Category Archives: Blog

Working With a Lawyer After a Car Accident (A Guest Post by Jared Staver)

Introductory Note: I am grateful to lawyer Jared Staver for contributing this blog post, which offers very useful information for anyone considering the need for legal representation.        — Maryann

Being involved in a car accident can be one of the most traumatic events in a person’s life. Furthermore, causing an accident can burden you with a painful guilt that’s hard to ignore. Most car accidents are avoidable; thousands of accidents happen every day as a result of some form of driver negligence. However, true accidents do happen.

My job as a car accident lawyer is to defend people who have been injured through no fault of their own. If you are determined to be at fault for causing a car accident, there might be a complex process ahead. Working with legal representation is a critical component to ensure that your best interests are protected, and your accident is managed appropriately.

Insurance Company Issues

Working with insurance companies on an accident case can be a mess. It’s a common misconception for drivers to be overly confident and assume their insurance company will defend them following an accident. Insurance contracts contain an implied agreement that the company will work for you in good faith, but this doesn’t mean they will truly defend you. In general, insurance companies always aim to pay as little as possible and have a far more narrow focus than an injury lawyer.

It’s important to keep up with your claim as the insurance companies argue the fine print. Having legal representation is never a bad thing when handling the aftermath of a car accident. Lawyers are accustomed to dealing with the red tape of insurance companies and can take much of that stress off of your shoulders.

If it is determined that you caused an accident and the other party is seeking compensation, your insurance company either needs to satisfy their demands or risk lawsuit. Insurance companies may deny coverage in cases of intentional driving errors, like DWI or texting and driving, but valid accidents should be covered.

How to Pick a Lawyer After an Accident

Selecting the right lawyer is a key step in determining how your situation will play out. Your attorney will be deciding on the actions you take throughout the process and will be your voice, so picking the right law firm to work with might be the most important step in recovering from an accident.

There are five factors I advise you to look at when determining what firm to work with.

  1. Experience – Each case will bring its own unique set of circumstances. It’s important to pick a lawyer with the appropriate type of experiences.
  2. Reputation – Check our law firm reviews and client testimonials online to ensure that you are picking a lawyer with a respectable reputation
  3. Legal Fees – Legal services are not cheap, take the time to research and discuss costs before committing to a law firm.
  4. Time/Resources – Lawyers typically have multiple clients at a time so finding a lawyer who has sufficient time and capability to take your case is essential.
  5. Jurisdiction – You should pick an attorney who practices in your area and is suited to handle the local court system.

I’m sure there are dozens of law firms in your area who would love to take your case. It’s important to find a firm that makes you feel comfortable and confident, and a firm that will fight for you.

Many firms will offer a free initial consultation as a way for potential clients to learn about the lawyer. The initial consultation will also serve as an opportunity to examine your accident, talk about potential next steps, and discuss legal fees. Having a trusted lawyer at your side should make the legal system more bearable.

The Legal Process

A personal injury case starts with what is known as the discovery phase. Discovery is often the largest amount of time spent on a case. Lawyers will start to gather evidence and fact check all relevant information associated with the case. This includes looking into medical records, verifying police reports, and even formal deposition interviews of people who were involved in the accident. Discovery is the part of the process where both sides of an accident get the opportunity to set up their case.

Next come motions, which are written arguments to the court that summarize a lawyer’s discovery in an effort to get a judge to rule in their favor. Settlement negotiations usually take place throughout the entire process. Often, before much discovery is completed, the plaintiff’s attorney will get a general idea of the case value and send a demand letter before investing a lot of money into discovery. Mediation is often held before motions to the court are made.

If a case cannot be settled, a courtroom trial will be set. Most car accident cases are settled before a trial is necessary, but it’s not uncommon to see personal injury cases go to court.

How a Lawyer Can Help You

Hiring a lawyer is in no way an admission of guilt. If you cause a car accident, the other parties involved will likely seek compensation for the damages. Recruiting a lawyer to your defense will ensure that you will not be taken advantage of as the process goes on.

Dealing with an insurance company on your own is a daunting task. An experienced lawyer will take the burden off of you and allow you to get back to your own life.

Having legal representation is essential following a serious accident and should not be put off. It’s a good idea to contact multiple lawyers in your area and examine your options. There is tons of information on car accidents across the Internet, but it’s a good idea to seek out consultation specific to your own circumstances.

Recovering from a car accident can be extremely difficult emotionally. Having a lawyer by your side will ensure that you can focus on your own well-being and get back to your pre-accident self without being taken advantage of during the recovery.

