Proving Fault in an Accident

Establishing Liability in an Accident

Have you ever driven by an accident scene on the side of the road and wondered, “How did that happen and who is at fault?” Attorneys Allie Buckman and Nicholas Castellano have created a series of very common personal injury situations that answer the question: Whose Fault Is It?

Whose Fault Is It? – Car Accident Caused by a Dog

SITUATION: Alisha is driving down Constitution Blvd. when a dog runs out in front of her car. She slams on her brakes so she doesn’t hit the dog. Amiee is driving in a car behind Alisha and crashes into the back of her car. So who’s at fault?

ANSWER: Amiee is at fault. Drivers should anticipate having to stop suddenly at any point, and therefore they should always be driving at a safe distance behind the person in front of them.

Whose Fault Is It? – Tipsy Guest Trips Over Broken Steps

SITUATION: The front steps to Allie’s house are broken and in need of repair. Allie decides to invite some people over for food and drinks. Drake comes over and has a few too many drinks. As he is leaving Allie’s house, he trips on the broken stairs and breaks his shoulder. So who’s at fault?

ANSWER: Allie is at fault. Property owners have an ongoing duty to make sure they maintain their property to keep it in a reasonably safe condition.

So Whose Fault Is It? – Truck Blocks Driver’s View of Stoplight

SITUATION: Nick is driving behind a large truck on U.S. 41 at the Constitution Blvd. intersection. The large truck in front of him goes through the light, but the truck is so large that Nick can no longer see the color of the light. He follows the truck through the intersection, crashing into Amiee who has just entered the intersection from Constitution Blvd. Unbeknownst to Nick, the light had turned red after the truck went through the intersection. So who’s at fault?

ANSWER: Nick is at fault in this accident. If there is something obscuring a driver’s view of a traffic light, they have an obligation to stop and make sure the light is green before they move through the traffic light.

Recent Serious Car Accidents in the Sarasota Area

The following are summaries of news accounts regarding car accidents that happened in the Sarasota area in recent years. The items explore some of the liability issues that would likely arise in each case.

Pedestrian Killed on Siesta Key by Woman Driving Car Without a License

A 78-year-old pedestrian was killed in January 2014 when a car lurched out of a parking spot and hit her as she walked on Siesta Key. 78-year-old Carol Goodwin died at the scene of the accident, which happened in the 8700 block of Midnight Pass Road.

Troopers say Goodwin was walking on the sidewalk on the west side of Midnight Pass when the incident happened. The driver of the vehicle that hit her, 35-year-old Maria Fernandez, was stopped in a nearby parking lot, when for unknown reasons, she pressed the gas, launching the vehicle through bushes and onto the sidewalk, hitting Goodwin. The car continued across the road, eventually stopping when it reached the shoulder.

Troopers charged Fernandez with driving without a license causing death or serious bodily injury.

Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Carol Goodwin. Crashes like this one are especially tragic because they’re so unexpected and random in nature. What follows next can be a complicated process of determining who is liable for the wrongful death. When a driver involved in an accident doesn’t have a valid license, it’s likely they also don’t carry an auto insurance policy. If that’s the case, the next logical step is to find the owner of the car and see if they have an active insurance policy covering the vehicle involved in an accident. Pursing a wrongful death case in a situation like this can be challenging to investigate and litigate. That’s why surviving dependents should contact an experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorney to represent their interests as soon as possible to make sure no one is allowed to walk away from their liability.

Tuttle Avenue Crash: Car Hits Pedestrian Then Motorcycle Hits Car

A pedestrian accident caused a motorcycle accident on Tuttle Avenue in Sarasota Sunday in January 2012. It’s an example of how dangerous the roadways can be immediately after a crash and how complicated it makes the accident investigation.

According to reports in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Natalie Brush hit Joseph Stoudt with her car when he ran out in front of her on Tuttle. Tina Hawkins stopped her SUV when she saw the pedestrian hurt in the road. That’s when Terry Johnston swerved his motorcycle to avoid rear ending the SUV. Instead, he clipped the SUV and was hit by Gregory Meadows’ Pontiac. Both Stoudt, the pedestrian, and Johnston, the motorcyclist, were taken to area trauma centers with serious injuries.

Accidents like these get very complicated very quickly. It’s tough to determine who is at fault for what part of the accident. Florida uses something called comparative negligence which means more than one person can be responsible or cause an accident. It allows the law to assign a percentage of fault to the people involved. In comparative negligence claims, more than one insurance company can also be responsible for your injury claims.

