One of the most complex issues we deal with as a Panama City car accident injury law firm is the concept of legal fault. We can all imagine relatively clear-cut cases, like a mother and child crossing in accordance with a "Walk" sign who are hit by a drunk driver running the red light at top speed. However, fault is often much more complex in real life than in the cut and dry. As a result, legal liability is similarly complex. Theories such as comparative negligence influence all forms of personal injury law, including pedestrian accidents and multi-car collisions.
On Friday night, a pedestrian died in an accident at the 500 block of West 15th Street in Panama City. As reported by The News Herald, 52-year-old Gregory G. Wolfgram attempted to cross 15th Street shortly after 5 P.M. on Friday December 7. Wolfgram was killed in a collision with a vehicle driven by 76-year-old Thomas F. Skipper. Police believe that the vehicle had the right of way at the time of the accident, and they do not expect to file charges against Skipper. No one else was injured in the collision.
Both drivers and pedestrians have duties under Florida law. The law sets forth a number of specific situations in which a pedestrian has the right of way and imposes a general duty on drivers to "exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian" (see Florida Statutes Section 316.130(15)). The same section imposes duties on pedestrians, including prohibiting pedestrians from crossing outside of an intersection or marked crosswalk (commonly termed "jaywalking," although not using the term).
Often pedestrian accidents involve some degree of negligence and/or fault on both the driver's and pedestrian's behalf. A similar reality applies to most personal injury cases, with both sides sharing at least a portion of the fault. At one point in time, this truth would often bar accident victims from bringing suit in Florida's civil court system. Under a contributory negligence system, the law barred recovery in any case where the victim shared any portion of the fault for the accident. For example, if a pedestrian failed to look both ways before being hit by a drunk driver, the law would not allow the pedestrian to recover damages from the driver.
In 1973, Florida changed this stance and adopted a comparative negligence rule. Under this system, the law allows a victim to recover even where the victim shared in the fault. In practice, this generally means that the court will determine the monetary amount of damages commensurate with the plaintiff's injury and then reduce this amount to take account for the victim's own fault. For example, if the court finds the victim's injuries merit a $100,000 award but also finds the victim 20% responsible, it would require the defendant pay the victim $80,000 in damages. Florida uses a "pure comparative fault" system which means a plaintiff can recover even if the court finds the plaintiff was mostly at fault (i.e. had more than half the responsibility, even if the plaintiff holds 99% of the fault). This is different from some states that use a "modified comparative fault" rule barring recovery if the victim was more than 50% responsible.
We cannot comment on the legal fault involved in Friday's tragic accident. However, it is important that people know they can recover damages even if their own actions were far from perfect. If you have a serious injury due to an accident in the Panhandle region, you should contact an experienced Panama City accident law firm. Do not let an insurance company or the legal representative of another party convince you that you do not have a case simply because you shared in a portion of the fault. This is simply not the law in Florida, and you should not accept a lowball settlement based on such inaccuracies.