Articles Posted in Automobile Accidents

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Florida drivers are required to carry certain levels of auto insurance in order to legally drive on public roads. The idea behind this requirement is that when an accident happens, and the person who causes the accident is not able to financially cover the costs incurred by the victim, the insurance company will cover the accident victim’s costs. However, insurance companies are not always willing to cover all the costs associated with an accident, or they may deny a claim altogether. When this is the case, the accident victim is permitted to file a lawsuit against the insurance company, asking the court to require the insurance company to hold up its end of the bargain.

Damaged CarA Recent Example of the Difficulties of Dealing with an Insurance Company After an Accident

In a recent case, Etherton v. Owners Insurance Company, an appellate court upheld a $2.25 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff after his attempted negotiations with his own insurance company were fruitless. The award consisted of the requested amount of $750,000 for the plaintiff’s injuries, as well as $1.5 million for the insurance company’s failure to settle the claim in a timely manner.

The Facts of the Case

Etherton was involved in an accident with another motorist, who happened to have very low limits on his insurance policy. Etherton settled with the other motorist’s insurance company for $250,000, but since he sustained serious injuries that required three surgeries, he sought additional compensation through his own insurance company under the underinsured motorist provision of his insurance contract.

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Earlier this month, a Mississippi appellate court issued an interesting opinion discussing the limits on government immunity. In the case, Mississippi Transportation Commission v. Adams, the plaintiff was the estate of a man who was killed when he inadvertently rode his motorcycle into a construction zone and was involved in an accident. The court ultimately denied the government’s assertion of immunity, holding that the specific negligent act at issue was ministerial rather than discretionary.

Road LineThe Facts of the Case

Adams was riding his motorcycle on Interstate 10 when he accidentally entered a construction zone. As he tried to exit the construction zone safely, he struck an area where the pavement was not level, lost control, and was thrown from the motorcycle. After he fell off the bike, he was struck by at least two other passing vehicles. He died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

His estate filed a negligence lawsuit against the Transportation Commission, a government agency, claiming that the roadway was unnecessarily dangerous because the construction zone was not properly marked. One of the claims alleged that the white lines leading into the construction zone had not been covered up. The agency asserted its government immunity as a defense to the lawsuit.

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In a dramatic shift from prior decisions, the Supreme Court of Arkansas recently released its opinion regarding the admissibility of seat-belt use evidence in civil lawsuits. The court found that the code that restricts the admissibility of a person’s failure to wear a seat belt violates the Arkansas Constitution.

street-296220_960_720The case arose from a 2011 car accident. Evidently, the petitioner/plaintiff was a passenger of a car driven by the defendant, who fell asleep at the wheel and caused an accident. The passenger brought a suit against the defendant, alleging damages for the injuries she suffered. The passenger also claimed that the driver was acting within the scope and course of his employment when the accident occurred, and she added the employer as a defendant as well. Both defendants filed answers that included the fact that the passenger was not wearing a seat belt as an affirmative defense. The plaintiff argued that the evidence should not be included because it violated a state statute that prevented such evidence. In turn, the defendants challenged the constitutionality of the state statute that restricts the admissibility of seat belt use or non-use in civil actions. Ultimately, the statute was held unconstitutional.

Applicability of the “Seat Belt” Defense in Florida

In the above case, the defendants attempted to use the seat belt defense in order to lessen the amount of damages for which they were liable. This defense has often been incorporated into various comparative fault systems. A number of states do not address the seat belt defense. However, Florida is one of the 15 states that allow a seat belt non-use defense.

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As a general rule, when a party gets an adverse result after going to trial, they are stuck with it. However, there is a big exception to that general rule, and that is when a party can point to an error made by the trial court – either in substantive law or procedure – and ask a higher court to review the decision. This process is called an “appeal.”

abstract-219915_960_720A recent case involving a road-rage accident shows how the trial court may get the law wrong at trial, and how an appeal can help remedy any injustice that occurred as a result.

