Drunk Driver Kills Tampa Woman
A woman is dead, and a man is in jail, following an alcohol-related wreck on MLK Boulevard.
The wreck occurred on Martin Luther King near the Interstate 75 interchange. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the 21-year-old driver was intoxicated and speeding when he smacked into a pickup truck which was making a legal turn. The force of the collision hurled the vehicle into a guardrail. Neither driver was seriously injured, but the car’s passenger was declared dead at the scene.
She was not wearing a seatbelt, according to investigators.
Passenger Injury Claims
These claims usually involve some unique emotional and legal issues. A good Tampa personal injury attorney should be prepared to deal with both.
Normally, the passenger knows the driver. In fact, the relationship is typically very close. For this reason, some injured passengers hesitate to pursue claims against negligent drivers.
However, a negligence claim does not “blame” anyone for the accident. Instead, negligence claims hold people responsible for the mistakes they make. If we all lived by that principle, our community would probably be a better place.
Additionally, insured drivers are not financially responsible for damages in these cases. The insurance company has a duty to defend the claim in court and a duty to pay the settlement or judgement amount. The individual is only financially responsible to the extent that the insurance company raises his/her rates. And, that would have happened anyway, legal claim or no legal claim.
Legally, passenger injuries often involve the assumption of the risk defense. This doctrine, which often applies in falls or other premises liability claims, excuses negligence if the victim:
- Voluntarily assumed
- A known risk.
Most people voluntarily get into most cars. However, the second prong of this doctrine is another matter.
Unless the victim witnesses the tortfeasor driving erratically before the wreck, the risk of a crash was only theoretical. That’s true even if the tortfeasor had been drinking. Lots of people drive while intoxicated and they do not cause crashes.
As for general liability in alcohol-related crashes, victim/plaintiffs can normally use direct or circumstantial evidence to obtain compensation. If the tortfeasor was arrested for DUI, the tortfeasor could be liable for damages as a matter of law. Circumstantial evidence of impairment includes erratic driving before the crash as well as physical symptoms, such as bloodshot eyes, odor of alcohol, and statements made about alcohol consumption.
The burden of proof in civil cases is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, a little proof goes a long way.
The Seatbelt Defense in Florida
All states except New Hampshire have mandatory seatbelt laws. But most states separate civil from criminal law in this area. Seatbelt non-use is generally inadmissible in personal injury claims. The Sunshine State is one of the exceptions.
In Florida, seatbelt non-use is evidence of contributory negligence. But to effectively use this defense, insurance company lawyers must do more than cite safety statistics. They must prove that the victim did not use a working seatbelt and that non-use, as opposed to the tortfeasor’s negligence, substantially caused the victim’s injuries. These things are difficult to prove in court.
Additionally, Florida is a pure comparative fault state. So, even if the failure to use a seatbelt caused 99 percent of the victim’s injuries, the tortfeasor is still liable for a proportionate share of damages.
These damages normally include compensation for medical bills and other economic losses, as well as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other noneconomic losses.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
Drunk drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Tampa car accident lawyer, contact Mark H. Wright, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.