 Jared Staver is a personal injury lawyer based out of Chicago, Illinois at Staver Law Group, P.C. Jared focuses primarily on car accident injury cases and has nearly twenty years of experience within the Illinois legal industry.

Self-Forgiveness: Accidental Impacts Guest Post

By Chris Yaw

Once the great psychiatrist Karl Menninger found himself answering questions from a reporter. ‘What’s the leading cause of mental distress?” he was asked, “I mean, what’s to blame, in most cases, for a person to be institutionalized?”

“That’s easy,” replied the Harvard-educated doctor, “I see it all the time, it’s a person’s inability to forgive themselves.”

More than chemical imbalances and inborn behavioral tendencies, Menninger noted something we all understand is as dangerous as it is debilitating: the poor job we do at forgiving ourselves.

This knowledge is the first step we need to begin our job of improving on it – and finding practical ways to counter-balance our tendencies of self-forgiveness, bringing ourselves ‘back to center.’ My wife and I like to use this term, and we define it as that place where life is experienced as a gift, joy, and pleasure. It is that place that resonates with our deepest selves, as people who were born out of love, live our best when we give and receive love, and where the future beyond our earthly lives will take us.

When we go through any trauma, but specifically that of being accidentally responsible for the death of another (as I have experienced), we find the feeling of unforgiveness rearing inside of us. It is often fueled by our passive acceptance of three very common yet harmful beliefs, which therapists call the three p’s: personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence.

Personalization is the idea that the trauma we experienced was somehow our fault, to an outsized and untruthful degree. It’s something we do all the time. Ever hear someone say their favorite football team lost because they had failed to wear their lucky t-shirt? This is a version of that. Of course, our trauma more than likely involved something we said or did, but the personalization of that trauma means that we take on a much larger degree of responsibility than realistically exists.

I remember hearing about a woman whose husband perished in the 9-11 tragedy in New York City. He was a maintenance worker who became a World Trade Center victim because he went to work an hour later that day. This poor woman blamed herself for an entire year for setting his alarm clock an hour later. It took her 12 months to realize that she had not set the alarm clock, in fact, she never set the alarm clock, but he had in order to spend more time with his family that morning. The idea that she was to blame for a tragedy she had actually no hand in, is quite common and natural.

A good way to subvert personalization is to ask trusted friends for their accounts of the narrative, what did they observe? What’s their version? Our work is to be open to their telling of the story and more importantly to accept it as truth – understanding that our own view of trauma is naturally jaded and skewed by this tendency.

A second untruth we battle is the idea that our trauma is pervasive – that every aspect of our life has now become negatively tinged. Pervasiveness says because we suffered trauma, nothing else will be untouched – we will perform poorly at work or school, become a less dependable friend, neighbor or parent, or become less competitive as an athlete. The truth is that our trauma does not to have to affect every other part of our lives. We can limit the pervasiveness of our trauma.

I have a friend who was divorced. He felt like a failure. After his wife left he began to believe that because he was a failure at marriage, he was bad at everything – his business, being a father, and in nearly every other aspect of his life. It took him a while to come back to center and realize that just because he had failed at one thing at one time, it did not make him a total failure. It is very human to define ourselves by our failures and to think that when we fail we are failures instead of telling ourselves the truth: that we are humans who make mistakes.

Again, the perspective of a close friend, spouse, or therapist can help bring us back to center, reminding us that trauma can be contained to an appropriate sphere of influence, and that we do well to uphold our gifts and blessings in other areas of our lives.

A third harmful untruth we experience at trauma is believing in the permanence of the event. This is the notion that we will never, ever get over our trauma. We have all experienced times when the days were very dark and seemed endless, but we also know that those low times were not permanent.

In high school I had a friend who drove drunk. He got into a wreck and his passenger, his best friend, was killed. At the funeral he confided in me that his life was ruined. He was 17 years old. 30 years later, after building a successful business, getting married, and putting his 4 children through college, those words of a 17-year-old are hard to believe. Of course, not everyone fares that well, but it’s not uncommon for most of us do better than we initially believed.

We do well to understand that trauma is like a physical wound, it will get better. However, to press the analogy, it also means the scars never go away. While there’s truth to the old adage ‘time heals all,’ complete healing is another matter.

This reminds us that the work of self-acceptance and forgiveness is never complete. We are human, prone to failure and scarred by it. However, we humans are also equipped to do much good – in a general accounting of our race, we find we’ve done more good than ill. So we do well to accept ourselves for the fragile and frail people we are, recognizing the dangers of personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence regarding trauma, trusting that there are bluer skies ahead.

