Terrazas Henkel, P.C. Terrazas Henkel, P.C.

Missoula Personal Injury Law Blog

How safe are Montana roads?

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident in Montana, even a relatively minor fender bender, you know all too well how upsetting these events can be. When a crash leaves one or more people with serious injuries or, even worse, results in the death of a person, the experience becomes even more fraught with challenges for those involved. While vehicle safety features have improved and laws are designed to keep people safe, there are still many people who end up dying unnecessarily in accidents every year.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1,021 people lost their lives on Montana roads and highways between 2013 and 2017. Excessive speed and alcohol were noted factors in 339 and 382 of these deaths, respectively. Large commercial trucks, like tractor-trailers, were involved in 97 of the fatalities. Of the people who died, 122 were on motorcycles and 72 were pedestrians. 

Does Montana law enforce liability waivers?

As a state, Montana is known for its many fun and exciting recreational opportunities. Some of these opportunities may bring with them certain inherent risks. These risks may be due to the physical features or attractions involved, or the nature of the opportunities themselves. To help shield themselves from liability concerns, the providers of said opportunities may ask you (and other participants) to sign a waiver prior to your participation. Are such waivers enforceable? 

In Montana, waivers are not even required in some instances. Section 27-1-753 of Montana's Annotated Code states that you assume the risks of any sporting or recreational activity in which you choose to participate. This assumption of risk means that if you are injured while participating in said activity, you cannot hold the provider liable. The only exception to this rule is if your injury is due to an activity provider's own negligence. 

You versus a moose: What to do if you hit one

At Terrazas Henkel, P.C., in Montana, we know the serious injuries you can receive in an auto accident. We also know that not all accidents represent cars colliding with each other. Sometimes you collide with one of our state's most recognized large animals: a moose.

Unfortunately for drivers, this time of year is exactly when female moose and their offspring tend to roam a lot, especially at dusk and dawn. Your best strategy when driving, particularly at these times of day, is to slow down and maintain constant vigilance for moose. If you see one, assume more are nearby.

What should I do after a hit and run?

Being in a car accident is stressful enough, but when you're the victim of a hit and run it can be even more so. That's why it's important that you know just what to do after a hit and run accident occurs, which can increase your odds of receiving justice while also ensuring that you and other motorists remain safe. State Farm offers the following information you can take the right steps if involved in a hit and run.

Contact law enforcement

The Glasgow Coma Scale explained

The challenges facing one who was suffered a traumatic brain injury in Missoula have been detailed on this blog in the past. Yet it is important to remember that not every TBI (or its after-effects) are the same. One's long-term prognosis following a TBI will likely have a strong influence on his or her decision (or that of his or her friends or family) to seek compensation to help cover any expenses related to it. According to study data cited by the website brainline.org, 2.8 million people in the U.S. suffer some form of TBI every year. The question is whether there is a way to know what the outcomes of these injuries may be? 

A clinical indicator has been developed to attempt to assess one's TBI prognosis called the Glasgow Coma Scale. This scale measures the responses demonstrated by one who has suffered a TBI in the immediate aftermath of the event. These responses include:

  • Visual
  • Verbal
  • Motor

When uninsured motorists coverage is not enough

Like most in Missoula, you likely assume that all of the other drivers on the road have auto insurance (after all, who would want to drive without it?). However, if and when you are involved in a car accident, you may be unpleasantly surprised to learn that not everyone has such protection. Indeed, data shared by The Insurance Information Institute shows that nearly 10 percent of drivers in Montana do not have auto insurance coverage. Many come to us here at Terrazas Clark Henkel PC after having been involved in accidents with uninsured drivers concerned over who will cover their expenses. Knowing this requires understanding Montana's stance on insurance coverage. 

Montana is a tort state when it comes to auto insurance, meaning the at-fault party is the one that pays. Typically, his or her insurance company would actually be the one to pay, yet if the driver that strikes you is uninsured, then you would simply submit a claim to your own insurer to invoke your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Yet what happens if your coverage limits keep your insurer from paying you all that you need? 

Fatal collision between truck and RV near Missoula

It may go without saying that people in Missoula understand that the only way for teen drivers to develop strong driving skills is to let them drive. The hope is that most new drivers will realize the risks associated with driving recklessly, and thus avoid such activity. Yet research and accident statistics show that teens tend to be more likely to engage in practices that might impair their driving skills, such as drinking while driving, driving at high speeds or traveling at night. Unfortunately, those who do endanger not just themselves, but everyone on the road around them. 

Excessive speed indeed does appear to have been a factor in a recent accident involving a teen driver on I-90 near Missoula. The young man reportedly sped up as his truck approached a construction zone were traffic was merging into single lane. He lost control and veered into the oncoming lanes, striking an RV carrying eight passengers. The teen sustained non-life threatening injuries in the accident; the driver of the RV was taken to a local hospital in critical condition. An elderly passenger in the RV was killed in the collision, while the remaining passengers also required medical treatment. 

Understanding your visitor classification

When accidents occur on private property in Missoula, the common assumption is that the property owner is liable. That is what many of those that we here at Terrazas Henkel, P.C. have worked with come to us believing. If you share the same assumption, then you should know that your status on another's property plays a significant role in determining the duty of care that a property owner owes to you. 

How do you determine your status? Typically, you know whether or not you are welcome on another's property. Still, according to Insurance Regulatory Law, there are specific distinctions defining different types of visitors (as well as how far a property owner must go to protect them). These are: 

  • Trespassers
  • Licensees
  • Invitees

Safety first at Montana State Parks

In the spring of 2018, Montana State Parks released a statement announcing the "temporary emergency closure for Smith River State Park due to unsafe floating conditions." The notice went on to explain how ice continued to jam some areas of the Smith River, creating an extreme hazard for anyone on the water. 

The Parks division was doing its due diligence to protect the public on its premises, and in this extreme case, prohibited entrance to the property because of extraordinarily dangerous conditions. Staff members at state parks recognize their responsibility for the safety of the public and the liability for incidents that happen on the premises. They also encourage the public to be aware of ever-changing conditions in the natural environments they oversee.

4 steps to take if you're involved in a car accident

Even the safest drivers can find themselves involved in car accidents. In this case, knowing how to react in the aftermath is essential. Taking the right steps can help mitigate injuries while also ensuring you're prepared in the event you need to make an accident claim. In order to provide Montana drivers with the right information, Allstate.com offers the following advice.

1. Check on Yourself & Your Passengers