Recovering the Staggering Cost of Car Crashes

By Larry Bodine, Publisher of The National Trial Lawyers

The economic cost of highway crashes nationwide totals $277 billion a year – nearly $900 for each man, woman and child living in the USA – and $594 billion in societal harm from the loss of life, pain, and decreased quality of life, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

“While the economic and societal costs of crashes are staggering, today’s report clearly demonstrates that investments in safety are worth every penny used to reduce the frequency and severity of these tragic events,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said recently.

Of course no amount of money can replace the life of a loved one, but recoveries in court can compensate for many personal losses, according to the AAA auto club:

  • Property damage
  • Lost earnings
  • Help with household activities
  • Medical costs
  • Emergency services
  • Assistance with mobility and travel
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Lost time at work
  • Administrative costs
  • Legal costs
  • Pain and lost quality of life

Three deadly behaviors

An NHTSA study, The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, points out three behavioral factors that contribute to the annual 33,000 highway fatalities, 3.9 million injuries and 24 million damaged vehicles. It found that speeding, drunken driving and distracted riving accounted for 56 percent of the economic loss to the nation and 62 percent of the societal harm.


Crashes involving a speeding vehicle traveling over the posted speed limit or too fast for conditions accounted for 21 percent of the total economic loss, according to NHTSA, and cost the nation $59 billion in 2010, an average cost of $191 for every person in the U.S.

For example, Brett McDaniel was riding his bicycle with a friend on October 8, 2007, on Rosalie Street in Golconda, IL, a block from his home. He was hit and run over by a Mercy Regional Emergency Medical Service ambulance racing south on Adams Street. The ambulance was going over the speed limit and failed to exercise care to avoid colliding with a person riding a bicycle. It did not have its lights or sirens on and was speeding. Brett was transported to the hospital where he died as a result of his injuries.

The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, and on June 27, 2014, an Illinois jury awarded them $1.2 million for their loss and suffering.


NHTSA found that crashes involving a distracted driver accounted for 17 percent of the total economic loss and cost the nation $46 billion in 2010, an average cost of $148 for every person in the U.S.

Vaylma Dorado was rear-ended by a cement truck on Telegraph Road in Southfield, MI, in 2010. The driver of the truck was distracted and reading paperwork while driving 50 miles per hour. He ran into the back of Dorado’s vehicle while she was waiting to turn, driving her Volkswagen into a utility pole.

Because of the accident, she had to have three spinal fusion back surgeries, a hip fusion, and shoulder surgery. Dorado now has a collection of screws and plates in her spine that causes her constant pain. She also suffered a significant traumatic brain injury. As a result, she is no longer able to work or live independently.

Last June, a Wayne County, MI, jury awarded her $17.8 million in damages for lost wages and pain and suffering.

Drunk Driving

Crashes caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol accounted for 18 percent of the total economic loss due to motor vehicle crashes, and cost the nation $49 billion, an average cost of $158 for every person in the U.S. More than 90 percent of these costs were due to crashes involving a drunk driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher.

Ryan Wiltz, 16, had been tubing on the Bogue Chitto River with friends to celebrate the start of their senior year in high school before they all went for a drive on Louisiana Road 16 in St. Tammany’s Parish. Brian LaFontaine, 17, was at the wheel when the car went out of control and struck a tree. LaFontaine’s blood alcohol level was two-and-a-half times the legal limit for adults in Louisiana. Charie Billiot and Rachel Gabb, both 16, were killed along with LaFontaine. Billiot’s sister Chrissie was the only other survivor, and the only passenger wearing a seat belt.

Wiltz was left partially paralyzed and suffered irreversible brain damage. His parents filed a lawsuit against the shop that sold the teenagers the alcohol. In 2011, a Jefferson Parish jury awarded $18.5 million to Ryan Wiltz, $15 million of which was designated for future medical expenses. The amount included $600,000 for his pain and suffering. Later, an appeals court awarded $2.4 million in additional damages for pain and suffering.

“We want Americans to live long and productive lives, but vehicle crashes all too often make that impossible,” said NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman. “This new report underscores the importance of our safety mission and why our efforts to tackle these important behavioral issues are essential to our quality of life and our economy.”

Larry Bodine is a lawyer, journalist and marketer who speaks and writes frequently about law firm marketing. Currently he is the publisher of the National Trial Lawyers and is the former Editor in Chief of Readers can follow @Larrybodine on Twitter, on Google+ and on LinkedIn, where he moderates several law-related groups.