Multiple Injuries in Pile-Up Crash
Emergency responders transported three people to local hospitals following a wrong-way crash in West Palm Beach.
The wreck occurred on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard near the Australian Avenue intersection. According to investigators, a vehicle jumped the median and careened into oncoming traffic on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard. The chain-reaction wreck involved seven vehicles.
One of the vehicles was a transit bus which transported disabled individuals. Some of the victims were on this bus.
Common Carrier Duty in Florida
Commercial operators, such as transit bus drivers, have a higher duty of care in Florida. These drivers are practically insurers of safe conduct from one place to another. Legally, common carriers are any motorists who haul people or cargo for a fee.
Most noncommercial drivers have a duty of reasonable care. Most commercial drivers have a duty of highest care. For example, a noncommercial driver has a responsibility to slow down in the rain. However, a common carrier arguably has a duty to not drive during the rain, or at least wait for the rain to slack off before continuing.
This duty is not limited to driving. Common carriers must also ensure passenger safety while in transit. That means breaking up fights before they become violent and cleaning up spills which could cause falls.
Common carrier crashes usually involve third party liability as well, typically the respondeat superior rule. This doctrine applies if:
- Employee: All drivers are normally employees in this context. It does not matter if they are technically independent contractors, owner-operators, or unpaid volunteers. The employer controls all these individuals, in terms of things like work hours and route traveled.
- Scope of Employment: Somewhat similarly, any act which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. That could include driving an empty bus back to the garage.
Employer liability theories like respondeat superior are particularly important in catastrophic injury claims. Frequently, individual tortfeasors (negligent drivers) do not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation for things like serious spine injuries.
If the tortfeasor worked for a government agency, the claims might be procedurally different, because of Florida’s limited sovereign immunity doctrine.
Fault v. Liability
Many people assume that fault for the accident and liability for damages are the same thing. But in many cases, these items are completely different.
Wrong-way crashes are a good example. In the above story, an insurance company would probably fault the wrong-way driver. But if the case went to court, the last clear chance doctrine might come into play.
As mentioned, common carriers have a higher duty of care. That duty requires them to avoid accidents if at all possible. So, if the Palm Tran Connection driver saw the other car cross the median and the PTC driver did nothing to avoid the crash, the PTC driver could be responsible for damages.
That would mean that the county is vicariously liable for damages, which could help victims obtain fair compensation for their injuries.
Florida has a no-fault insurance law which limits damages in some cases. In fender-bender wrecks which only involve property damage, victims are usually only entitled to economic losses, such as lost wages and medical expenses.
However, if the victim sustained a serious injury, additional compensation is usually available. Florida law defines a serious injury as:
- Permanent and significant loss of an important body function.
- Significant disfigurement or scarring, or
- Any permanent injury.
As a rule of thumb, if the vehicle was not drivable after the accident, the wreck probably involved a serious injury.
The additional compensation includes money for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment in life, emotional distress, loss of consortium (companionship), and other noneconomic losses.
Connect with an Aggressive Lawyer
Wrong-way crashes, especially those involving commercial vehicles, are often incredibly complex. For a free consultation with an experienced Port St. Lucie personal injury lawyer, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Home and hospital visits are available.