In the days before she was involved in a fatal crash in South Florida, the 22-year-old woman sent a lot of text messages. They included coordinating plans to go to the beach with friends. One exchange centered on different hairstyles she was thinking of trying out. Another noted her desire to stay up late to watch a meteor shower.

abottle-300x225But those text messages also reveal another story. The woman was in the midst of a rocky break-up with her boyfriend. The two of them exchanged a number of angry text messages over the course of several days.

And then, on that fateful night in late summer 2013, they exchanged more than 60 messages. The last of those on which she hit “send” stated simply: “Driving drunk woo.. I’ll be dead thanks to you… Lata.”

That message proved prophetic.

Only she was not the one who died. Three minutes after she fired off that message, around 4:45 a.m., her 22-year-old passenger and friend was dead. The driver passed through a red light in the midst of a busy downtown after a night of club hopping. She slammed into a moving truck.

The truck driver was rendered briefly unconscious, though he did recover. But the 22-year-old passenger in the allegedly drunk driver’s vehicle was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver, whose blood-alcohol level registered at 0.178, sustained only minor abrasions.

The driver of the truck would later say that if the vehicle had been anything other than a small smart car, he would have likely been seriously injured.

Those text message exchanges were recently publicly disclosed as evidence in the criminal case against the driver, who is facing charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and DUI with damage to a person.

In addition to the criminal case, there is also a civil lawsuit pending. That claim was filed by surviving family members of the victim against not just the driver, but the vehicle sharing company that rented the car to the driver.

While the liability of the driver will likely be a straightforward matter, the case against the rental car company may be tougher to prove, due to the Graves Amendment. This federal law shields vehicle rental companies from liability for actions of their customers. The validity of this measure – even in light of Florida’s strict vehicle owner vicarious liability/dangerous instrumentality doctrine laws – was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court in 2011 and again in 2013.

However, this case will be an interesting challenge because the company model involves allowing drivers to rent vehicles from off the street from unattended locations. The company requires renters scan their license and render payment before taking the vehicle, but there is no requirement to undergo an alcohol breath test. That means drunk drivers can easily rent vehicles off the street.

Plaintiff attorneys say the company should install ignition interlock devices that will render the vehicle immobile if the driver is drunk. Such a move would be relatively inexpensive and would prevent individuals from operating rental vehicles while inebriated.

In any event, this case shows how uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage can be invaluable – even for passengers. Such coverage allows victims to collect from their own insurance company when the at-fault driver or other responsible parties either have no insurance coverage, lack adequate coverage, or may be somehow shielded from liability.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:
“Driving drunk… I’ll be dead thanks to you…” Prophetic texts reveal minutes before fatal Miami car crash, April 30, 2015, Miami Herald

More Blog Entries:
Evans v. McCabe – Dram Shop Liability in DUI Death, April 25, 2015, Fort Myers DUI Injury Lawyer Blog