If you were hurt in a multiple car accident that was partially your fault, you may still have a claim for compensation against one of the other parties in the accident. This is why an experienced personal injury lawyer is so essential in multiple car accident cases. An attorney can investigate the crash, interview witnesses, review the case, and make sure insurance companies treat your fairly.

8-Year-Old Child Killed, 4 Others Hurt in SR 70 Head On Crash

An 8 year old girl was killed in a tragic car crash on State Road 70 near Myakka in August 2013. Four others were seriously hurt, and helicopters flew all five people involved to trauma centers. According to FHP reports, Devin Gilmore and passenger Allison Gilmore were headed eastbound in their Chrysler Aspen when he lost control and went into the oncoming lane. Gilmore’s vehicle crashed head on into a Chevrolet Cavalier driven by Kevin Moore of Bradenton. Also in that car was 42 year old Melanie Prouix and an 8 year old little girl who was killed in the crash. Devin Gilmore faces a charge of Failure to Use Due Care.

What Does a Charge of ‘Failure to Use Due Care’ Mean?

According to a social media website, a family member of one of the accident victims posts that the crash was caused by “hydroplaning on a wet road.” If this is what happened, then the charges David Gilmore faces are not criminal; “failure to use due care” is a traffic infraction and is treated as a moving violation, even when the accident is deadly as in this case.

Florida traffic laws say that even if a driver isn’t going over the speed limit, they have a duty to decrease their speed if there’s any type of hazard present, like driving on a narrow road, going around a curve, or driving in bad weather or rain. In these situations, following the speed limit isn’t enough. Drivers are expected to compensate for the increased danger to continue driving safely.

How to Investigate an Accident With So Many Victims

Four accident victims are hurt and one little girl is dead. This is an extremely complex and tragic accident scene, and it requires a meticulous investigation, but not for the reasons you’d think. The FHP’s role is to figure out what happened and who to charge, if anyone. Your attorney’s job is to make sure the insurance company treats you fairly. Those are completely different types of investigations.

In a personal injury claim, each party can be assigned a degree of blame. The insurance company for Devin Gilmore could try to use the slippery road, or a defect in the road’s construction as a cause for the accident rather than the driver’s negligence. Deflecting blame is a tactic insurance adjusters use to reduce the amount of their liability. This is where a meticulous crash scene investigation becomes important. Your personal injury lawyer can present evidence based on skid marks, crush damage to the vehicles, the debris field, and even meteorological data to show who is responsible for their clients injuries and wrongful death.

Dog in Road Triggers 4-Car Accident in North Port

They say no good deed goes unpunished. According to reports in the North Port Sun, two drivers stopped their SUVs on US 41 near Warm Mineral Springs to help get a dog out of the busy road. Instead, their rescue attempt turned into a four-car pileup.

81-year-old George Powell and 50-year-old Terry Somes stopped their cars on US 41 to capture the dog. 54-year-old William Lehan and 52-year-old Cynthia Adams were driving in the same lane as the stopped cars but couldn’t brake in time or change lanes. Lehan’s Chevy truck crashed into Somes’s CRV, which spun it around and sent it crashing into Powell’s stopped Grand Cherokee. Then Adams crashed her Mitsubishi into the back of Lehan’s truck. Both Powell and Lehan were taken to area hospitals in serious condition. Somes was treated at the scene and Adams was not hurt. No word on what happened to the dog.

Multiple car accidents are always complicated, but it takes experienced investigation to put the pieces of a negligence case together. Add to this situation new laws that limit a victim’s Personal Injury Protection, and an accident victim who is hurt may not end up with ANY injury coverage at all.

Anytime you’re hurt in an accident, it’s important to get medical treatment for your injuries immediately. Even if you refuse treatment at the scene of the accident, a visit to your doctor within 24 hours is the best way to ensure your eligibility for the entire amount of Personal Injury Protection benefits that you pay for in your insurance premiums.

Driver Pulls In Front of Another Car on US 41 in Venice Causing a Crash

A car accident in Venice leaves a driver seriously injured. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 68-year-old Virginia Bonker was driving north on Tamiami Trail when the driver of another car pulled out in front of her. Troopers say the second driver, 79-year-old Marguerite Miller failed to yield the right of way before pulling off from a stop sign. Miller’s car hit the left side of Bonker’s truck, causing it to spin across the median and flip into a ditch near the entrance to the Jacaranda Crossings shopping center. Bonker was taken to Blake Medical Center with serious injuries. Troopers charged Miller with violation of a right of way from a stop.

