Legal Issues and Prevention of Car Accidents Involving the Elderly

Legal Issues and Prevention of Car Accidents Involving the ElderlyWith the number of traffic accidents on Florida’s roads, there is plenty of blame to go around. Accidents do not discriminate, they are caused by and victimize all ages, races, and sexes. But whether the reputation is earned or unfair, the fact is that many Floridians seem to believe that the elderly have special issues when it come to motor vehicle safety.

New Program Meant to Assess Risk

A retired Ohio police officer who now lives in Florida has developed a new program called “Beyond Driving with Dignity,” which allows elderly drivers to conduct a self-assessment test to evaluate their driving skills. The program employs professionals certified by the program who go to elderly citizens’ homes to conduct a comprehensive evaluation.

The program includes interviews with family members, cognitive testing, medical history review, on-road testing, and in-depth interviews with the seniors themselves. The program also comes with a workbook for seniors.

The program’s developers insist that the goal is not to take away seniors’ ability to drive (nor could it do so legally), but rather to give seniors a greater awareness of what their strengths and weaknesses are behind the wheel. If it turns out that a senior is not fit for driving, the program promises that it will assist the seniors in transitioning from a driving life to a non-driving life.

Is the Risk Different for the Elderly?

Whether elderly drivers are more or less dangerous behind the wheel is a topic of great debate. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in fact takes the position that drivers over 70 are less likely to be involved in traffic accidents.

The Institute cites the fact that the elderly are simply less likely to have licenses to drive at that age, and may drive fewer miles. However, there is a higher fatality rate in the older age group, which the Institute says may be due to increasing susceptibility to injuries such as chest and head trauma and a more fragile skeletal system.

There is certainly some indication that the elderly may be more likely to be involved in car accidents. It is a medical fact that 80% of people in their seventies suffer from arthritis, which may affect the ability to quickly and efficiently operate a vehicle. 75% of drivers over the age of 65 use one or more medications, some which could alter their ability to drive, but there is also some indication that many seniors are unaware of the potential side effects of the medicines that they take.

When the Elderly are the Victims

Of course, car accidents and the elderly can go both ways—there is not only the question of issues surrounding elderly drivers who may cause accidents, but also what happens to the elderly who are victims. Certainly, the population may be more vulnerable to accidents, but they may have other legal issues when it comes to car accidents.

One issue that comes up frequently when the elderly are injured in car accidents is causation. In negligence law, an accident must have actually caused the injuries for which the victim is trying to obtain compensation.

To argue against causation, many defendants will claim what is known as pre-existing injury. Negligent drivers will often defend car accident cases by saying that the injuries a victim sustains in a car accident are not caused by the accident, but rather pre-dated (or pre-existed) the accident.

In a young, otherwise healthy person, it may be difficult for a negligent driver to claim that a herniated disc existed before a car accident. But in an elderly driver, who may have a history of medical treatment, and whose spine may have natural degeneration, the pre-existing defense becomes much easier for a negligent driver to argue.

The elderly body simply has more wear than the younger one, and an elderly person may have had more life experiences that cause injury, such as work accidents, falls, prior car accidents, etc., than younger people have. Thus, they become a target for the pre-existing defense.

Age Itself Becomes an Issue

Negligent drivers also have a bad habit of blaming injuries that they cause to the elderly on age itself. For example, the family of an elderly driver may notice that their loved one is cognitively slower, or more forgetful, or more moody. They may note that their loved one used to be spry but now sleeps more often, or needs pain medication they did not need in the past.

The negligent driver will attribute these symptoms to “just age,” arguing to a jury that they have nothing to do with the car accident itself. Age becomes a natural scapegoat for the defendant, and many juries may be swayed by such arguments.

Sadly, many negligent defendants will also, despicably, try to wear the elderly plaintiff out, whether it be by dragging cases on for extraordinarily long periods of time, or by trying to get plaintiffs to attend multiple depositions or medical examinations. This practice is abusive, but a good victim’s attorney should be able to curtail such efforts.

There are special legal issues for all ages of car accident victims, but particularly with the elderly. If you or a family member have been injured in an accident, do not allow age to become an obstacle. Speak with attorneys who understand the issues. Call the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your negligence or injury case.