Phillips v. Stear:  Road Rage Taken Too Far

In the case of Phillips v. Stear, the plaintiff was a truck driver who was involved in an accident when he was cut off by the defendant. The testimony presented at trial showed that the defendant swerved in front of the plaintiff, flashed an obscene gesture, and then abruptly slammed on the brakes. As a result of the defendant’s vehicle coming to a sudden slow-down in front of him, the plaintiff applied the brakes in a hurried fashion, lost control of the truck, and got into an accident.

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Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion upholding a trial court’s ruling in favor of a plaintiff who filed a bad-faith claim against his insurance company after the insurance company initially refused to settle the plaintiff’s claim. In doing so, the court reversed the intermediate appellate court, which had held that the insurance company’s after-the-fact confession of judgment was binding against the plaintiff.

car-wrecked-845143_960_720Fridman v. Safeco Insurance Company of Illinois: The Facts

The accident giving rise to the case occurred in 2007, and involved the plaintiff and an underinsured motorist. Because the at-fault motorist was not adequately insured at the time of the accident, the plaintiff filed a claim with his own insurance company, under the “underinsured motorist” provision of the policy.

Initially, the insurance company failed to pay the claim. The plaintiff followed up, and by 2009 he had still not received a response. He then filed a bad-faith claim against the company pursuant to a state statute. The specific statute at issue allowed for an award to be issued in excess of the policy limit. However, the plaintiff still offered to settle the case for $50,000. The insurance company did not respond.

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wreck

Before a court can rule on the issues presented by a lawsuit, the court must first determine that it has jurisdiction over both the parties and the subject matter of the suit. If either is found lacking, the court does not have the power to adjudicate the case.

“Subject matter jurisdiction” refers to a court’s competence to hear a case in a particular category (regardless of the parties thereto), while “personal jurisdiction” means that the court has authority over a particular person or business.

In the recent case of Krisztian v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., the District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida for the Fourth District was called upon to determine whether the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County had personal jurisdiction over a defendant in a subrogation case arising from a car accident.

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calculator 2Generally speaking, civil courts in Florida follow what is referred to as the “American rule,” under which each party is responsible for his or her own attorney fees. There are, of course, certain exceptions to the rule. One of the most important exceptions for personal injury litigants is the Florida Settlement Rule.

Set forth in Florida R. Civ. Prov. 1.442 and Florida Statutes § 768.79, the rule allows a court to award attorney fees and costs in limited situations. Although the amount that a court may order under the rule is typically less than the amount that the litigant owes his or her attorney under the contract between them, it does help offset some of these fees.

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A femal doctor or nurse checking the blood pressure of a patientAfter an injured person has finished his or her medical treatment following a car accident, he or she may be asked to submit to further examination by a so-called “independent” medical examiner.

A recent appellate case explored the rules of discovery as they pertain to an injured person’s inquiry into how often a particular doctor sees patients at the request of the plaintiff’s insurance company or the law firm that represents the insurer.

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car crash2It is often said that there are two sides to every story. One of the reasons that we have jury trials is to determine which side is correct. The rules of evidence determine which evidence the jury gets to hear and which is excluded. The trial judgment makes these determinations based on motions filed by each party in a lawsuit. If a party is dissatisfied with the trial judge’s decision, he or she may appeal the decision to the court of appeals.

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coinsFlorida is what is known as a “pure comparative negligence” state. This means that a party’s recovery in a lawsuit can be reduced in proportion to the party’s own fault. This and other issues were discussed in a recent case handed down by the District Court of Appeal for the Fourth District of Florida.

In the case of Jones v. Alayon, the plaintiff was the daughter and personal representative of the estate of a man who had died in a car accident. In the accident, the man’s car was struck from behind, causing him to hit a guardrail, overturn his car, and be ejected. It was unclear whether the man was killed when he initially hit the pavement or when he was hit by other cars shortly thereafter. The defendant in the case was an off-duty policeman who fled the scene and told authorities that his car had been stolen. He later admitted that he had been dishonest and, at the time of trial, was in jail on charges pertaining to the accident.

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