Page Reviewed / Updated – February 25, 2010

Motor Vehicle Accidents and the Elderly

As a natural part of the aging process, many elderly individuals’ vision and reactions deteriorate. Wisely, most seniors are aware of this and accommodate by driving their motor vehicles more slowly. Unfortunately, slower moving cars can frustrate impatient drivers who then drive recklessly to avoid them, endangering the elderly and sometimes causing accidents. Other times, accidents are caused by the elderly drivers themselves or more commonly both parties are at fault and share a responsibility for the accident. Regardless of fault, the injuries sustained by the elderly in accidents can be very serious and their medical and care expenses can be very high.

As with drivers of any age, injuries to the head, back and neck are most common in motor vehicle accidents. However, elderly drivers are much more susceptible to chest and internal organ injuries than younger drivers. They are also much slower to recover from their injuries and more likely to experience permanent damage. Consequently, the medical and care expenses incurred by elderly accident victims are disproportionately higher than drivers or passengers of younger ages. 

When is Compensation Due

Injured individuals can and should be compensated for injuries sustained in an accident when someone else was clearly at fault for the accident. However, accidents are rarely 100% one party’s fault.  Often times, both parties contribute to an accident. In these cases, injured individuals are still owed compensation for their injuries. In accidents that are completely the responsibility of the elderly driver, they are usually not entitled to compensation.

What Expenses are Eligible

Injured individuals are due assistance to pay for their complete, out-of-pocket medical costs and personal care assistance required as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. This can include nursing home care, home care assistance, durable medical equipment and medications. If the injuries sustained are permanent, compensation can also include financial assistance for home modifications to accommodate for their disability such as wheelchairs ramps and bathroom and kitchen alterations.

Though the injuries sustained may require ongoing care, legal settlements are almost always structured as one-time payments. Attorneys take this factor into consideration when negotiating a settlement. In addition to these medical and personal care costs, individuals can be compensated 2-3 times their expenses for the major disruption to their lives and for general damages, this is sometimes referred to as pain and suffering compensation.

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Working with an Attorney

Attorneys have no upfront fees.  They take a percentage of the settlement and only if a settlement is reached.

Attorneys that work on these types of cases usually do so on a contingency fee basis, meaning they do not charge directly for their services instead they take a percentage of the settlement. If they do not succeed in reaching a settlement, then they are not paid for their work.

For seniors with fixed and moderate incomes, this payment model is advantageous since they are not required to put forth their own money to hire representation. They simply present the situation to an attorney in a free consultation who then makes the decision on whether or not to accept the case.

If the attorney accepts the case, then they will aggregate all the expenses: medical, personal care costs, past and future, and determine a fair and realistic compensation amount. They contact and negotiate with the relevant parties and determine a settlement amount. From this settlement, the attorney takes their fees (typically 30%), pays off any unpaid medical bills and the remaining portion goes directly to the individual in need of care. Approximately 80% of cases accepted by an attorney will reach a settlement in which the elderly individual is compensated.

While compensation for motor vehicle accident injuries cannot solve a family’s financial challenges with long term care, fair compensation can be a considerable help and should an individual be injured, this source of funds should not be ignored.