St. Lucie County Car Crash Kills Three
A trio of Indian River State College are dead after a tortfeasor (negligent driver) driver lost control of his vehicle and slammed into a pair of palm trees.
According to family members, the three twenty-somethings were on their way home from a Stewart bar when the driver ran off the road. The crash killed the driver and one passenger almost instantly. First responders rushed a third passenger to a nearby hospital, where he was later declared dead.
Investigators are still examining the crash to determine a cause.
First Party Liability in Florida Car Crash Cases
Drunk drivers cause about a third of the fatal vehicle collisions in Port St. Lucie. If the tortfeasor dies in the accident, there’s obviously no way that authorities can charge the driver with DUI. Fortunately, victims in these crashes can use circumstantial evidence to establish impairment. This evidence includes:
- Erratic driving,
- Odor of alcohol, and
- Point of departure (e. was the tortfeasor coming from a place where alcohol is available).
Impairment begins with the first drink, so evidence of alcohol consumption is tantamount to evidence of driving impairment. The victim/plaintiff must establish impairment by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
If the tortfeasor was charged with DUI, the negligence per se shortcut is usually available, even if the tortfeasor got off on a technicality or pleaded guilty to a lesser offense. This rule applies if the tortfeasor:
- Violated a safety law, and
- The infraction substantially caused the victim/plaintiff’s damages.
In most cases, negligence per se is absolute proof of liability as a matter of law, unless the tortfeasor had a valid excuse for breaking the safety law.
Third Party Liability in Florida Alcohol-Related Crashes
Vicarious liability is especially important in wrongful death and other catastrophic injury cases. Sometimes, the tortfeasor does not have enough insurance coverage to fully compensate the victim/plaintiff in these cases.
Many states have scaled back their dram shop laws or even eliminated them altogether. But Section 768.125 of the Florida Statutes provides that bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and other commercial providers are liable for damages if their impaired customers cause car crashes. If the tortfeasor was over 21, the following rules apply:
- Habitual Addiction: The provider must know that the tortfeasor was “habitually addicted” to alcohol. Evidence on this point could include statements that the tortfeasor made to a bartender or prior credit card purchases at that establishment.
- Foreseeable Consequence: Even if the tortfeasor bought packaged alcohol at a grocery store, it is foreseeable that s/he might consume some on the way home, so liability attaches.
If the tortfeasor was under 21, the alcohol provider is usually liable for damages as a matter of law.
The Assumption of the Risk Defense in Florida Car Wreck Cases
Insurance companies often invoke this defense if the victim was a passenger in an intoxicated tortfeasor’s vehicle. This doctrine applies if the tortfeasor:
- Voluntarily assumed
- A known risk.
The victim assumes a theoretical risk simply by getting in the car with a drunk driver, because these drivers statistically cause more crashes than sober ones. But a victim only assumes a known risk if s/he sees the tortfeasor driving erratically or there is other clearly visible evidence of substantial impairment.
Team Up with Aggressive Lawyers
Alcohol-related crash victims are often entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. today, because you have a limited amount of time to act.