Accidents like this one are fairly common. In fact, it’s one in a rash of recent crashes in Sarasota County in which one driver is charged with violation of right of way. But while this might seem like an open-and-shut case for the police who file charges, it could be much more complicated when it comes to the insurance investigation. That’s because an insurance investigation can assign degrees of responsibility in an accident. That’s why even in what may appear to be a clear case, it’s important to have your personal injury attorney investigate the crash.

Michael Hicks Dies in Motorcycle Crash on Bee Ridge and Tuttle in Sarasota

A Sarasota motorcyclist was killed in a crash at the intersection of Bee Ridge Road and Swift Road in June 2013. According to the FHP report, 26-year-old Michael Hicks was driving his motorcycle north on Swift Road on the inside lane. James McFarland was driving his Dodge Dakota in the opposite direction, in the left turn lane. Witnesses told FHP that Hicks went through the intersection as the light was turning red. That’s when his motorcycle struck the right side of the Dodge. Hicks was airlifted to a hospital but he died from his injuries. No charges are pending at this time.

How Reliable Are Eyewitnesses in a Crash?

The FHP report relies partly on eyewitness statements saying Michael Hicks ran through a red light at an intersection. Eyewitnesses are notoriously bad at remembering and reporting information accurately. They tend to piece things together in a way that helps them make sense of what happened rather than as a sequence of events. Anxiety and stress can also transform what a witness thinks they may have seen from what may have actually happened. Just because a witness says he or she saw Michael Hicks drive through the intersection doesn’t mean that’s actually how it happened. Only an independent investigation by experts in traffic accidents can determine what really happened.

No Charges Filed, So Who’s at Fault?

The FHP report in the accident above cites that no charges were filed; possibly because the investigating officer believed motorcyclist Michael Hicks was at fault. That’s also probably the perspective the insurance company will take when Michael Hick’s family asks about wrongful death compensation. In a case like this, the accident report is not the final verdict. There is a huge difference between a police accident investigation and an insurance investigation. FHP’s job is to determine in black and white what happened based on the laws of the road. An insurance investigation places different amounts of responsibility on each of the drivers for their actions. It’s your lawyer’s job to represent Michael Hick’s estate against the insurance adjuster, not the Florida Highway Patrol.

Motorcyclist Hurt in Nokomis Hit and Run Accident

A weekend hit-and-run accident in Nokomis seriously injured a woman and left authorities looking for the driver of the car who hit her. 51-year-old Connie Davis of Venice was recovering in the hospital after crashing head-on into the side of a car that investigators say ran a stop sign. The crash happened in December 2013 at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Rubens Drive in the Sorrento East neighborhood. According to investigators with the Florida Highway Patrol, the driver of a Lincoln Continental drove westbound on Rubens Drive and failed to stop for the stop sign at U.S. 41. The car kept going right into Davis’ path, as she drove northbound on U.S. 41.

Her motorcycle crashed into the left side of the car, and she was thrown from the vehicle. Authorities continued looking for the suspect driver, who fled the scene on foot after the collision.

Personal Injury Protection Insurance: What Your Insurance Company May Not Tell You

If you can’t find the driver who hit and hurt you, you can file your claim with your own insurance company. You don’t have to wait until police track down the missing driver in order to get the compensation you need. Instead your own uninsured motorist (UM) coverage could pay some of the medical bills if you’re put out of work. Motorcyclists cannot elect to have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage on their insurance policies, so they have to rely on the uninsured motorist (UM) or bodily injury (BI) coverage. However, if you have a stacked car insurance policy for another vehicle in your household (maybe for your spouse), you can then get Personal Injury Protection from that policy. But again, it gets complicated, so having an attorney fight this fight for you is a good idea because the insurance company won’t tell you how to get the most compensation for your injuries.

Motorcyclists Hit in a Rear-End Crash on Fruitville Road in Sarasota

A set of motorcycle riders were hurt in February 2012 when a driver crashed into the back of one of them. According to FHP reports, bike drivers Danny Burch and Wayne Patterson were stopped in traffic just west of I-75. An Acura driven by Raisa Ross drove up from behind, did not stop in time, and hit the back of Burch’s motorcycle. That impact caused Burch’s cycle to hit Patterson’s motorcycle in what sounds like a domino effect. Bayflite took 60-year-old Burch to Blake Medical Center with serious injuries. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reports that FHP troopers cited Ross for careless driving.

