Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton made almost as many national and international headlines for getting injured in a car accident on December 9, 2014, as he ever did for completing a touchdown pass or winning a career-defining award like the Heisman Trophy. The wall-to-wall coverage from outlets as diverse as England's Daily Mail newspaper and ESPN may have struck some as overkill, especially since both he and the driver of the other vehicle involved in the wreck near the NFL stadium downtown in North Carolina's largest city appear likely to make full recoveries. Looked at another way, the numerous reports have much to teach readers and viewers about the risks, realities and recovery from near-tragedies that can affect anyone on any road anywhere.
As reported by the Charlotte Observer, Newton's pickup collided with a car as the driver of the smaller vehicle was attempting to cross S. Church to get onto the interstate. The intersection is not controlled by a stoplight, and crashes occur there with some regularity. The man in the car Newton ran into said he never saw the pickup. The first lesson to take from this, then, is that turning, merging or crossing drivers must take extra time to make sure no cars or trucks are approaching before they pull out from side streets, parking lots, driveways or ramps. Oncoming drivers also need to watch for vehicles appearing suddenly.
The force of the collision in which the other driver also got injured caused Newton's pickup to rollover several times before coming to rest on the driver's side. Wearing a seatbelt prevented Newton from being thrown from his vehicle and may have prevented his injuries from being more severe than two fractured spinal discs. Lesson two.
Police determined that neither Newton nor the other driver had been speeding, impaired by drugs or alcohol, or unsafely distracted at the time of the wreck. Neither man faces charges, although numerous news outlets quote witnesses who said the car cut off the pickup. Without a legal determination of fault, questions regarding liability and who owes whom compensation for property damage, medical bills and lost wages remain to be settled by insurance company investigators.
My Carolina personal injury law firm colleagues and I know from decades of experience that neither Newton's insurer nor the policy underwriter for the other driver welcomes the possibility of paying claims. The companies and their representatives can be expected to use many strategies to assign responsibility and financial accountability to the other company's client. Which leads to the third lesson: Working with a plaintiff's attorney can be the only protection a car crash victim has when dealing with insurance firms.
The last, and maybe most important, thing to recognize as news of Newton's accident remains fresh is that everyone in every vehicle on every street faces dangers. Neither fame, fortune, physical skill nor following traffic laws can at all times prevent an accident that leaves a person with a broken back or worse. The best anyone can do is to drive responsibly and attentively to minimize the possibility of causing a wreck.