Fatal Pile-Up Crash In Palm Beach County
Investigators believe that environmental conditions and driver inattention are primarily responsible for a fatal crash on the Florida Turnpike.
A southbound driver lost control of his BMW around Mile Marker 101. The vehicle spun around and came to a stop. At that moment, an approaching tractor-trailer swerved to the right to avoid the BMW. The truck collided with a Civic, forcing it into the retaining wall. The truck’s trailer then smashed into the BMW, propelling that vehicle into an Infiniti QX60.
A Civic passenger was declared dead at the scene. Another person was rushed to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.
Duty in Florida Car Crash Cases
When many people think of legal responsibility in car crash cases, they think about driving the speed limit and staying off their cellphones. But the duty of care goes much deeper than that.
Sometimes, the law establishes the standard of care. But more often, the neighbor principle establishes this standard. As one judge wrote in the 1930s: “The rule that you are to love your neighbor becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbor.” So, the duty of care depends not on the law but on a sense of responsibility.
If the streets are wet, the sky is dark, or other adverse environmental conditions are present, drivers have a duty to slow down and adjust to the conditions. They must also leave more space between their vehicles and the vehicles in front of them. Wet roads increase stopping distance, so it’s harder to stop a vehicle in an emergency.
Similarly, “distracted driving” is not just limited to the activities listed in Florida’s distracted driving law. Legally, distracted driving is any of the following situations:
- At least one hand off the wheel (manual distraction),
- Eyes off the road (visual), and/or
- Mind off driving (cognitive).
Using a hands-free cell phone is visually and cognitively distracting. So, this behavior could be considered negligent. The same thing applies to talking to passengers while driving, eating while driving, thinking about work while driving, and a host of other activities.
Liability in Port St. Lucie Car Wreck Claims
The above story also illustrates two common doctrines in car crash cases: respondeat superior and sudden emergency.
The respondeat superior rule states that employers are vicariously liable for any negligent acts their employees commit during the scope of employment. Florida law defines both these elements in broad, victim-friendly terms.
For example, most truck drivers are not legal employees of the truck owners. But in this context, an “employee” could be an owner-operator, independent contractor, or even an unpaid volunteer. The employer exercises some control over all these individuals, and that control is all that matters.
The sudden emergency defense is very common as well. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) are not responsible for the damages they cause if they:
- Reasonably react to
- Sudden emergencies.
Pulling to the right is certainly a reasonable response. In this respect the truck driver probably did the right thing.
But a disabled vehicle is not a “sudden emergency” in this context. This label applies to hood fly-ups, tire blowouts, and other completely unexpected situations. A non-moving vehicle, especially considering the conditions at the time, is definitely not a sudden emergency.
Damages in a Florida car crash case usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Florida is a modified joint and several liability state. So, if there are multiple tortfeasors, the judge usually apportions damages based on their percentage of fault.
Connect with Experienced Lawyers
Pile-up crashes often raise 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 matters all along the Treasure Coast.