Fatal Crash In St. Lucie County
A 64-year-old Okeechobee man died after a multi-vehicle crash that also seriously injured several other individuals.
The wreck occurred near the intersection of Okeechobee and Shinn Roads. According to investigators, the 64-year-old man was eastbound on Okeechobee in a Toyota Tundra when he attempted to make a left turn onto Shinn. At that same moment, a westbound Chevrolet Silverado t-boned the Tundra. Due to the force of the collision, the Silverado tipped over and toppled into a roadside ditch, while the Tundra careened onto the westbound shoulder. In total, seven people were seriously injured in the collision.
The deceased man was not wearing his seatbelt.
Liability in Car Crash Cases
Based on the currently available facts, it appears that one or both drivers in the above story were distracted, and the ultimate question of liability may hinge on a legal doctrine called “last clear chance.”
Distracted drivers usually seriously injure about 1,000 people a day. The proliferation of multi-capability smartphones has much to do with the explosion of distracted driving-related incidents in recent years, but the issue goes well beyond cellphones. According to the Centers for Disease Control, distracted driving falls into three categories:
- Visual: Drivers who send or view a text message while traveling 55 mph usually cover the length of a football field while their eyes are off the road.
- Manual: It is almost impossible to control a vehicle with only one hand, especially if there are any emergency maneuvers involved. A wide range of activities, from surfing the web on a smartphone to adjusting the heater, can lead to manual distraction.
- Cognitive: Similarly, there are many things that take a driver’s mind off the road, such as talking to passengers, talking on a cell phone, or trying to get the seat adjustment just right.
Even though they are touted as safer alternatives, hands-free cell phones may be more dangerous than the hand-held variety. Using hands-free devices still creates both visual and cognitive distraction; moreover, they often give drivers a false sense of security.
Regardless of the underlying cause, whenever two vehicles collide in an intersection, the last clear chance rule often determines the eventual outcome.
Assume Driver A makes a left turn against traffic and fails to account for Driver B’s path. The eventual crash may have occurred because Driver A was distracted and did not see the other vehicle, or it may have happened because Driver B was speeding and could not avoid an otherwise avoidable collision. Whichever driver failed to take the last clear chance to avoid the crash is probably liable for damages.
The “Seat Belt Defense”
Florida, like every other state except New Hampshire, has a mandatory seat belt law. Twenty years ago, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a failure to use a seat belt may be evidence of contributory negligence in a car crash case.
To be admissible, such evidence must probably be more than statistics about seat belt use and occupant safety. Instead, the insurance company must probably produce specific evidence which clearly indicates that, if the victim had been wearing a seatbelt, the victim’s injuries would have been reduced by such-and-such an amount.
Florida is a pure comparative fault state, so any contributory negligence will reduce the victim’s recovery in the car crash case.
Rely on Experienced Lawyers
Even seemingly simple car crash cases often involve complex legal issues. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. We routinely handle cases throughout the Treasure Coast area.