Driving is a serious responsibility, a fact known all too well to the victims of car accidents. Sometimes people fail to appreciate this responsibility, leading to the injury of a bystander. When courts decide if a defendant is legally liable for another person's injuries, the courts often focus on whether the acts rose to the level of negligence. Two headlines stood out to our Panama City personal injury law firm early this week. One seems to show a driver who failed to inspect the path before him (in this case, a beach) and ran over a beach-going sunbather. The next involves a driver who kept on driving despite impediments that made it impossible for him to drive safely.
A mother and son spoke to WJHG after a day sunbathing turned into an emergency trip to a local hospital. The pair was lying on the beach area behind Regency Towers on Saturday afternoon. Lisa Gartner heard a truck nearby and turned to see a Ford Bronco run directly over her 18-year-old son, Gunnar. The truck was pulling a jet ski from the water. Gunnar was facing into the sand when the truck's front wheel rolled over his head. He believes his position saved his life.
Timothy Picklo, the truck's driver, said he never saw the teen. Police charged him with careless driving. Lisa Gartner told reporters she understands that people enjoy jet skis, but suggested only allowing trucks towing the skis to be on the beach at certain times or requiring a spotter to walk alongside.
WJHG also reported on the sentencing of a man in a disturbing case of vehicular homicide. According to witnesses, Jeremiah Paul Cahours had been drinking most of the evening on July 3, 2011 when he got behind the wheel of an SUV. A passenger proceeded to ignite a firework inside the SUV, causing the vehicle to fill with smoke and sparks. Still, Cahours continued driving through a parking lot. He hit and killed 22-year-old Marija Kostova, who was riding a bicycle back to her apartment from the pool. Cahours fled the scene, continuing to drive despite the accident, the alcohol in his system, and the firework's aftermath. Police arrested him months later on a tip. He was found guilty following a single day trial in February. On Monday, Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet sentenced Cahours to 11 years in prison.
It seems unlikely that a driver who exercised due care would have run over a person lying on the beach. It is impossible to imagine the mindset of one who not only drives quite drunk, but also continues to drive as sparks and smoke fill the vehicle, rendering the driver unable to see a bicyclist. It is even tougher to imagine thinking it is remotely okay to keep driving away from the collision – even putting aside his duty to stay at the scene, he risked being involved in more crashes. Cases like these bring negligence to a higher level and may be termed "reckless driving" if the driver acted with willful and wanton disregard.
At The Pittman Firm, most of our cases are not as clear-cut as the two presented here. It is our job to prove that the defendant acted negligently. Negligence is defined by Instruction 401.4 of the Florida Standard Jury Instructions as "the failure to use reasonable care, which is the care that a reasonably careful person would use under like circumstances."
We urge all drivers to exercise care behind the wheel. I think most of us can point to a moment in recent memory where we knew what the reasonable action was, but we still chose another. Hopefully, luck carried all of us through. It seems unlikely that negligent driving will suddenly cease to exist. Until that time, we will work to help the victims of careless driving in Panama City. This includes examining the facts of the case and consulting with experts. As a team, we can prove negligence, a key step towards getting you the compensation you deserve.