If you’ve driven for any length of time, you were probably a victim of road rage. If you were lucky, nothing happened and the aggressive driver continued on his way. However, not everyone is that lucky. In some cases, aggressive drivers won’t let up and will keep harassing you, no matter what you do. When this happens, the raging driver could—and usually does—cause an accident.
Depending on the speed, the environment, how many other vehicles are nearby, and the size of the vehicles, road rage wrecks could cause severe and catastrophic injuries.
Road Rage Defined
Road rage is a form of aggressive driving. Aggressive driving is where a driver, often in a rush, drives with reckless abandon. Excessive speeding is a form of aggressive driving. Regardless of the action, a driver who drives aggressively has a disregard for the safety of other drivers on the road.
South Carolina does not have a law for road rage, though it does have penalties for reckless driving, including excessive speed, tailgating, failing to yield the right of way, frequent lane changes, failing to stop at traffic signals and signs, and weaving in and out of traffic. When these actions escalate, they may constitute road rage, and which authorities could charge as assault and battery with a deadly weapon, which carries stiffer consequences, especially if the aggressive driver injures or kills his or her victim. South Carolina statutes define a deadly weapon as “any instrument which can be used to inflict deadly force.”
Signs of Road Rage
You can tell if a driver is escalating by noticing his or her behavior. Suddenly accelerating or decelerating close to other drivers, continuously flashing lights, tailgating, brake checking, yelling, making lewd gestures, and constantly using the horn are all signs of escalating road rage.
Avoiding Road Rage
Usually, when people exhibit road rage, they have an emotional issue and are not dealing with it very well. They tend to fly off the handle easily.
Here’s how you can avoid being a victim of road rage:
- If you notice someone driving aggressively, get of their way. Either back off if they pull too close in front of you, or if they are driving next to you on a multi-lane highway, try to move over another lane.
- If the aggressive driver continues to follow you, get off at the next exit and wait a few minutes before you get back on the highway.
- If you are on secondary roads in a populated area, drive to the nearest police station.
- Always remember to use your signals and to brake well ahead of a turn or stop.
- Check your blind spots before you change lanes or make turns.
- Ignore shouting and lewd gestures.
- Don’t use your horn unless it’s for defensive driving.
- Report aggressive drivers—make sure you get a plate number and a description of the vehicle. While the police can’t do anything unless they catch the driver exhibiting aggressive behavior, they can look out for the vehicle.
- If an aggressive driver wrecks and the wreck doesn’t involve you, stop a safe distance from the accident to report it. An aggressive driver could still exhibit aggressive behavior even after a wreck.
Causes of Road Rage
Road rage is usually caused when one driver makes a mistake and the other driver is not acting rationally, often because the irrational driver is upset at someone or something else. Even something as minor as turning your signal on at the last minute could cause an unstable driver to go into a fit of road rage.
Keeping your attention on the road and minding other drivers can go a long way in keeping you from being a victim of road rage.
Injuries Caused by Road Rage
The injuries a road rage victim could suffer range from minor to catastrophic, depending on several factors, including speed, how the raged driver hits you, the size of the vehicles, the environment, condition of the road, and the number of vehicles around you.
Injuries may include:
- Bumps, bruises, cuts, and scrapes.
- Road rash.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Nervous system injuries.
- Internal injuries.
Since some injuries could take hours or even a day or two to manifest, you should always seek medical attention immediately after an accident, even if you do not believe your injuries are serious.
Open wounds can lead to secondary injuries, which you can also recover compensation for, such as infections from open wounds and psychological therapy. Additionally, you require physical therapy or cognitive therapy, the defendant could bear the responsibility of those appointments.
What to Do After a Road Rage Accident
If you are the victim of a road rage accident, you would normally check on the other drivers. However, in this case, unless the other driver is calm, do not approach him. Let the police deal with him. You should call first responders, though. Once the police arrive, you can take photos of the accident scene. Make sure you obtain contact information for witnesses—you can do this before first responders arriving, unless the at-fault driver becomes aggressive with you and the witnesses.
