As a Panama City personal injury law firm, we represent people who are injured due to someone else's negligence or wrongful actions (or, in some cases, inaction). Even though Florida is generally a "no-fault" state, determining fault can still be crucial to obtaining money damages, particularly in severe cases and when injuries are deemed permanent.
While sometimes fault is obvious, like when a drunk driver careens through a red light and hits your car, in other cases it can be a complex question. One complex situation requiring a detailed fault analysis is a chain reaction crash, a multi-vehicle incident that often encompasses at least as many stories as cars involved in the wreck.
A six-vehicle crash at the intersection of U.S. 98 and Sunrise Drive sent four people to the hospital and shut down the highway's eastbound lanes for hours on Thursday afternoon. As reported by the Florida Highway Patrol and detailed in the Northwest Florida Daily News, five vehicles were lined up and waiting for a traffic light in the inside eastbound lane of Sunrise Drive when the 2002 Dodge Ram driven by Casey Norris (age 29, Holt) failed to come to a stop.
Holt collided with the backside of a 1993 Toyota Camry with Peter Mihm (age 42, Fort Walton Beach) behind the wheel, starting a chain-reaction crash through the line. Four other vehicles were involved: a 2007 Dodge Caliber driven by Brendan Green (age 23, Navarre); a 2007 Chrysler Sebring driven by Calista Wallick (age 27, Navarre); a 2005 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Daryl Thibodaux (age 40, Cut Off, Louisiana); and a 2011 Ford Fusion driven by James Watson (age 70, Navarre).
Emergency officials took Mihm, his passenger Traci Griswold (age 26, Crestview), and Thibdaux to Baptist Hospital and transported Wallick to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola. FHP representatives reported that Norris received a careless driving citation and Greene was cited for driving on a suspended license and lacking proof of insurance.
Generally, rear-end crashes are considered the fault of the rear driver. This is in part because drivers are required to leave a safe following distance between their vehicle and the one in front of them. As we noted in a prior blog entry, this presumption of fault can be rebutted by the evidence (see Cevallos v. Rideout). In chain-reaction crashes, the fault analysis must be done multiple times. A given driver may have claims against more than one of the other drivers.
For example, if Driver A is rear-ended by Driver B after Driver B had been hit by Driver C, Driver A may have claims against both B and C (especially if they were moving and both B and C were following too close/tailgating) or Driver A may only have a claim against only one if the other is deemed without fault. The evidence might also support a different conclusion as to the cause of the A-B or B-C collision, and thus also impact the liability between A and C.
It's complex, to say the least. As a Panama City chain reaction crash law firm, when we are engaged by someone injured in an auto accident, we look at a variety of sources to determine what happened and who is at fault. Useful evidence can include: Witness reports (both those involved in the crash and passersby); Evidence of vehicle damage; Accident scene photographs; Police reports; and Area surveillance footage. We often work closely with accident reconstruction experts to put together the pieces and present the fault analysis to the judge and/or jury, a key part of helping our client recover money. The process starts with an initial consultation, a free meeting with Attorney Pittman scheduled when an injured victim calls our office.