Most car accident auto insurance settlements are handled quietly and often rather quickly. Those involving the death may take longer, but even then, it often doesn’t generate headlines. A recent case out of South Florida was different for the fact that an auto liability insurer, while conceding all the evidence unequivocally shows their client to be the clear victim, agreed to pay families of several teens who died while joyriding in a stolen car.
It’s somewhat of a unique case, but it also illustrates the various avenues of recovery that may be available to those involved in serious car accidents, even when there is evidence they are partially (or, as in this case, largely) to blame.
According to The Tampa Bay Times, the 29-year-old insured was on his way to work at a grocery store in Tampa around 4 a.m. when a sport utility vehicle barreled through a red light at 112 mph, slamming into his compact car. He would later learn that the vehicle had been stolen and the driver was 16-years-old with no license. The driver and two of his three passengers – all young teens – were killed. A fourth survived and was later charged with grand theft auto.
The 29-year-old was seriously injured. He spent two months in a wheelchair. He suffered numerous broken bones, required ankle surgery and still walks with crutches or uses a wheelchair.
The injured man was incensed that his liability insurer agreed to pay the policy limit of $20,000 to the families of the three teens who perished. There was no allegation that he was at-fault in any way. Although he did receive $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, he was unable to pursue further compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurer because the vehicle was stolen and the driver wasn’t licensed and therefore wasn’t insured. Also, because these were teenagers, they have amassed no real personal wealth. Plaintiff could (and is considering) pursuing a personal injury lawsuit against the estates of the teens to recover the liability coverage paid to them.
A representative for the insurer told a news reporter that it paid the teens’ families – even though it believed the insured shared no responsibility for the crash – to protect him from a future wrongful death lawsuit. While there is little question this crash was caused in large part – if not in whole – by the teen driver, Florida law recognizes a system of pure comparative fault. Per F.S. 768.81, that means a proportionate reduction of damages based on plaintiff’s shared liability. So for instance, if the parents of decedents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the injured grocery worker and convinced a judge or jury he shared even 1 percent of the blame, they could collect on that 1 percent of damages. Of course, most wrongful death attorneys will conduct a careful cost-benefit analysis before launching into an action like that, but it bolsters the insurer’s logic.
Florida is a no-fault state when it comes to crashes, so you can generally obtain up to $10,000 in coverage no matter who is to blame. However, most serious crashes result in greater losses. Given that almost 1 in 4 drivers in Florida is not insured (and many more carry only the minimum liability auto insurance), carrying uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage is strongly recommended. Insurers are required to offer it, but you aren’t required to buy it (if you decline, you must do so in writing). However, cases like this underscore just how invaluable it can be when you are blindsided – and your life upended – by the negligence of other drivers.
Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.
Geico: We agreed to pay $20,000 to families of kids who died in a stolen SUV to ‘protect’ our client, Oct. 14, 2017, By Zachary T. Sampson, The Tampa Bay Times
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Report: DUI Conviction Wasn’t Enough to Keep Bus Driver Banned from Work, Oct. 18, 2017, Lehigh Acres Car Accident Lawyer Blog