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Are the Elderly Treated Differently in a Car Accident Lawsuit?

Brandon Evans   |  November 30, 2015   |  

As baby boomers begin to enter retirement, the nation continues to struggle to deal with this rapidly aging population. While many people are responsible for providing care for aging relatives who are unable to care for themselves, other seniors continue to enjoy an independent lifestyle.

A large part of being able to maintain their independence for people aged 65 and over is maintaining the ability to drive. It is common to see elderly drivers on the road, and also common to hear other drivers complain about some of them. Many of the complaints involve their driving ability, as well as their awareness of surrounding vehicles and traffic when on the road. Complaints such as driving too slow, not noticing when traffic signals have changed, and generally getting more nervous or anxious in congested traffic situations or when attempting to make turns are common.

Car accidents in Raleigh that involve elderly drivers have become an increasing topic of concern for the families of aging loved ones, as well as for drivers who share the road with them. A car accident lawsuit can help compensate the victims of accidents involving elderly driver, which often result in serious and potentially life-threatening injuries.

Accidents Caused by Older Drivers Are Common

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are over 36 million drivers in the United States aged 70 and over, and as our aging population continues to rise, these numbers will also increase. While driving helps loved ones to maintain their independence, it can pose safety risks to their own safety as well as other drivers. Crash rates for older adult drivers increase substantially for drivers over age 70, and are the highest for those aged 85 and over.

While the CDC states that elderly drivers tend to take more safety precautions than their younger counterparts – such as using seat belts, not driving late at night or on weekend nights, and not driving while distracted – their injury and fatalities rates due to accidents were still high, with 6,000 elderly drivers killed in car accidents in 2012, and more than 214,000 injured.

In addition to the danger they pose to themselves, car accidents involving the elderly can have devastating effects on those who share the road with them. A November 2015 Florida news report from ActionNewsJax.com on a bicyclist killed by an elderly driver highlights the potential damages these drivers may cause to others on the road. It had just turned dark when the 83-year-old driver hit the bicyclist, and there is some speculation that the early nightfall resulting from Daylight Savings Time ending may have been partly responsible for the accident.

When the Elderly Are At Fault

Certain limitations are just a natural part of the aging process, and medical conditions such as arthritis and heart disease become more prevalent as we get older. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the mind and body changes that come with aging are often a main contributing factor in accidents caused by elderly drivers. The AAA provides the following list of common reasons for elderly at-fault accidents:

  • Changes in vision – The ability to see tends to decline as we get older, causing drivers over the age of 65 to have problems with night vision, range of vision, and depth perception;
  • Changes in hearing – Decreased hearing can make elderly drivers unable to hear signs of traffic dangers, such as honking horns, or brakes screeching.
  • Changes in mind and cognitive abilities – Cognitive problems are common with age, affecting both our judgement as well as our problem-solving abilities.
  • Overall decline in physical condition – As we get older, we are more likely to suffer medical conditions that could affect our driving ability and require prescription medications that often result in drowsiness and reduced abilities. Our reflexes get slower, arthritis may make it harder to grip the steering wheel, and overall weakness may make it difficult to hit the brakes suddenly, or to use indicator lights to signal for turns.

According to AAA, many senior drivers are able to compensate in other ways for their declining abilities by modifying their behaviors and taking extra precautions when driving. Others are unable to compensate or may not even be aware of their own cognitive or physical decline. It is these drivers who are at the greatest risk of doing harm to themselves and others behind the wheel, as well as facing increased liability in an elderly car accident lawsuit.

Medical Damages for Elderly Drivers

AAA cites research stating that car accident fatality rates tend to increase after the age of 70, with drivers over the 85 facing the greatest risk of being killed as the result of car accident injuries. This research points out that these statistics are not as much a reflection on the severity of injuries sustained in these accidents, as they are the inability for an elderly person’s body to respond and heal from the trauma of their injuries.

Injuries to elderly drivers are often same as those affecting other drivers, such as broken bones, head, back, or neck trauma, muscle strains, and bruising. Unfortunately, due to their age, these types of injuries tend to have more fatal consequences for senior drivers. According to AAA, senior drivers have more brittle bones, which can make fractures more likely, while suffering health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, which makes it harder to recover from their injuries.

In car accident cases involving elderly drivers, the amount of compensation required to reimburse elderly drivers for the medical costs and expenses associated with an accident can be significantly higher than those involving other drivers.

Important Things to Know About Elderly Driver Accidents

Fortunately, there is something you can do if you are concerned about your own or an elderly loved one’s driving abilities. A September 2015 news story from ABC 11 in Raleigh discussed programs to help elderly drivers and urged family and friends to talk to elderly drivers about their safety, and to have their driving ability assessed through the Duke Driving Program. Provided by the Duke University Department of Physical and Occupational Therapy, the program provides clinical assessments of an elderly drivers’ current abilities, as well as feedback and training on how these drivers can improve their safety.

If you suspect a medical condition is causing a loved one to be a danger to themselves or others on the road, you can request a driver medical evaluation through the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles.

We Care and We’re Ready to Talk

At Riddle and Brantley, we understand the issue of aging parents and their abilities to drive. Many of our staff have elderly parents and are faced with this dilemma each year. Gene Riddle has parents in their upper 70’s and completely understands their desire for independence. Yet, he also understands the importance of their safe travel not only to them but to others on the road. He encourages them to drive during the day and at times that are not rush hour traffic. He tells them to make doctor appointments in the late morning and early afternoon. He also strongly recommends that they avoid night time driving and driving in poor weather conditions. Suggestions such as these place his parents in safer driving conditions. Riddle and Brantley encourages everyone to help their elderly relatives drive safely and as always, watch out for the other guy.

If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with an elderly driver, or you are an elderly driver who has been injured in an accident, contact Riddle & Brantley, LLP, today. Our experienced Raleigh car accident lawyers can answer all your questions about elderly car accident lawsuits, and may be able to assist you in getting the compensation you deserve for you injuries.

Justice counts with the attorneys at our office. Contact us online for a free consultation.