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Passaic Cop Arrested on Hit and Run, DUI Charges

Emergency Vehicles Surround Stretcher at Motorcycle Wreck
Maurice Pianko 
August 3, 2022

A 31-year-old man faces multiple criminal charges after he allegedly rammed into a parked car while he was intoxicated and then fled the scene.

The wreck happened near the intersection of Central Avenue and Yereance Avenue in Clifton. When emergency responders arrived at the scene, they found a seriously injured 28-year-old woman in the abandoned vehicle, but they didn’t find the driver. Investigators found him several hours later and charged him with leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident and driving while intoxicated.

No other details were available.

Car Crash Injuries

Whiplash, one of the most common car wreck injuries, illustrates the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery issues inherent in these injuries.

Briefly, whiplash is a motion-related head/neck injury. The extreme, and usually, motion of a vehicle collision causes the head to snap back and forth, or side to side, in a violent, whip-cracking fashion. This injury has extremely dire consequences.

Whiplash is a soft tissue injury. It doesn’t appear on X-rays, MRIs, and other common diagnostic tests. Therefore, many doctors have no hard evidence that points to a whiplash diagnosis. Making matters worse, the initial symptoms, like neck soreness, often mimic accident shock. Given the lack of evidence and the vague symptoms, many doctors don’t treat whiplash. Instead they basically encourage victims to walk it off.

Diagnosis issues are very common in head injury cases. Many doctors believe modern safety systems decrease the risk of a head injury to almost nothing. That’s not true, usually because of the aforementioned violent motion. When people are in wrecks, their brains slam against the insides of their skulls.

Car crash injuries, like whiplash, also involve treatment issues. Many doctors propose the most aggressive possible treatment. But whiplash victims don’t need neck or brain surgery. Instead, they usually just need targeted physical therapy.

Broken bones are another example. Frequently, the force of a car crash almost shatters bones, especially arm and leg bones. So, instead of painstakingly setting these broken bones, doctors use metal implants to reconstruct them. This additional surgery means a longer recovery time as well as more extensive physical therapy.

Not just any physical therapy will do, especially regarding head injuries. These therapists must train uninjured parts of the brain to assume lost functions. That’s a long, painstaking process.

First Party Liability in Alcohol-Related Wrecks

This injury recovery process costs a lot of money. A New York personal injury attorney obtains compensation for these medical bills, and other economic losses, in court. Compensation is also available for noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

All victims need and deserve this compensation, even if they were injured passengers in a tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) vehicle. Passengers have the same legal and financial rights as drivers.

Compensation is available if a New York personal injury lawyer proves negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.

If authorities arrest the tortfeasor for DUI or a related offense, the negligence per se shortcut could apply. According to this legal doctrine, a tortfeasor is liable for damages as a matter of law if s/he violates a safety law and that violation substantially causes injury. 

This doctrine alone usually isn’t enough. Additional evidence is usually necessary to obtain maximum compensation. In negligence cases as in life, a minimum amount of effort usually produces minimum results. 

Note that negligence per se doesn’t apply in hit-and-run cases, even if the tortfeasors faces these charges in court. Running away after the fact didn’t substantially cause the wreck.

Alcohol’s impairing effects, such as poor judgment and slow motor skills, begin with the first drink. Therefore many drivers are impaired but not legally intoxicated. Circumstantial evidence of impairment includes:

  • Erratic driving before the wreck (sober drivers usually don’t ram into parked cars),
  • Unusual behavior after the wreck,
  • Physical symptoms, such as bloodshot eyes,
  • Statements to witnesses about alcohol use, and
  • Prior stops along the way.

If a tortfeasor recently visited a commercial establishment that serves alcohol, it’s more likely than not that the tortfeasor had at least one drink.

Third Party Liability

The chain of events leading directly to an alcohol-related wreck starts long before the tortfeasor ran a red light, or whatever. Indeed, this chain begins before the tortfeasor slides behind the wheel.

The aforementioned commercial establishments usually have a chance to break this chain. All they must do is refuse to serve intoxicated individuals. Unfortunately for victims, pretty much every bar, restaurant, or other such establishment only cares about profits.

So, New York, like many other states, has a dram shop law. New York’s Dram Shop Act gives these injured victims a cause of action against the party that unlawfully sold, provided, or assisted in providing, the alcohol to the tortfeasor. Private providers, like party hosts, may be vicariously liable as well, under a theory like negligent undertaking.

Vicarious liability is very important in alcohol-related wrecks. Frequently, these collisions cause catastrophic or fatal injuries. Many drivers don’t have enough insurance to cover these losses. Third party liability gives them an additional source of recovery.

Special Issues in Hit-and-Run Cases

It’s very surprising, in fact almost shocking, that police investigators located the hit-and-run driver in the above story. Statistically, law enforcement investigators solve fewer than 8 percent of these cases. Officially, police departments usually blame a lack of resources for the low resolution rate. Unofficially, it’s a matter of attitude. To many police officers, a car crash is a civil matter. Therefore, they investigate these matters about as aggressively as they look for lost dogs.

Whereas police investigators often quit, a New York personal injury attorney never quits. Instead, attorneys look for additional evidence in these matters.

Surveillance video, even if the camera wasn’t at the scene, is a good example. A vague vehicle description and a partial plate number is usually enough to locate a vehicle’s owner. As mentioned, the burden of proof in a civil case is only a preponderance of the evidence. It’s more likely than not that the owner was also the driver.

Victims have legal options even if an attorney cannot track down the tortfeasor. Since New York is a no-fault state, many motorists have UM/UIM riders. Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage usually pays any compensation a tortfeasor is unable to pay. So, UM/UIM is either gap insurance or, in the case of an unsolved hit-and-run, the primary source of compensation.

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

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