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Deadly Fireball Wreck in Manhattan

Wrecked Car On Fire
Pianko Law Group 
March 2, 2022

In the wee hours of the morning, a driver apparently lost control of a BMW, flipped over a barrier, and landed on railroad tracks, where it burst into flame.

The wreck happened near the intersection of 178th Street and Hudson Parkway. The driver was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. A passenger, who was trapped inside the burning vehicle, also died at the scene. No other details were available.

Injured Passengers in Car Crash Claims

Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, at least theoretically. So, injured passengers have the same rights as injured drivers. These rights include the right to file an injury claim.

These civil matters do not "blame" anyone for a wreck. That's for a criminal court to decide. So, there is no moral reason for passengers not to file a claim. Additionally, the tortfeasor (negligent party) is usually not financially responsible for any litigation costs, such as hiring a lawyer or paying compensation. The insurance company normally writes these checks.

Additionally, accidents like the one in the above story might not have been the driver's fault. Fewer than 0.01 percent of vehicle collisions involve fires. So, there was probably something else afoot. That "something else" was probably a defective product.

To reduce the risk of fire, most vehicle gas tanks have protective coverings and self-sealing mechanisms. That's a lot of protection, but it is also a lot of moving parts. Manufacturing defects are quite common in these situations. Unless all these protective parts fit together perfectly, they offer limited or no protection. Many of today's vehicles are assembled piecemeal. One factory handles the chassis, another handles the drivetrain, another handles the...well, you get the idea.

Moreover, some manufacturers use cheap components to save money. If the protective lining is too thin or the self-sealing is too slow, a few drops of gasoline could leak out and ignite. That's usually all it takes to create a fireball.

No matter where the fault lies, a New York personal injury attorney files these claims so victims get the compensation they need and deserve. That's why we do what we do.

Proving Negligence When Proof is Hard to Obtain

This compensation is usually available if a victim/plaintiff establishes negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. The strict liability rule usually applies in defective product claims. But that's the subject of another blog.

Usually, the police accident report, medical bills, and eyewitness statements form the bulk of the proof in a civil claim. However, in a late night, no witness case like this one, especially one that involved a fireball, this proof is usually unavailable.

The fire probably consumed much of the physical evidence. Furthermore, the only two people who saw what happened are dead. Since they died almost instantly, there are no medical bills detailing their injuries.

Since the victim/plaintiff has the burden of proof, lack of evidence could be a problem. Fortunately, evidence is still available in these cases, if a New York personal injury attorney knows where to look.

Let's start with a vehicle's Event Data Recorder. Much like the black box flight data recorders in commercial jets, EDRs normally measure and record operational information like:

  • Engine RPM,
  • Brake application,
  • Steering angle, and
  • Vehicle speed.

When combined, these seemingly random bits of proof weave a rich tapestry for the jury to see. Additionally, computers are usually never wrong or biased. So, EDR evidence is often bulletproof in court.

Alas, there is some bad news. New York has very strong vehicle information privacy laws. Normally, strong privacy laws are good things. But in these cases, attorneys must find a way around these laws, usually by obtaining court orders for EDR inspection.

These orders are only effective if the EDR is intact. THese hearty gadgets can normally survive the most violent crashes, even ones that involve fires. However, they cannot survive if the insurance company throws them away. That's what will happen, unless an attorney acts quickly. This quick action includes a spoliation letter. These letters create a legal duty to preserve all evidence, including the EDR, for later inspection.

Insurance Company Defenses in Minimal Evidence Claims

Most insurance company defenses, like comparative fault, are affirmative defenses. Comparative fault shifts blame for an accident from one driver to another, or in a defective product case, from the driver to the product. An affirmative defense means the insurance company has the burden of proof to establish the defense in court.

In lack of evidence cases, affirmative defenses are often unavailable. The aforementioned EDR might help. But the data in these gadgets only explains how a wreck happened. They don't explain why it happened.

So, insurance company lawyers often use a different approach in these situations. They attack causation, which is the connection between the driver's negligence and the victim's injury. Basically, they argue that there isn't enough evidence to uphold this connection.

An obscure legal doctrine, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself), sometimes comes into play in these cases. Basically, if negligence usually causes an event, and negligence usually causes car wrecks, jurors may infer that someone was negligent in this particular situation. Since there was only one driver, there was only one responsible person.

Resolving Your Claim for Damages

Almost all car wreck cases settle out of court. However, as outlined above, almost all car wrecks are complex events. There are usually some questions about legal responsibility for the wreck and/or the extent of the victim's damages. So, most injury claims do not settle quickly.

Instead, most injury claims settle late in the game, during mediation. A third party mediator meets with both sides and helps them cobble together a settlement agreement. Both sides have a legal duty to work with the mediator in good faith. They cannot refuse to negotiate or make low-ball offers.

The court supervision element makes a big difference. Informal settlement negotiations often stall or break down altogether. But civil mediation is about 90 percent successful.

Injury victims are entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact the Pianko Law Group, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.

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