Dual Fatal Crash Highlights Common Contributory Negligence Issues
While it is certain that a Lake Hamilton wreck killed two people, legal responsibility for the crash and subsequent injuries is much less clear.
The wreck occurred on northbound U.S. 27 near Kokomo Road. A 20-year-old man of Winter Haven, collided with a 40-year-old man of Cumming. The younger driver was driving a 2008 Mazda and the other driver was operating a 2004 Dodge Durango. The SUV careened off the road and into a ditch. Two rear-seat passengers were ejected from the vehicle. They died at the scene.
The deceased victims were not wearing seat belts, according to law enforcement.
Contributory Negligence and Last Clear Chance in Florida
Multiple fault is very common in Tampa car crash cases. For example, Valene Victim might be speeding at the same time that Tammy Tortfeasor (Negligent Driver) makes an illegal lane change. Some people think that Valene is ineligible for compensation in cases like this. But that’s not true, especially because Florida is a pure comparative fault state.
In cases like this, the judge usually first conducts a hearing to see if contributory negligence is even a possibility. If Valene was driving 31mph in a 30mph zone and Tammy swerved into the wrong lane, contributory negligence probably does not apply. Then, if the judge allows it, the jury must divide fault on a percentage basis based on the evidence.
That’s where the pure comparative fault rule comes into play. In most states, the tortfeasor must be at least 50 or 51 percent responsible for the victim to obtain a proportional share of damages. But in Florida in a few other states, the victim receives damages even if the tortfeasor is only 1 percent responsible. The judge always reduces the victim’s damages in proportion to the victim’s fault.
In some cases, contributory negligence flips liability instead of just reducing it. The last clear chance doctrine is one such example. If, in the above story, the Florida jury concludes that the 40-year-old man could have avoided the crash by changing lanes, honking his horn, slowing down, or taking some other action, yet he failed to do so, the 20-year-old is not liable for damages.
It’s important to note that the victim must have the last clear chance and not the last possible chance. There is often a very significant difference.
Contributory Negligence and Seat Belts in Tampa
Similarly, many people think they are not eligible for compensation in Florida if they were not wearing their seat belts. In 1996’s Ridley v. Safety Kleen, the Florida Supreme Court approved of the so-called seat belt defense. So, lack of use is relevant. However, there are some strings attached.
Tampa insurance defense lawyers cannot simply introduce safety statistics and expect the jury to reduce damages. Instead, these lawyers must usually call expert witnesses who testify that, if the victim had been wearing a seat belt, the victim’s injuries would have been reduced by such-and-such an amount.
Such testimony must be very compelling, because the defendant has the burden of proof on this point. Furthermore, there must be no other expert witness that effectively rebuts this testimony. If both these things don’t apply, the insurance company cannot invoke contributory negligence on this point.
Connect with Aggressive Lawyers
Crash victims who were partially at fault are still entitled to compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Tampa, contact The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. Home and hospital visits are available.