Ask the police how to retrieve a copy of the police report. You will need it if you were not able to obtain the at-fault driver’s contact and insurance information. Notify your insurance company of the accident, but only give them your contact information, the date, time, and location of the accident, and your attorney’s contact information.
Seek medical attention as soon as the police release you from the scene, even if you do not think your injuries are serious. You could have “hidden” injuries—those that do not show up for hours or even a day or two.
Finally, contact your car accident attorney.
Why You Should Never Discuss the Accident With an Insurance Company
If you keep in mind that insurance companies are in business to make money, then it’s easy to remember that you should just keep referring them to your attorney, no matter how many questions they ask. And they will attempt to get you to talk.
The problem with this is that even though you believe you are not at fault, the insurance company will twist your words to find a reason to deny your claim or to offer you a pittance. That pittance might not even cover your medical expenses.
Instead of taking that chance, always refer any insurance company, whether it’s yours or the defendant’s, to your attorney. Don’t feel bad for putting them off—they know that if they can get you to talk, that they can word questions that are impossible to answer in your favor.
Recovering Damages From Road Rage
You can recover compensatory damages in the form of economic damages and non-economic damages if you suffer from injuries because of a road rage accident. The court orders both types of damages in an attempt to make you whole again by ordering the defendant to pay for injuries you otherwise would not have suffered if not for his or her actions. Economic damages have a monetary value while non-economic damages do not have a monetary value.
While the money does not erase your injuries or bring a loved one back, it does reduce the financial stress of worrying about providing for your family.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages include:
- Past medical expenses for those incurred in the accident and before a settlement or a trial award.
- Future medical expenses for those you expect to incur after a settlement or a trial award.
- Past lost wages for those lost because of accident injuries before a settlement or a trial award.
- Future lost wages for those you expect to lose after a settlement or trial award. You could also ask for partial future lost wages if your disabilities allow you to work, but not at the salary you had before the accident.
- Replacement or repair of destroyed or damaged personal property, including your vehicle, or any personal property inside of your vehicle.
- In the case of a wrongful death caused by a road rage accident, funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses.
Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as a foot or a hand.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your eyesight.
- Loss of companionship.
- Loss of consortium, if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse because of accident injuries.
- Excessive scarring.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do chores you usually do, such as grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, home maintenance, and house cleaning.
The court usually orders non-economic damages if your injuries cause long-term or permanent disabilities. While each insurance company has its own definition of long-term or permanent disabilities, the Social Security Administration defines them as a disability that doctors expect to last more than 12 months or to result in your death.
South Carolina does offer a third type of damage you can recover: Punitive damages. The bar is high if you want to claim punitive damages. You need to prove that the defendant’s actions were “willful, wanton, or reckless.” Additionally, you can only collect punitive damages if the court orders compensatory damages.
Finally, if you ask for punitive damages, the trial is bifurcated. This means that the court hears your claim for compensatory damages first. Once it awards you compensatory damages, then South Carolina law requires you to have a second trial for punitive damages to prove the defendant’s actions were willful, wanton, or reckless. The proof you have of reckless conduct must be clear and convincing.
The Statute of Limitations for Road Rage Accidents
You only have a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit or to start negotiations with the defendant or his or her insurance company. In South Carolina, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a claim or to start settlement negotiations. If you lost a loved one in a road rage accident, you also have three years to start negotiations or file a lawsuit.
While you might think that three years is a long time, it’s not. Before you can even start negotiations, you have to be able to show that you have a case. If the insurance company does not believe that your injuries were its client’s fault, you might have to start an investigation, including accident recreation, of your case. This can depend on how the police report reads. At the very least, you might have to obtain sworn statements from witnesses.
If the insurance company or the defendant does enter into negotiations, that phase could take a couple of months or longer, depending on the insurance company. You might need time to further investigate the case to file litigation.
And, last but not least, you are more likely to remember pertinent facts relating to the accident right after it. If you were to wait even a couple of months, you could forget facts that could help your case.
Contact a car attorney if you suffered injuries in a road rage accident or if you lost a loved one in a road rage accident.