The parents of a bicyclist killed in Palm Beach County have filed a personal injury lawsuit against a man they say struck and killed their son and then fled the scene of the crash.
The 29-year-old cyclist was allegedly struck by the 65-year-old driver, who was operating a vehicle owned by his wife. The driver was initially arrested on a felony charge of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, which carries a minimum mandatory penalty of four years in prison. However, as The Palm Beach Post reports, the criminal charges were dropped following the Florida Supreme Court decision in State v. Dorsett.
In the Dorsett case, a man driving a pickup truck was convicted for felony hit-and-run after he struck and seriously injured a 15-year-old skateboarder who had fallen in the crosswalk. It was raining at the time, and defendant testified he hadn’t seen the teen and didn’t know he’d struck anyone until he was pulled over by police several miles away. This was despite witness testimony he’d dragged the teen for some 90 feet. He was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, indicated his radio was on, windshield wipers were going and his air conditioning was blasting. The Florida Supreme Court ruled drivers in Florida cannot be prosecuted for leaving the scene of a crash unless there is proof they were aware they were actually in a crash. In Dorsett, there was no evidence of skid marks or damage to the truck, which would have indicated defendant felt the impact.
But none of this precludes victims and their families from pursuing compensation through the civil courts, which has a lower proof burden than in criminal cases. While criminal convictions can only be obtained when there is proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, liability in civil litigation can be established when negligence is proven by a preponderance of the evidence.
Similar to defendant in Dorsett, defendant in the Palm Beach County case said he did not realize he had struck anyone. He and his wife had dinner and drinks at a local restaurant and were on their way home when the crash happened. Defendant insisted he thought he’d hit a wild boar, as it is not unusual for them to cross the road at the location where the bicycle accident happened. He did concede that when he heard news of the crash, he later realized he had struck a person. However, he did not report the incident because he was afraid of the consequences.
The auto insurance company for defendant reportedly paid plaintiffs the $100,000 limits of the policy. But that doesn’t necessarily preclude them from pursuing civil action against the driver and his wife, the owner of the car. In Florida, vehicle owners may be responsible to compensate victims of those affected by the driver’s negligence through the doctrine of vicarious liability.
In addition to compensatory damages, plaintiffs are also seeking punitive damages against the driver, saying his actions in leaving the bicyclist to die on the roadside amounted to gross negligence and wanton, willful and reckless disregard for the life of another.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Charge dropped, but lawsuit filed against driver in bicyclist’s death, Nov. 18, 2015, By Jane Musgrave, Palm Beach Post
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