Australian Public Television

I have been contacted by a producer for the Australian public television broadcaster, SBS. She works on a weekly current affairs discussion program called Insight. They are planning a show about what it is like to unintentionally cause someone’s death and would very much like to hear from Australians (only) who are CADIs. You can contact Madeleine.king@sbs.com.au. Thank you!!

Improving Road Safety: A Movement

Many years after my accident, I was shocked to learn that the road where I was driving at the time, U.S. Route 27 in Butler County, Ohio, was considered one of the most dangerous highways in America. It had even been nicknamed the Highway to Heaven. I had always considered the accident a very personal encounter between two unlucky souls – the child who ran into the road and me behind the wheel – but had given little thought to the road safety conditions that contributed to the accident. Although bad luck certainly played a part, so did external factors such as a narrow road with no shoulders, heavy traffic, and a relatively high speed limit. Worst of all, in that rural environment, all the mailboxes were located on one side of the street, which forced residents to cross the highway in order to retrieve their mail.

Only after the residents of Butler County along with local elected officials advocated fiercely for road safety improvements did the State of Ohio allocate funds to mitigate the worst problems. Today, the road is wider, with better signage and a lower speed limit. The mailboxes now sit in front of their houses so no one has to cross this busy highway. Butler County residents still consider Route 27 to be dangerous, but it is better than it used to be.

My experience is just one example of the ways in which individual behavior combines with environmental conditions to increase or decrease risk and road safety. In addition to the choices that individuals make, collisions and crashes are affected by policies/laws and how they’re enforced, urban planning and design, engineering,  education, social norms, and more.

Despite many years and many millions of dollars devoted to improving road safety, traffic fatalities are on the rise. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 37,500 people died in traffic accidents in the US in 2016, which was the highest number of fatalities since 2007. Distracted driving (e.g., texting, telephone conversations) surely contributes to this unfortunate trend. Too many people still neglect to fasten their seatbelts and/or drive after drinking. And the improved economy correlates with an increase in the miles that Americans drive each year, which leads to more crashes.

Recently, I have been learning about an international movement of sorts to improve road safety, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists. The organizations spearheading this movement are giving careful consideration to the external conditions that help to prevent traffic deaths. For example, the Vision Zero network seeks to “eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all.” Vision Zero advocates for steps that help to prevent accidents, such as reduced speed limits, better road design, improved pedestrian cross-walks, and education and awareness-building to promote safe driving.

Some of the people in the front lines of this kind of advocacy have lost loved ones in traffic crashes. CADIs, too, have much to contribute to this issue. If you’re interested, here are a few links:

Vision Zero

National Complete Streets Coalition

Where the Sidewalk Starts

Road to Zero

New Yorker Article on Accidental Killing

Several months ago the writer Alice Gregory posted on this site her interest in talking with CADIs. Many of you responded by generously sharing your stories and insights. Her article on the experience of accidental killing and the lack of resources to support CADI’s (my acronym for those who have “caused accidental death or injury”) has been published in this week’s New Yorker magazine:https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/18/the-sorrow-and-the-shame-of-the-accidental-killer.

I think the article shows great compassion and insight, and I hope it will make a difference by raising awareness and motivating some psychotherapists, trauma specialists, or others to focus on this neglected group.  It is already helping individuals (and their friends and family members) struggling with the experience of accidental killing. For instance, the article has dramatically increased traffic to this website. If you see more comments than usual showing up on the site, that is why.

The vast majority of comments I’ve received about this article, and other published work on CADIs, have been appreciative and supportive. A number of people have written to me about urban planning, public policy, engineering, and other programs and interventions intended to prevent car vs. pedestrian, car. vs. bicycle or car vs. car collisions. I will be looking into these programs more and will post about some of the more promising efforts. If you know about this, please write to me and share your experience or recommendations.  I’m also interested in efforts to prevent other kinds of accidents, including workplace accidents, gun accidents, boating accidents, and the like.

Of course I strongly believe that CADI’s are deserving of compassion and support.  With that comes an acceptance of responsibility and accountability.  As awareness and understanding increase in our society, I believe that people will be more willing to invest in whatever steps are needed to reduce the number of accidents — better roads, bike lanes, improved lighting, new technologies, and so forth.  This will make our world safer and, over time, the number of CADIs will decline.

