In recovering damages for injuries or deaths resulting from an auto accident, details regarding the cause of the crash are going to be critical to determining not only the eligible amount of financial compensation, but whether it can be sought at all.
Our Tampa car accident lawyers recognize that an injured party’s degree of fault can lessen the total amount he or she is entitled to collect. Because Florida follows a pure contributory negligence model of recovery, no amount of plaintiff fault will completely bar a plaintiff from pursuing damages. However, there are some cases when the degree of plaintiff fault could render such actions effectively worthless.
It’s important to weigh the potential outcomes carefully with your attorney before deciding whether and how to proceed.
In the recent case of Carman v. Tinkes, et al., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled the high degree of fault by the plaintiff – even assuming it was proven the defendant was engaging in a traffic violation at the time of the wreck – precluded the claim from progressing. The case arose out of Indiana, which follows a modified comparative fault model. By this theory, plaintiffs who hold up to 49 percent of the fault are entitled to damages. However, if the court decides the plaintiff holds more than half of the responsibility for the incident resulting in injury, the claim will be barred.
While a case may not have the same outcome in Florida, given our more liberal approach to tort law, it’s still worth carefully considering whether such a claim should be brought in the first place.
According to court records, the undisputed evidence indicates that early one April morning, while it was still dark outside, a driver was traveling “quickly” on the highway without his headlights on. As he approached a red light at an intersection, witnesses would later say, he failed to stop or slow down. In doing so, he struck the right rear corner of a commercial pickup truck driven by one of the defendants. The truck did have its lights on.
The impact of the crash was tragic, resulting in the death of the car driver.
What was disputed later, when the car driver’s family filed suit against the trucker and his employer, was what action the truck driver was taking at the time of the crash. One witness testified the truck was fully stopped and completely within the left turn lane. However, another witness said the truck was partially in the middle lane, but was pulling into the left turn lane in front of another vehicle.
If the second version of events were true, the truck driver would have been committing a traffic violation (illegally passing on the right). However, the appellate court determined this issue was irrelevant because there was no indication that the violation served in any contributory way to the subsequent crash.
Plaintiffs argued two theories of negligence. The first, because the trucker was violating a traffic law at the time of the crash, he was per se negligent, which means he would be at least partially at fault for the death of the car driver. The second is that a metal bumper on the back of the commercial truck was installed after-market and created a hazardous condition that made an already serious crash fatal.
The appellate court rejected these arguments. The court found that violation of a statute does not necessarily make a driver liable for injury to another person unless the injury was in some way a result of the violation. In this case, there was nothing to suggest that but-for the actions of the truck driver or the existence of his bumper, the crash would not have occurred or the car driver would not have died.
Therefore, the surviving family will not be allowed to continue with their claim.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident in Tampa, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Carman v. Tinkes, et al.,Aug. 7, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Boyles v. A&G Concrete Pools, Inc. – 4th DCA Affirms Accident Judgment, July 22, 2014, Tampa Car Accident Lawyer Blog