location, the make and model of your vehicle, and the site of the accident to emergency services workers on the phone can shave precious minutes from response times and potentially save the lives of those involved. Even if the accident is relatively minor and doesn’t warrant police intervention, auto injury lawyers will tell you that it’s important to have a record of the call.
Next, if you can, gather as much information as possible about the accident without admitting guilt. Take pictures of the damage on your phone, if it remained intact, and ask to borrow someone else’s if yours didn’t survive the collision. Make sure to document the damage from multiple angles, and, if freaky circumstances contributed to the accident or collision, make sure that they’re visible and obvious in your photos.
Talk to witnesses, record audio of said conversations if they consent, and, of course, exchange information with anyone else involved in the accident with you.
Thus armed with photos, witness testimony, information, and a police report where applicable, you will have a much easier time dealing with your insurance company. It’s important to keep careful track of your expenses during any convalescence or medical recovery time you may undergo as a result of your freak accident, as well as the actual versus projected or quoted costs of repairs to your vehicle.
Even if you know the ins and outs of your insurance agreement like the back of your hand, dealing with insurance agencies can be a huge hassle as they are designed to offer you the least amount of coverage and compensation possible following a collision.
This becomes even more convoluted and difficult to wade through when you factor in multiple actors with different insurance companies all filing contradictory claims; at this point, a consultation with seasoned car accident injury lawyers can help you fight through the red tape and get the settlement you deserve.
Freak accidents can happen to anyone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t arm yourself against them with vigilance, alertness, and a good car accident injury lawyer in your contact list just in case the worst should happen while you’re behind the wheel.