According to a recent survey, a stretch of Interstate 95 that runs through Florida is the most dangerous highway in the country. The list of fatal car wrecks that have occurred since 2020 is too long to reprint in this blog. The important takeaway is that a combination of road structures and driver negligence, mostly driver negligence, caused these wrecks.
Construction began on the Florida portion of I-95 in the late 1950s. Back then, fewer than 5 million people lived in the Sunshine State. Today, there are over 20 million Floridians. I-95 has been upgraded over the years, as have the other state highways, U.S. highways and surface streets in the state. However, the basic design remains the same. These designs simply cannot handle the increased traffic.
Decades-old road designs aren't the only problem. They're not even the main problem. Road structures and other non-driver-created hazards cause only about 2% of the crashes in Florida. Driver error, in most cases driver negligence, causes the other 98%. If the driver’s error was negligence, a Florida accident lawyer can help the victim win a large payment in court.
Group health insurance companies usually refuse to pay accident-related costs. As a result, victims need this payment to pay medical and other bills. They also deserve this payment. A serious injury usually means long-term pain and suffering, not only for victims but also for their friends and family members. Money doesn’t erase this stress. Nothing can do that. However, monetary compensations are the next best thing.
This key concept of a negligence case, that car crash victims legally deserve fair payment for their serious injuries, is the same in all areas. It was around almost 100 years before cars were invented. In 1842’s Davies v. Mann, a man let his donkey graze on the roadside. A few minutes later, a wagon came down the hill fast and ran against it, knocking it over. A jury concluded that "the accident might have been avoided by the exercise of ordinary care on the part of the driver.”
This case didn't just introduce the concept of reasonable care for drivers. It also introduced contributory negligence, an important idea in negligence law that we’ll discuss below.
Although the basic concepts are the same in all states, specific laws vary greatly. A Florida accident attorney must be keenly aware of these legal details to get maximum payment for crash victims.
Common driving errors, especially in the post-COVID world, include speeding and driving while under the influence of alcohol. During pandemic lockdowns, these errors increased, and even more so with few or no cops around to enforce traffic laws. In many cases, the errors continued after COVID-19 lockdowns ended.
Usually, such errors are seen as negligence, or a lack of reasonable care, as outlined in Davies v. Mann. In Florida, a negligence case has four basic elements: duty, breach, cause and damages.
The duty of reasonable care, which began in Davies and continues to this day, is a bit like the Golden Rule. As a reminder, that rule is do unto others as you would have them do unto you.This duty requires drivers to avoid wrecks if they can and to always drive defensively.
This legal responsibility applies to regular drivers. Uber drivers, taxi drivers, truck drivers and other commercial drivers in Florida have a higher duty of care. This duty, which Florida accident attorneys call a duty of utmost care, is proactive instead of reactive.
For instance, if Mike is driving to work and it starts raining, the duty of reasonable care requires Mike to slow down and be more careful. If Mike is driving for Uber and it starts raining, Mike should pull over until the rain stops, or at least until it stops raining hard.
Most driving errors are a breach of duty, but not all of them. A breach means the driver’s actions were below the standard of care.
Let's say Raphael has a sip of wine during a religious ceremony. If he drives home, he’s technically driving under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol’s impairing effects begin at the first drink. If Raphael is under 21, it’s also illegal for him to drive in the Sunshine State. According to most jurors, though, Raphael likely didn’t breach his duty of care, especially if he wasn't driving for a business. If he was a commercial driver, it might be a closer case due to Florida's higher duty of care.
If you challenge a speeding ticket in court, the speed limit is a legal question, and the driver’s speed is a fact question. In a negligence claim, cause, which is a connection between breach and damages, is a legal question and a fact question.
Cause is about foreseeability, a Legalese word that basically means possibility. It must be clear that the injuries were a logical result of the negligent driver's actions. If Sam hits Diane's car, spins out of control and hits a second vehicle, the crash with the second car was possible, but not likely. In the second crash, the victim couldn't sue Sam for negligence. If Diane’s ambulance is in a crash and she suffers further injuries, Sam isn’t legally responsible for them. Even though Diane was in the ambulance because of the earlier crash, an ambulance crash isn’t a foreseeable result of the crash that Sam caused.