Channeling Guilt Into Growth: Reflections on the Anniversary of an Accident

This June marks the 40th anniversary of the accident that has so affected my life – an 8 year old boy darted in front of my car and was killed. Not a single day has gone by since then when I have not thought about that child. For the first year or two, in the grip of acute and post-traumatic stress, memories of the accident dominated my consciousness. In the middle of a meeting at the office or an evening out with friends, an image of the child would flash into my mind, pulling me away from the here and now and stoking my grief and guilt. Later, the memories became a harsh way of punishing myself. Whenever I felt celebratory or proud, some inner voice would say, “Remember what you did. You don’t deserve happiness. And it can happen again, so keep your guard up.”

I still think of the child every day, and occasionally the memories can still jolt me. For the most part, however, my thoughts and feelings about the accident and my role in it are far gentler than they used to be. I choose to honor this child, his family, and my own suffering by striving to live with purpose, appreciation and awareness. I regularly fail at this of course but I keep at it.

I hope and believe that better support for CADIs will lead to a more compassionate society  – and that is helpful to all of us, whatever our life circumstances – victim, CADI, bystander, etc.

As our communities begin to understand how common accidents are and how many people are suffering because they accidentally killed or injured someone, we might see declines in risky behaviors such as distracted or drunk driving. As more people understand the pain that CADIs experience and extend support, we can create a more caring society. And, with such support, as CADIs learn to transform guilt and post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth, we will be able to give more of ourselves to others.

I still mourn for the child who died on the road that horrible day. I grieve for the pain that his family – and mine – endured. But I am committed to the effort of channeling this grief in productive directions, by offering support for others, by writing, and most of all by trying to show kindness toward others. To me, it’s the only response that makes any sense at all in the face of senseless tragedy.

 

Important Request to CADIs

To my readers: I was contacted by Alice Gregory, a talented journalist who is writing an article about CADIs. This is a great opportunity to advance understanding and support for people involved in these tragic events. Alice would very much like to hear from CADIs other than me — At my request, she has written the introduction that follows. Please follow up with her if you are interested.
Hello all– My name is Alice Gregory, and I’m a NYC-based journalist working on an article about people who have inadvertently caused death to another person, be it in a car accident or any other way. I would love to speak with some of you and hear your stories: how you’re managing to understand what happened, what sort of setbacks you’ve encountered, coping strategies you’ve found helpful. The terms of our conversation (whether I use your name, for example) would be entirely up to you. Examples of my work can be found at alice-gregory.com, and if you’re interested, please send me an email at aliceagregory@gmail.com (there’s a sneaky “a” in the middle there.) Thanks so much and take care.

Holiday Blues

The holiday blues is a well-known, even clichéd, phenomenon, but it’s true that this season can be especially challenging for CADIs. Some CADIs tell me that they are unable to muster the celebratory spirit that others expect of them. Some feel stricken with guilt and grief, knowing that another family is mourning a loss. Some feel that they do not deserve to be happy or receive gifts.

If you are in this situation, it is helpful to simply acknowledge your feelings, doing your best to withhold judgement. This might mean finding some private time every day to write in a journal, meditate, pray, rest, or cry. You don’t have to put the full scope of your distress on display, but neither do you have to fake happiness.

If you can, consider providing some form of community service during the holiday season. I believe that we honor the memory of our victims when we do this. You can serve Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter or VA hospital, visit children in the hospital, or deliver a meal to a homebound senior. There are dozens of choices – if you are not up to interacting with people, you can pick up litter on the beach, bring a few bags of old clothes to Goodwill, or offer to help out at your local animal shelter. You can also draft a guest blog and submit it to me for consideration for the website.

As most readers know by now, I believe in the healing powers of art and nature. This season, let’s take some time to listen to music that moves us, wander through a museum, or bundle up and take a walk in the woods. Let’s play an instrument, paint, draw, or write – and if you don’t have artistic talents, consider writing a poem anyway. These activities get us out of our heads and connect us to soul and spirit.

As I write this, I am popping chocolate candies into my mouth at an alarming rate! Sugar is my way of dulling unpleasant feelings like the holiday blues, but it leaves me feeling even worse, physically and mentally. So I hereby resolve to be more mindful of my eating this season. You might want to do the same, not to deny yourself the pleasure of delicious food but to help you feel better. The same goes for drinking, of course – remember that alcohol is a depressant.

Many therapists take some time off around the holidays, and the temporary absence of this support can be difficult. Your therapist should have someone “on call” to talk with you if needed. You can also call the suicide prevention line at any time of the day or night; and you can go to the ER if you need immediate attention.