The Difference Between Careless Driving and Negligence in a Rear-End Motorcycle Accident

Careless driving is one of the most common types of accident citations used by law enforcement officers in Florida in rear-end accidents. However, a careless driving citation does NOT automatically imply negligence or liability when the victims deal with insurance companies. This is where an accident lawyer is essential to your case if you were hurt in a motorcycle accident. An experienced motorcycle attorney can help prove that the other driver was liable or negligent in your crash. Otherwise, the other side’s insurance company may not compensate you fairly for your injuries based only on a careless driving ticket.

Multi-car Accident in Sarasota: How to Figure Out Who Is at Fault

In December 2011 in Sarasota, a multi-car accident involving five vehicles on Bee Ridge Road and Lockwood Ridge Road sent six people to the hospital. Local news reports say the driver of a Jeep Cherokee pulled out of a gas station and blocked lanes on Bee Ridge Road. Another driver in an SUV crashed into the Jeep and then veered into oncoming traffic and collided head-on into a pickup truck. One person was airlifted by Bayflite helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg because of severe injuries.

In every multiple car accident, there is usually a chain reaction of blame. Which driver started the accident? Were other drivers at fault or driving negligently? If you were rear ended and then crashed into the car in front of you, whose fault is that? What if your car got pushed into oncoming traffic in another lane? It’s so complicated and convoluted that there’s a ripple down of cause and effect and blame. To get a better idea of how confusing these crashes are, read the details of this Sarasota accident report from the Florida Highway Patrol:

“Vehicle-1 was stopped in the driveway of the Sunoco Gas Station located at 3190 SR-758 (Bee Ridge Road) facing north. Vehicle-2 was traveling eastbound on SR-758 (Bee Ridge Road) in the left lane.Vehicle-3 was traveling westbound on SR-758 approaching the intersection of Lockwood Ridge Road in the left lane. Vehicle-4 was traveling westbound on SR-758 approaching the intersection of Lockwood Ridge Road in the center lane. Vehicle-5 was traveling westbound on SR-758 approaching the intersection of Lockwood Ridge Road in the right lane. The driver of Vehicle-1, (D-1) proceeded to make a left turn onto SR-758 in at attempt to travel west and stopped in the left eastbound travel lane. The front of Vehicle-2 struck the right front of Vehicle-1. Due to the impact of the collision Vehicle-2 rotated counter clockwise traveling northeast in the westbound lanes of SR-758. The Driver of Vehicle-3 observed Vehicle-2 and took evasive action and swerved into the center westbound travel lane of SR-758. The right front of Vehicle-2 struck the front of Vehicle-3. Due to the impact of the collision the right front of Vehicle-3 struck the left front and side of Vehicle-4. The right front of Vehicle-4 struck the left front of Vehicle-5. Vehicle-4 then traveled northwest on SR-758. The right side of Vehicle-3 struck the left side of Vehicle-5. Vehicle-5 struck a pedestrian crossing sign with its right front. Before coming to final rest the front of Vehicle-4 struck the rear of Vehicle-3. The Driver of Vehicle-2, (D-2) was ejected onto the roadway of SR-758 and was transported by Bayflite to Blake Medical Center.”

Anyone involved in a multiple car accident like this one should hire an attorney immediately. Here are more reasons why:

  • A Traffic Ticket Can’t Be Used as Evidence in Court
    You can’t depend on a police report or a traffic ticket to prove that another driver caused your injury. Believe it or not, traffic citations issued by the police cannot be used as evidence in a civil trial. It is your lawyer’s job to determine who is at fault in a multi-car accident, not the police officer who was on the scene.
  • What the Insurance Company Doesn’t Want You to Know
    The other driver’s insurance company knows that you cannot use a traffic ticket to show blame in a civil court. The insurance company counts on the fact that you don’t know that information. That’s why you need an independent investigation of the accident. When you hire an accident attorney, that is the first thing they will do for your case. Again, don’t count on a police report or citation to make your case. It won’t work.
  • Other Accident Victims Can Sue You Even if It’s Not Your Fault
    You could be badly hurt because of someone else’s bad driving, but still end up getting sued by one of the other accident victims. This happens all the time in multiple-car accident cases. Again, that’s why you need an attorney who will conduct an independent investigation of the entire accident to show that you were not at fault.
  • Multi-car Crashes Cause More Serious Injuries
    When people get hurt in multiple-vehicle accidents the injuries are usually much more severe than in typical crashes. Forces from different sides of the car are involved and can lead to very intense impacts on your body. In a typical two-car accident, it’s clear who caused your injuries. Fault gets more complicated when there are three or more other drivers involved. That’s when it’s essential to hire a car accident attorney to help you fight back.