Florida accident attorneys often refer to factual causation as the but-for cause. Assume the road was wet when Sam hit another car. The damp road contributed to the accident, but it didn’t cause the crash. Plenty of other people drove on the same wet road, and they didn’t crash. The wreck wouldn’t have occurred "but for" Sam’s negligence.
This final element is damages.
Near-miss accidents can be scary, but aren’t negligent. The victims are not physically hurt.
This element has some unique aspects in the Sunshine State. Florida has a no-fault insurance law. Car crash victims cannot file negligence claims unless they sustain serious injuries. Florida law defines a serious injury as:
Payment in a crash case usually includes money for economic losses, such as lost wages, and noneconomic losses, such as loss of enjoyment in life. We’ll talk about payment in detail below.
Courts in all 50 states honor the "negligence per se" concept. Drivers can be required to pay under the law if they break a safety law in a way that causes, rather than contributes to, injuries.
The negligence per se rule works differently in Florida. If the negligent driver broke a non-penal law, like a traffic law, negligence per se is assumed.
Let's say Rick was speeding when he caused a crash, and the police gave him a speeding ticket. That ticket, by itself, is not enough for maximum payment. A Florida accident attorney must show more proof of negligence.
Often, a vehicle’s Event Data Recorder (EDR) provides this proof. Vehicle EDRs are a lot like the "black box" in an airplane. If the EDR proves that Rick was going 20 mph over the limit at the time of the wreck, Rick was clearly negligent.
As a side note, negligence per se applies only if the police gave one driver, and not the other, a ticket.
Safety laws are also different in different states. The cell phone law is a good example. Unlike most other states, Florida only has a partial hand-held ban. It only applies in construction and school zones. If using a device caused a wreck outside one of these areas, the ordinary negligence rule applies. Police couldn’t give the driver a ticket if they wanted to.
Most of us know a little about how court works, at least from TV and movies. One side presents its case. Then, the other side has the same chance. Common defenses in negligence claims include comparative fault, which we teased above, and the seat belt defense. Florida’s laws in these areas are unique.
In Davies, both parties were partly at fault. The donkey’s owner shouldn’t have let it rest on the side of the road, and the wagon driver should have driven with more care. If that case happened in today’s Florida, the jury would divide fault between the two sides.
Florida is a pure comparative fault state. If a jury decides, based on the facts, that a victim was 99% at fault for a wreck, the other driver or their insurance company must pay damages based on their amount of fault.
That fact raises an important point. If you were hurt in an accident, always ask a Florida accident attorney to review your case. Even if an insurance adjuster or the police said the wreck was your fault, you don’t know how much money you might get until you ask.
The seat belt defense is a little like comparative fault. In Florida, if the victim wasn’t wearing a seat belt, the insurance company can legally blame the victim for their own injuries. This rule is different in most other states. Usually, seat belt use or non-use does not matter in injury cases. This same rule applies to motorcycle crash victims who weren’t wearing helmets.
This rule is subject to the caused/contributed to analysis that we discussed earlier. If Adam wasn’t wearing a motorcycle helmet and sustained a head injury, the other driver’s negligence likely caused his injury. The motion of a fall off a bike, and not the impact, usually causes a head injury. So, Adam likely would have suffered a head injury with or without a helmet.
Politicians make negligence laws in Florida and other states. Politics plays an even bigger role in the number of damages in a car crash case.
Many states limit the number of damages in negligence claims, but Florida isn’t one of them. In the Sunshine State, a jury, and only a jury, decides how much payment a victim should get.
This rule applies to compensatory damages, which we mentioned above, and punitive damages. These extra damages may be required if there is clear evidence that a negligent driver meant to ignore a known risk. Still, they aren’t common in car wreck cases.
If Bill buys a pair of shoes during a sale, there’s a difference between the sticker price and the price he pays. It’s the same in Florida’s complex collateral source rule. This rule applies if an outside (collateral) source pays some or all of the victim’s crash-related bills.
