Multi-car accidents raise important question about liability. Below, the injury lawyers at Heintz & Becker dig into the topic and discuss how an experienced lawyer can help.
Comparative Negligence in Florida
Anyone who owns a Florida-registered vehicle is aware of our state’s unique no-fault insurance system.
Among other coverages, drivers are required to carry a minimum of $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP), which becomes available to policyholders in the event of an accident—using this coverage, however, bars crash victims from suing the other driver.
Because PIP coverage is available through the policyholder’s own insurance, the claims process is streamlined and avoids the fault issue altogether.
While this works in many cases, there are times when injured victims can step outside the no-fault system; specifically, when injuries are severe. For example:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function;
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability;
- Significant and/or permanent designment or scarring; or
More importantly, in the event of a lawsuit, comparative fault effectively reduces a victim’s compensation total by a percentage equal to the victim’s fault in causing the accident.
For example, if an accident victim is found 40 percent responsible for the accident, the most he could receive would be 60 percent of whatever compensation total is ascribed.
Multi-car accidents may seem to pose a daunting fault issue, but every crash tells a story; it’s just that some stories identify negligence better than others.
If you’ve been injured in a multi-vehicle accident, call Heintz & Becker at 941-748-2916 for a FREE consultation.
The Rebuttable Presumption of Negligence
According to Florida statute, “The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent…” In other words, tailgating is prohibited by law.
Unless disputed, it’s generally assumed that a driver who rear-ends another vehicle is 100 percent responsible for the accident—in civil law, this is known as a rebuttable presumption, or, an assumption made by a court that is taken to be true unless someone comes forward to dispute it.
If you, for example, are rear-ended, it’s assumed that the driver who hit you is 100 percent at fault. But what if you hit the car in front of you as well? Are you responsible for rear-ending the car in front of you?
It’s reasonable for a jury or judge to conclude that the driver in the middle is not at fault for hitting the car in front; but it’s also possible that you could have practiced more caution by leaving greater space between your vehicle and the car in front of you.
If an accident warrants litigation, courts will look at the totality of evidence and assign fault accordingly. In a multi-car collision, this could result in victims accepting partial blame for the accident or accidents that occurred in chain reaction to the primary event.
There are several ways to reconstruct an accident. Surveillance footage may be available, witnesses testimony is often used; even skid marks tell a story.
Were any of the drivers distracted? Were any of the drivers intoxicated? What were the road conditions like?
These questions and more help identify liability; however, there are defense strategies to combat these points, and a skilled attorney will now how best to use them.
For example, someone may have caused your accident, but Florida’s comparative negligence doctrine may prove that your own actions made the injuries worse. Or, if you rear-end someone, unless you contest the state’s assumption of fault, you’ll get 100 percent of the blame.
Every multi-vehicle accident is different. In some cases, one driver may be held liable; in another case, every vehicle involved may share some portion of fault.
Regardless of how many vehicles are involved, contacting an experienced injury lawyer is the best thing you can do for yourself—their role in your recovery can make all the difference in the outcome of your claim.