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Dual Fatal Crash Raises Fault Questions

Two people were killed in a Turnpike car crash that bore a striking similarity to an earlier incident in Martin County.

The latest wreck occurred on the northbound side of the Florida Turnpike near Osceola Parkway in Orange County. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, a 26-year-old woman from Miami lost control of her 2005 Chevrolet SUV after the left rear tire tread separated. The SUV careened into the guardrail, ejecting a 25-year-old woman and a 5-year-old girl; both these women died at the scene. The disabled SUV then surged back into the traffic lanes, and a trailing fully-loaded car carrier, driven by a 43-year-old man from Port St. Lucie, was unable to avoid a collision. Both the SUV driver and another passenger were rushed to a local hospital with serious injuries. None of the victims were wearing seatbelts.

Less than a month earlier, six people died in an Interstate 95 crash near the Martin County line when the tire tread separated on a 2001 Mercury Villager.

Seat Belts and Comparative Fault

When given the opportunity, insurance companies nearly always try to shift at least part of the blame for the vehicle wreck to the injured victim, and comparative fault can accomplish this objective, in some cases. To reduce the amount of damages, the insurance company looks for things that the plaintiff did wrong, such as speeding or not wearing a seatbelt, and then argues that it was the plaintiff, and not the tortfeasor (negligent driver), who was legally responsible for the damages.

Florida is one of only fifteen states with a seatbelt use law, which is in Section 316.614 of the Florida Statutes. This law is rather confusingly written, because it states that non-use cannot be “considered in mitigation of damages, but such violation may be considered as evidence of comparative negligence.”

Assume that Donnie Defendant runs a red light and smashes into Peter Plaintiff, who is not wearing a seatbelt. If the evidence shows that the damages were $100,000, the jury cannot reduce Peter’s damages simply because of the seatbelt matter. But, if Peter were thrown from the vehicle, the jury could conclude that the lack of a seat belt, and not Donnie, was the primary reason for Peter’s physical injury.

Negligence Defenses

The last clear chance doctrine often comes into play whenever a motorist has an opportunity to avoid a crash but fails to do so, as was the case in the above story.

Assume Donnie Defendant crosses over the centerline and into oncoming traffic. Peter Plaintiff sees Donnie’s vehicle, and Peter has ample opportunity to change lanes, reduce speed, blow his horn, or take other action to avoid a crash. But, he does nothing and smashes into Donnie. Donnie is clearly in the wrong because he crossed the centerline, but he may not be liable for damages, because Peter had the last clear chance to avoid the wreck but did not do so.

Reach Out to Experienced Attorneys

For prompt assistance with a car crash or other negligence claim, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Port St. Lucie. At Eighmie Law Firm, P.A., we do not charge upfront legal fees in personal injury matters.

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