According to WorldAtlas.com, the Orlando area is the second-most-popular family vacation spot in the country. As the home of family-oriented attractions such as Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Studios Orlando Resort, the area attracts an estimated 38% of the national domestic vacation travel market. When you take into account that the Miami / Miami Beach / Dade County area attracts an additional 15% of domestic vacationers, it is easy to understand why the I-75 corridor, and its “feeder” roads are among the nation’s most heavily-traveled highways.
In the hours and days following any fatality traffic accident, much of the publicly-available information regarding the cause and circumstances of the accident are generally based on the recollections of “eyewitnesses” and the initial findings of the investigations conducted by local and state law enforcement agencies. With these potential shortcomings in mind, a compilation of information carried by local and national media sources suggests the following chain of events.
According to a statement released by the Florida Highway Patrol and quoted by ABC-affiliate WTXL, at around 3:00 pm on Thursday, January 3rd a commercial tractor-trailer rig was traveling in the northbound lane of I-75 just south of Alachua when it struck a much smaller Honda Fit subcompact. The impact caused both drivers to lose control of their respective vehicles, causing both to crash through a guardrail before crossing the grassy highway median and enter the flow of traffic in the southbound lane. At that time the out-of-control semi struck a privately-owned van that was traveling southbound, causing it to overturn several times while ejecting its passengers. The truck then struck another southbound semi, and a fuel leak of some type caused both trucks to burst into flames.
In a later press release the Florida Highway Patrol stated that 7 people had died at the scene, with five of the victims being children between 9 to 14 years old who were on their way to Disney World on a trip sponsored by their church in Marksville, Louisiana. Both truck drivers were also killed and 8 other accident victims, presumably passengers in the van transporting the children, were being treated in local hospitals.
In accidents of such magnitude as this, one of the first questions asked is usually “Who was ‘at fault’ in the accident?”, which translates to “Who is going to be held liable for compensating the accident victims and their families?” In spite of its seemingly-obvious answer (the driver and that driver’s employer, via the doctrine of respondeat superior), this accident raises several issues of law that must be addressed:
While again acknowledging that the investigation of this tragedy is in its earliest stages, the currently available witness statements indicate that the accident began when the driver of the northbound semi made contact with the Honda subcompact. Who, or what, caused this initial contact is unknown and will have to be determined by a forensic accident reconstruction conducted by investigators from the Florida Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Public Safety (DPS) as well as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). However, past investigations of similar accidents suggest that the most likely cause would be an improper lane change by either the semi or the Honda, but probably due to the Honda being in the semi driver’s “blind spot” and thus invisible to the driver of the northbound truck.
In its online coverage of the accident. the Miami Herald reported that the driver of the northbound semi, 59-year-old Steve Holland of West Palm Beach, had been ticketed several times in the past for “moving violations” including speeding, operating an overloaded vehicle, operating an unsafe vehicle, and failure to carry proof of insurance. While Holland’s previous driving record does not mean that he was violating traffic laws at the time of the accident, that record could be cited in a civil lawsuit in support of an allegation that his previous record indicated a tendency toward unsafe driving habits that should have been known to his employer.
Since the accident occurred in Florida, any lawsuits will be filed in Florida courts where both Florida’s rules of civil procedure and statutory (written) law will apply even though the accident victims were not Florida residents. This fact could have a significant impact on any future legal actions because, by state law, Florida is a “ no-fault” state.
As a no-fault state, Florida imposes several complicated rules that can limit the type and amount of damages that an accident victim (or a victim’s survivors) can recover. In some cases, and depending on the amount of damages claimed, Florida law can restrict an accident victim’s right to file a lawsuit! These rules are best explained by a personal injury lawyer who has experience in dealing with Florida accidental injury and wrongful death lawsuits.
As we have seen, Florida motor vehicle accidental injury and wrongful death cases can become quite complicated from a legal standpoint. In fact, visitors from other states are often shocked to learn that their right to receive compensation for their injuries may be limited by state law.
If you, or a family member, were injured in an accident involving a commercial truck and are unsure of the best course of action to protect your legal right to compensation for your injuries and other losses, we invite you to contact the commercial truck accident injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm to arrange a free, no obligation, review of your accident and a discussion of the options that may be available to you.
At our firm, your first consultation is always free and does not require you to hire us as your legal representative. Should you decide that you want to file a lawsuit and that you would like us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in return for a percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.
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