Finally, remember that your accident does not define you. You could not control what happened, but you do have choices about how to respond. Even if you feel utterly stuck, the truth is that you are on a journey. It may be a challenging trip, full of unexpected obstacles, but you are moving toward solace, personal growth, and acceptance. Wherever you are in this journey, I hope you will take a few minutes over the next few weeks to look up at the night sky, or a snow-covered tree, or a simple wooden cross, or the flickering Chanukah candles, or a child’s face — and remember there is beauty in this world.

I wish us all a year of peace.

 

 

Family and Friends — Stress and Anxiety

If you are a relative or friend of a CADI, one of the major challenges you may face is managing your own anxiety. This person that you love and perhaps rely on is suddenly in deep distress. It is extremely upsetting to see him or her suffer and to feel helpless in the face of it.

On top of this, you may have a whole set of worries – will he be arrested or sued? Will she be able to take care of the children or go back to work? Will he get over this distress, or will he have some kind of breakdown? What will this trauma do to the family, to your own relationship, and to your broader social and community networks?

For a while, the CADI may not be fully available as a partner, friend, or co-worker. All of a sudden you find yourself attempting to manage your own responsibilities and those of the CADI as well (e.g., covering for him at work or taking care of the kids), while also helping him deal with psychological distress along with possible physical injuries, legal issues, car insurance, and the like. On top of that, other people may be texting and emailing to find out what happened, share their own concerns and compassion, and all too often offer advice you really don’t want or need, at least at the time.

As if this isn’t stressful enough, we often have unrealistic ideas of how we are supposed to respond to such tragedies. For instance, you might feel like you have to be available 24/7 to deal with any needs the CADI may express. You might fear that you’ve said something wrong and made everything worse. You might believe you have no rights to anger, fear, or grief. You might be confused or uncertain about how to help. You might also disagree with the CADI about certain issues, such as whether to retain a lawyer or whether to tell friends or family members what happened.

The CADI’s accident may create trauma not just for him, but also for family and friends. Just as you strive to support the CADI, you must also strive to support yourself. Reach out to your friends and relatives, consider psychological counseling, and allow yourself to take some time out to rest and recharge. You may even find that you are experiencing some trauma symptoms yourself, such as intrusive thoughts, flashbacks to the moment you learned of the accident (or witnessed it), difficulty sleeping, and so forth. If such symptoms are very distressing to you or last for more than a few weeks, I encourage psychotherapy.

You will have to decide how much of your own thoughts, feelings and experiences to share with the CADI. It will not be helpful to “unload” your feelings and fears in his or her presence. Save that for others. This does not mean you should avoid intimacy or communication; it does mean that you should recognize and respect the stress and trauma that the CADI is experiencing.

Thank you for caring about the CADI in your life. I cannot express how important – and how beautiful — your love and support are for all of us who have caused accidental deaths or injuries.

 

No Such Thing as an Accident?

 

Have you ever heard anyone say, “There’s no such thing as an accident?”  There is plenty of support for this view in books and popular culture. It’s more or less a staple of new age thinking that we call all experience to us, including accidents. Even Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, did not believe in accidents and considered them manifestations of unconscious desires or impulses.

These ideas upset me after my accident – did my accident mean I put out into the world some terrible, fierce energy? Did my unconscious hostility lead to someone’s violent death? Did the accident emerge from some inexplicable spiritual deficit or need?

Today, I do not believe that “there’s no such thing as an accident.” I know too many lovely, caring people who are CADI’s. I do not think their accidents reveal anything about their psychological make-up or their soul. I think the accidents demonstrate that we, like everyone else, have imperfect control over ourselves and over the world around us.

To me, calling a car crash or some other incident an “accident” does not mean one is blameless. It means that no harm was intended. It’s still incumbent on us to ask ourselves if we made a mistake and, if necessary, to take action such as seeking treatment for alcohol or drug abuse. We can also identify other steps we can take to improve safety, such as advocating for a stop light at a busy intersection.

Having completed this appraisal process, perhaps we should try to accept that certain things are simply unknowable, including some of the whys and what-ifs of serious accidents. We can say with some assurance, “the accident occurred because a little boy ran across the road without looking for cars,” or “the accident occurred because I was texting and didn’t notice that the car ahead of me was stopped.” It’s another thing entirely to wonder if the accident occurred as a result of Karma or some spiritual deficiency or need. We probably won’t have the answer to that, at least in our lifetimes.

What we can do, however, is let the experience of being a CADI motivate us to put our best selves into the world. We cannot change what happened, but we can resolve to live and love with greater mindfulness. It’s easier said than done, especially when PTSD gets in the way, but it’s the only way I can make any sense at all out of these tragic accidents.