Can I Sue After an Aggressive Driving or Road Rage Incident in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania is a diverse state. In the areas where major cities like Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh are located the roads are often filled with a high volume of vehicles all jockeying for position and trying to reach their destination. However, if you were to head out to the more rural parts of the state, you are likely to find yourself with significantly more space to maneuver your vehicle. At night and early in the morning you may even be the only vehicle on the road. The contrast in driving culture is significant and this can lead to misunderstandings among drivers and possibly cause car crashes.
However, regardless of where you perform you driving in the state, one thing never changes: All drivers must find strategies to cope with reckless and aggressive drivers. In rare occasions, circumstances may even place motorist in a position where he or she must deal with a dangerous and unpredictable road rage situation. While the terms aggressive driving and road rage are widely used in the media, they are often used interchangeably and imprecisely. However, there is a distinct difference between aggressive driving incidents and road rage incidents. Depending on the factors and circumstances present in your incident, you may have a viable personal injury or other action that can allow you to obtain compensation for the injuries, lost wages, and other damages inflicted.
What is Aggressive Driving?
“Aggressive driving” can refer to multiple types of dangerous and distracted driving issues, some of which are ticketable offenses. Acts that can be considered aggressive driving include tailgating, speeding, erratic lane changes, failure to signal, racing other vehicles, speeding to beat a traffic light, and an array of other behaviors. While some people drive aggressively as a matter of course, others tend to do so when faced with heavy volume, congestion, or traffic and a tight deadline.
While Pennsylvania does not have an aggressive driving statute, the state legislature has passed a resolution that encourages drivers to engage in defensive and courteous driving behaviors. Furthermore, the legislature has stated that it intends to support all measures that would improve driving safety in the state. One of these efforts is the Pennsylvania Aggressive Driving Enforcement and Education Project (PAADEEP).
Pennsylvania Engages In Measures to Reduce & Eliminate Aggressive Driving Behaviors
Under the PAADEEP program, the state of Pennsylvania is divided into six Law Enforcement Liaison (LEL) districts. As its name suggests, PADEEP is intended to educate drivers about aggressive driving, how to avoid driving in this manner, and how to handle other aggressive drivers. However, education is not the only goal of this program. The project also compiles and analyzes state crash data to identify certain locations with a high prevalence of aggressive driving. These identified areas are then targeted for enforcement which typically includes high-visibility enforcement making use of police vehicles and conspicuous aggressive driving checkpoints.
The most recent PAADEEP aggressive driving enforcement wave occurred this past summer from July 6 to August 30th. More than 330 municipal police forces participated in enforcement actions on approximately 474 roadways. While statistics are not yet available for this most recent enforcement drive, there is information available for the 2014 enforcement wave. Last year’s aggressive driving campaign produced more than 50,000 citations for aggressive driving offenses. Of those tickets, more than 31,000 of them were for speeding.
What is Road Rage and How is it Different from Aggressive Driving?
In contrast to aggressive driving which is a moving violation, road rage incidents occur when aggressive driving escalates into a significantly more serious altercation. The archetypical situation for a road rage incident is when a driver perceives another as driving carelessly, aggressively, or simply being in the way. This driver may become incensed and resort to a violent act to make his or her displeasure known. In some cases, the driver may use his or her vehicle as a weapon by driving at the other vehicle or the driver who has exited his or her car or truck. In other cases, the driver may stop his or her car, get out of his or her vehicle, and confront the other driver. In some cases, the driver may even produce, brandish, or use a weapon. In short, a road rage incident is more serious than an aggressive driving incident and is a criminal offense typically being prosecuted as an assault and battery. If an individual is killed due to road rage, the incident may result in vehicular homicide charges.
Can I Sue if I Have Been Injured by an Aggressive or Enraged Driver?
As a starting point, you cannot typically sue someone simply for driving in a manner you do not like. In general, for an individual to bring suit several factors must be present.
First, there must be a valid legal cause of action that can sustain the lawsuit. One of the most common grounds for a personal injury lawsuit motivated by a car accident is negligence. Under a negligence approach, the injured party must prove the existence of four main elements:
- Injury – In a negligence action, the presence of an injury and other damages is necessary. If there is no injury or damages, the action cannot be sustained. Furthermore, as a practical matter for all personal injury actions, there must generally be severe, life-altering injuries or the death of the victim must occur. In the case of the death of a driver, a wrongful death and survival action may also be brought.
- Duty – Under a negligence action the injured party must show that he or she was owed a duty by the other driver. This duty is fact-sensitive, but in the context of operating a motor vehicle, motorists owe other motorists the duty that they will drive with due care in a lawful, diligent, and reasonable manner for the circumstances present.
- Breach – For an individual to be held financially liable for a driver’s injuries, he or she must have breached the duty owed to his or her fellow motorists. Whether a breach has occurred is dependent upon the objective standard of a “reasonably prudent person” in relation to the attendant circumstances. For instance, a driver traveling at 55 mph on a highway in clear weather conditions that strikes another vehicle may or may not have been negligent depending on the other factors present. However, if the car was traveling at 55 mph during a major snowstorm, such behavior would almost undoubtedly constitute a breach of the duty of care owed.
- Causation – Finally, the injured drive must be able to prove that the other party was the actual and legal cause of the accident and resulting severe injuries or wrongful death. The reason for the requirement to prove causation comes down to fundamental fairness. For example, a driver that is texting while driving northbound on a roadway is almost undoubtedly engaging in negligent behavior and depending on the jurisdiction may be negligent per se. If an accident occurs on the southbound side of the road due to a tailgating driver who has insufficient stopping distance for an upcoming traffic light, it would be fundamentally unfair to hold the texting driver liable for an accident he or she played no part in causing despite his or her negligence.
In other cases, such as in a road rage incident where an intended physical altercation occurs, the injury victim may bring a lawsuit for an intentional tort. Intentional torts include assault, battery, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).
Have You Suffered a Serious Injury Due to a Road Rage or Aggressive Driving Incident?
Injuries due to aggressive driving practices like speeding, unsignaled lane changes, running stop signs and stop lights can be severe or life-threatening. Likewise, injuries that may arise due to a road rage incident are often grave due to the inflamed passions and impulsive nature of such incidents.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a serious accident or event that produced catastrophic, life-altering injuries an experienced Delaware County car accident lawyer of The Reiff Law Firm may be able to fight for you. We are dedicated to seeking a favorable resolution for all of our clients. To that end we will handle all negotiations with the insurance company and, if required, litigate the matter to fight for the compensation a severely injured or wrongfully killed individual needs and deserves. To schedule a no-cost, private personal injury consultation call (215) 246-9000 today.