Wrongful Death Accidents in Florida: Who Is At Fault If I Lend My Car?

The tragically sad wrongful death of a young Devon Leigh Richbell occurred when the drivers of two cars attempted to pass a tractor trailer on a two-lane road in Florida. We extend our condolences to the Richbells for their loss.

Our Miami personal injury lawyers did not represent the Richbell family; however, according to the court’s records, the cars started their attempted pass in a legal passing zone, but were unable to completely overtake the tractor trailer before entering a no-passing zone. While aborting the pass, the cars encountered another vehicle that had stopped and was attempting to make a left turn. The first driver, Ms. Richbell, managed to stop, but she was rear-ended by the second vehicle and forced into oncoming traffic and a head-on collision with an oncoming truck. It is undisputed that the second vehicle was not driven by its owner, but rather that the owner had “lent” it to the driver at the time of the accident and was asleep in the passenger seat.

Jury Verdict on Florida Car Accident Case

Ms. Richbell died as a result of the impact, and her parents sued the driver and owner of the car that rear-ended her and the driver and owner of the truck and trailer that ultimately collided with her. The legal theory against the truck driver in the second collision is that he negligently failed to avoid the accident, part because of his age and physical condition, which the plaintiffs alleged caused him to react more slowly. This allegation was based upon the opinion of an accident-reconstruction expert, without having reviewed the truck driver’s medical records.

However, before trial, the truck driver’s medical records were produced, and his primary treating doctors were deposed–over the truck driver’s objection. The parents also sought to have the truck driver physically examined by their own medical doctor, but the court would not permit it.   Instead, at trial the plaintiffs proffered, outside the presence of the jury, that the truck driver suffered from dementia that caused his poor reaction times and limited perception.

The jury found the driver of the car that rear-ended the daughter’s 60% at fault and apportioned no negligence on the part of the truck driver–awarding the Richbells $1,250,000 in damages.

The owner of the car then sought to limits his liability by arguing that the car was on “loan” to the driver, entitling the owner to a financial limitation as to the amount he would potentially owe the plaintiffs.

LIMITING LIABILITY FOR LOANING YOUR CAR IN FLORIDA

Florida Statute Section 324.021(9)(b)(3), also known as Florida’s Financial Responsibility Statute, limits the liability of a motor vehicle owner who loans a vehicle to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per incident for bodily injury, with additional limits for economic damages

depending on the permissive user’s insurance coverage. The “per person” limit applies per person injured, not per claimant.

No one disputes that the driver of the second vehicle was not its owner at the time of the accident since they had traveled together to South Florida and were returning home at the time of the accident. The owner had asked the passenger to drive while he slept in the passenger seat. The sole claim against the owner was based on his vicarious liability under Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine. The trial court refused to apply this limitation, and the driver appealed.

The appellate court found that the trial judge had erred in not applying the limitation in that the owner had simply temporarily leant his car to the driver, while sleeping in the passenger seat, and reversed the verdict, limiting it to just $100,000–an unfortunate result for the parents of Ms. Richbell, who in my opinion were denied their full measure of justice.

This case is yet another example of how Florida’s laws, particularly as they apply to Florida auto insurance and the limitations that are placed on claims, are designed not to protect the innocent victims but to insulate the profits of the auto insurance industry. In my opinion there should be no difference as to the amount of legal responsibility the owner of the car had simply because he was asleep in the passenger seat. His vehicle that he owned was the cause of the death of Ms. Richbell, and it should have made no difference who was behind the wheel.

CAR ACCIDENT LAWYERS FREE CONSULTATION FOR WRONGFUL DEATH ACCIDENTS IN FLORIDA

If you or your loved ones have been injured in a motor vehicle accident in Florida, whether in a car, truck, on a motorcycle or bicycle, or as a pedestrian, it is important that you consult with an experienced car accident claims lawyer as soon as possible. Since 1991, our Miami personal injury law firm has represented individuals and their families across the state of Florida, from Jacksonville to Key West, in all kinds of traffic accidents and wrongful death claims.

We proudly offer free initial consultations to anyone who may have a potential personal injury claim, by phone toll-free at 1-866-597-4529, locally at 305-441-0440, or by email at [email protected] or SKYPE, 24/7.  We are available to make hospital, nursing home, or house calls. Contact us today and speak to a member of our team. We are ready to help you recover from your accident, receive the medical care and treatment you need, and get the monetary compensation you deserve for your lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering.

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