Cooper & Elliott Blog

Healing the Scars: Helping a Car Accident Survivor Move Forward from a Devastating Crash

Posted on Tue, Dec 2, 2014 @ 9:53 AM

How many times have you hopped into your car with friends or family to go get something to eat? Would you ever imagine that one of those times a member of your group would be killed in a car accident, and that you would have to bear the scars of the tragedy for the rest of your life?

Sarah Alvarez* never imagined such a thing would happen—until a negligent uninsured motorist changed her life forever. 

Five people were in the car: Alice* (Sarah’s sister), who was driving; Sarah, riding in the passenger seat; and Alice’s three children, riding in back.

The uninsured motorist hit them head-on, killing Alice on impact. The tremendous force of the collision caused Alice’s car to roll over several times and Alice’s body to come free from her seat belt. As the car came to rest on the passenger side, Alice’s body landed across Sarah, who was trapped in her seat. Sarah had to wait for what seemed an eternity, her sister’s lifeless body lying across her, before they could be freed from the wreckage.

Amazingly, there was some good news: The three children in back escaped physical injury, though they now faced the prospect of life without their mother. And Sarah, in spite of the nightmare she’d endured, also emerged with few physical injuries, save for a large gash across her forehead.

But the physical scar from that wound, not to mention the emotional scars from the whole experience, would remain with her long after the accident.

A Life Changed Forever

We sought compensation for Sarah based on the scar she sustained and the emotional nightmare associated with it. Every time she looked in the mirror and saw the scar at the top of her forehead, she relived the accident, the memory of her sister lying lifeless on top of her, of being trapped there, helpless to do anything for Alice.

The heartbreak and anxiety resulting from the crash was obvious. Sarah was no longer the bubbly, energetic teenage girl she’d been before the accident. Now she was downcast, rarely looking up at people, and extremely self-conscious about that scar, always trying to hide it with her hair.

Car Accident Victims vs. Insurance Companies

On behalf of Sarah, we first sued the driver who hit Alice’s car, but he was uninsured.  That forced us to sue the insurance company that had issued Alice and Sarah their uninsured motorist coverage. This might seem a bit odd—suing your client’s own insurance company—but it’s common in personal injury or car accident lawsuits.

In our experience, no matter whose insurance company it is, at the end of the day an insurance company is interested in one thing: making money. Even if you’ve been a loyal customer paying premiums on time over several years, and even if you’ve suffered serious injuries, they will do their best to pay out as little as possible on your claim.

Sarah’s insurance company initially offered her $10,000, which was a ridiculously low sum given what Sarah had endured—and what she still faced going forward. So we chose to let a jury decide what was fair. At trial, the insurance company’s lawyer downplayed Sarah’s scar and told the jury that it was hardly noticeable. We reminded the jury that a scar is only small when it’s on someone else’s face. The jury gave the highest verdict for a case involving a scar in the county’s history.

Obtaining the Greater Good

While we were happy with the jury’s verdict, our satisfaction really had less to do about the size of the award, and more about obtaining justice for a young woman devastated by a car accident. We hoped we could help bring some measure of closure so she could move forward.

All of this should be no surprise. When you put yourself in the shoes of clients and start to feel what they’re experiencing—all of the emotions, the grief of losing a loved one—you can’t help but be moved to do everything you possibly can for them.

And we weren’t the only ones moved by Sarah’s situation. One unforgettable scene at the end of the trial really hit home how much Sarah had been affected, and how much others wanted to help. After the jury found in Sarah’s favor, some women from the jury came down from where they’d been seated, hugged her, and said to this dejected, self-conscious young woman, “Listen. You look up at people. Look them in the eye. You’re a beautiful young girl and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

It was a powerful moment.

A Young Life Moves Forward

Helpful, supportive words like those, as well as the closure that comes from seeing justice done, have had a wonderfully positive impact for Sarah as she’s struggled to create a new life for herself after surviving the car accident.

She’s since finished school and entered the workplace, and she’s done the best she can to put her tragedy behind her. We still talk a lot with her brother, Andres*, and he tells us she’s doing well.

And that’s really all we can ask for. Let’s face it: After a traumatizing experience like what Sarah went through, nobody can expect her to simply forget what happened. It will always be with her on some level—just like that scar.

But the positive outcome in a case like this often enables people who’ve suffered horrible tragedies to recognize that they’ve done everything they can for their lost loved one and their family, and it’s OK to move forward. 

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy. 

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

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