This rule could come up if a health insurance company pays part of a medical bill. Suppose Mary was hurt in a car crash, and her medical bills were $100,000. Mary’s healthcare plan paid half the bill. When Mary’s car wreck claim went to court, her economic losses were $100,000, not $50,000. The other driver’s insurance company shouldn’t get a big payment just because Mary had insurance.
This rule could also come up if a Florida accident lawyer works out a deal with a provider to reduce the bill. Florida’s collateral source rule is different in these cases. If Mary’s lawyer reduced her hospital bill to $50,000, her legal damages are also $50,000, not $100,000.
Most states, including Florida, have a dram shop law. These laws hold commercial alcohol providers, like bars and restaurants, indirectly responsible for alcohol-related car crash damages. Florida’s law is different from most. It requires the victim to prove the provider knew the driver at fault was habitually addicted to alcohol but served the person alcohol anyway.
Physical signs of intoxication, like slurred speech, usually aren’t enough to invoke this law. Prior alcohol purchases at that place and statements the person made to employees are the strongest evidence on this point.
There’s a lot of Legalese in the phrase imputed contributory negligence (ICN), so before we discuss the state's laws in this area, let’s break it down.
ICN laws usually involve non-owner drivers, like a child who borrows a parent’s car or a person who rents a U-Haul. The legal concept involved here is negligent entrustment: an owner lets an incompetent driver borrow a vehicle, and this driver causes a crash.
Some states have wide ICN laws. So, in the above examples, crash victims can usually sue the parent or the company. That’s good for victims. Most children are uninsured, and most vehicle lessees are underinsured. Almost everyone turns down extra insurance when they rent a vehicle.
Florida has a middle-of-the-road ICN law. If a Florida accident lawyer proves a parent knew a child used a family vehicle, the parent is strictly liable for resulting car crash damages. There’s no need to prove ordinary negligence or negligence per se. Commercial negligent entrustment cases are subject to the federal Graves Amendment, which sharply limits them.
Florida is a home rule state, which means cities and counties have some freedom to make their own negligence rules. Usually, though, the biggest differences aren't in the laws themselves. There’s a big difference between courts in Miami-Dade County (the largest county by population in Florida) and those in Liberty County (the smallest).
Increased accidents with people on foot and on motorcycles propelled a 17% increase in fatal crashes in 2021. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office hopes training, enforcement and education together will reduce the number of such crashes.
Legal claims have some unique challenges in Duval County. Many courtrooms haven’t been updated much in many years. Therefore, presenting certain kinds of electronic evidence, like EDR data, could be a problem. A Florida accident attorney must be able to overcome such issues.
During 2020, mostly because tourism decreased that year, the number of fatal crashes in Miami-Dade County didn’t increase as much as the number of wrecks statewide. But there’s not much to brag about. The figure still increased by far.
Tourism car crashes usually involve venue issues. Legally, victims may file actions in the county where the accident happened or the county where they live. Either choice has some pros and cons, which a Florida accident attorney should review with a victim early on.
According to a 2021 report, Tampa is the fourth most dangerous city in the country in terms of the number of traffic accidents. The city also ranked at or near the top in other data, such as DUIs and speeding tickets.
Mostly because it’s a mid-sized urban area, the jurors in Hillsborough County often side with car crash victims. The city is big enough to see more than its share of crashes, as mentioned above. Yet the city is small enough that most jurors usually know a crash victim.
Since 2017, the number of fatal car crashes in this city has increased a lot. When these claims go to court, jurors often don't have much sympathy. Large corporations are the major employers in Orlando, and their workers often identify more closely with insurance companies than crash victims. As a result, a Florida accident attorney must work extra hard to get the best possible payment in these cases.
Pinnelas County, which includes Clearwater and St. Petersburg, has the highest car crash death rate in the state. Considering the high number of fatal wrecks in Florida, that's saying a lot.
Injury claims in the Tampa Bay area, which includes longtime rivals Tampa and St. Petersburg, often have venue issues as well. Often, people live in one county and work in another one. Once again, trying the case in either the county where the wreck happened or the county of residence has some pros and cons.
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