Sarasota Coach Dies, 22 Year Old Driver Hurt in US 41 Car Accident

A terrible car accident killed a well-known PE teacher and seriously hurt a 22 year old man. The crash happened in February 2013 on US 41 near the USF campus in Sarasota. FHP reports that 35-year-old Dan Giguere of Bradenton lost control of his car and drove into the path of oncoming traffic. That’s when Giguere’s Nissan slammed into 22-year-old Mijail Hurtado-Chavez’s Ford Ranger pickup truck as it was driving in the center lane. Giguere was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. The impact seriously injured Hurtado-Chavez, who was taken to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton.

What to Do When the at Fault Driver Dies in the Accident?

An accident like this one is just that, an accident. No one meant for these events to happen. It is a single moment in time when two people’s lives are now forever entwined in a tragedy. Family, friends and students will feel deep sadness over losing a mentor like Dan Giguere. Those who love and care for Mijail Hurtado-Chavez now begin the long process of helping him heal and recover. It’s understandable for Hurtado-Chavez to feel sadness about the circumstances of this accident, but it’s also important to protect himself by filing a claim with the insurance company immediately.

Filing a claim against the insurance company of the person who died in a crash in no way hurts that person’s family finances or their reputation. It simply protects Hurtado-Chavez’s future. There’s no reason to feel badly about making sure you are treated fairly by an insurance company. Remember, a personal injury claim against the insurance policy is not related to the FHP accident investigation. The two events are separate. Whatever caused Giguere to lose control is not the issue. Hurtado-Chavez’s family should now focus on making sure his medical bills are paid and recovering lost income from the time he’s spent out of work. That’s why responsible drivers like Giguere and Hurtado-Chavez carry auto insurance. It’s a policy that takes the risk away from the survivors and places the financial liability on the shoulders of the insurance company.

Three-Car Crash in Bradenton Injures Two People

Two people were seriously hurt in a three car pileup on US 301 near 15th Street East in Bradenton in April 2013.  FHP reports say that Aquilla McGuire Walker’s car got hit from behind and then pushed into the car in front of her, driven by Margaret Duffy of Sarasota. What happened, according to the report, is that Robert Henry of Bradenton didn’t slow down along with the traffic in front of him. That’s when he slammed into the back of Walker’s Chevrolet. Both Walker and Henry were taken to the hospital in serious condition. A 13-year-old passenger in Walker’s car was also hurt, but FHP reports they were minor injuries. Henry will be charged with careless driving in the multi-car crash.

Multi-car Accidents: Never a Clear Cut Case

This Bradenton car accident looks like an open-and-shut case, right? Maybe not. Once the insurance company gets involved, blame gets spread around. Anytime more than two cars are involved in a crash, the insurance companies will do their best to spread out liability among everyone involved, including the victims. Aquilla Walker appears to be the clear victim in this investigation, but the insurance carrier for Duffy’s car could try to place some of the accident damages on Walker, since it was her car that caused the damage to Duffy’s car. It seems completely unfair, especially since the only one facing charges is the man who FHP says caused the crash in the first place.  But that’s the point. A police investigation rarely has anything to do with an insurance investigation. The insurance adjusters look at an accident scene differently than the police do. And that’s why anyone hurt in a three-car crash needs a personal injury attorney to conduct an independent crash scene investigation.

Personal Injury Accident Investigations

When your lawyer looks at a car accident scene, they’re investigating to find evidence that can make YOUR case stronger when fighting a claims adjuster. The insurance company looks at these accidents as a statistical analysis of liability. Your personal injury attorney looks at how the accident impacted your life and your health and fights to make sure you are protected. The personal injury trial attorneys at Buckman and Buckman, P.A., believe the strongest representation is based on a strong investigation. They are experienced at digging up every piece of evidence to present in court to a judge or jury. The more work we do on the front end to create a strong case, the more likely the insurance company is to settle your accident case before it gets to court. In the end, we really just want to get you compensated at the highest amount possible for your injuries in the quickest amount of time.