A 2-year-old died, and eight other people were seriously injured, in a rollover car crash that police are still investigating.

The wreck happened on U.S. 441 in Lake County. Police state that a woman apparently made an unsafe lane change and collided with an SUV. The force of the collision sent the SUV hurtling over a concrete divider. The vehicle flipped over at least three times before eventually coming to rest on the other side of the road. Witness Manny Pena said he thought he was “watching a TV show” because the crash was so traumatic. “I didn’t think it was real,” he added. Of the eight SUV occupants, seven were seriously injured and the toddler died after being ejected from the vehicle during the wreck; the female Taurus driver was also seriously injured. Police are considering pressing charges against the woman for making an illegal lane change, and against the SUV driver for failing to properly restrain a child.

None of the names were released.

Proving Negligence in Car Crash Cases

Typically, to recover damages, a plaintiff must prove that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) had a legal duty, such as a duty of reasonable care, violated that legal duty, and that violation caused injury in both a factual and legal sense. But in some cases, the doctrine of negligence per se (negligence “as such”) applies. If it does, the plaintiff must only prove that the tortfeasor violated the statute, and that violation caused injury.

The negligence per se shortcut is often a significant advantage for victims, because instead of proving five elements (duty, breach, cause-in-fact, proximate cause, and injury), the victim must only prove two elements (statutory violation and injury).

For the shortcut to apply, the tortfeasor must violate a penal statute; a violation of a traffic law, like failure to stop at a stop sign, raises a presumption of negligence, but is not proof positive of negligence. In the above story, it appears that the Taurus driver could be charged with felony reckless driving under 316.192(c)(2). Although this law is in the traffic code, it is also a penal offense that carries a possible prison sentence. So in a hypothetical trial, the negligence per se shortcut could arguably apply.

Seat Belt Defense

Turning to the other issue in the above story, Florida is one of the few states that recognizes the “seat belt defense.” Since Florida has a mandatory seat belt law, courts reason that violation of this law can be presented as evidence of negligence in civil trials, pursuant to Standard Jury Instruction 4.11.

To reduce damages based on seat belt non-use, the tortfeasor must prove that the victim was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, or otherwise not properly restrained, and that if the victim was properly restrained, the injuries would have not been as severe.

If the crash involved a serious injury, the victim is entitled to compensation for economic damages, such as property destruction, and noneconomic damages, such as emotional distress. Punitive damages are also available, in some cases.

Partner with Experienced Attorneys

At Reed & Reed, we routinely handle negligence cases in Orange County and nearby jurisdictions, so contact us today for a free consultation. If you were hurt, an attorney can arrange for ongoing medical care, even if you have no money and no insurance. From our office in Brandon, Reed & Reed helps clients in Tampa, New Tampa, Plant City, East Hillsborough County and throughout the state of Florida.