Deadly Left-Turn Crash Near Fairgrounds
Although the issues seem clear-cut, legal responsibility is uncertain in a wreck which killed a 56-year-old Tampa man.
According to police and witnesses, 60-year-old James Martin had the green light as he approached the intersection of Orient Road and State Road 547. As he tried to turn left from Orient onto 547, Steve Aguilar ran the red light and smashed into Martin’s vehicle and trailer. Aguilar was seriously injured and rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was subsequently pronounced dead.
Investigators noted that Aguilar was not wearing a seatbelt.
The Last Clear Chance Doctrine
In the court of public opinion, drivers who run stoplights, turn illegally, and commit other flagrant traffic violations are almost always responsible for an ensuing crash. But a court of law is different, largely because of the last clear chance doctrine. That’s why injured persons should always consult a Tampa personal injury attorney to learn more about their legal and financial rights, no matter who received, or did not receive, a ticket.
The last clear chance defense often comes up in right-of-way crashes, such as left turn and rear-end collisions. All drivers have a duty of reasonable care. Another driver’s traffic violation does not change this duty. This responsibility includes a duty to avoid crashes when possible. That’s the core of the last clear chance rule.
Left-turn crashes, like the one described above, are a good illustration. If Driver A saw Driver B coming, Driver A could be responsible for a crash, even though Driver A did nothing wrong. Evidence on this point includes:
- Environmental conditions,
- Road grade,
- Amount of traffic,
- Eyewitness testimony, specifically testimony about the distance between the two vehicles prior to the crash, and
- Vehicle steering angle.
That last item usually comes from a vehicle’s Event Data Recorder. This gadget, which is connected to the drivetrain, also records vehicle speed, brake application, and other car crash metrics.
In court, the victim/plaintiff must establish facts by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Since that’s the lowest standard of proof in Florida, a little evidence goes a long way. So, even complex doctrines like last clear chance are not impossible to prove.
The Seatbelt Defense
This defense is much the same. About two dozen states, including Florida, allow the seatbelt defense, at least for limited purposes. Wearing a seatbelt is probably the simplest and most effective vehicle safety measure. But the failure to wear a seatbelt does not preclude the ability to obtain compensation.
First, the insurance company must prove that the seatbelt was in good, working order. Manufacturers routinely recall large numbers of vehicles because of seatbelt defects. Only some of these vehicles are properly repaired. For example, Volkswagen recalled millions of vehicles in 2018 because of a seat belt defect. Tens of thousands of these cars are still on the road. Some of them have only temporary fixes which might or might not work. Some have no fixes at all.
Furthermore, constant wear and tear degrades things like belt elasticity and buckle capacity. It’s reasonable to assume that older vehicles have at least one such problem, especially if there is any relevant repair history.
Next, the insurance company must prove that the victim was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. Evidence on this point is usually straightforward. However, the stress of an accident sometimes causes buckles to give way, especially if they are already compromised.
Finally, the failure to wear a seatbelt must have proximately caused the victim’s injuries. That’s not always the case. Head injuries are a good example. Frequently car crash motion causes a head injury, as opposed to trauma. In a collision, the victim’s head often violently snaps forward and backward. As a result, the brain repeatedly slams against the inside of the skull.
Connect with Assertive Lawyers
Even seemingly straightforward car wreck claims are often rather complex, expensive, and time-consuming. For a free consultation with an experienced Tampa car accident lawyer, connect with The Matassini Law Firm. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.