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Negligent Security Seminar | March 2015

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    Who’s at Fault in Multi-Vehicle Accidents in Florida

    Who’s at Fault in Multi-Vehicle Accidents in Florida

    Multi-vehicle accidents involving three or more vehicles present complex situations for determining liability and fault. In Florida, understanding the nuances of fault in these accidents is crucial for all parties involved, including drivers, insurance companies, and legal professionals.

    A multi-vehicle accident typically occurs in high-traffic areas such as highways and is frequently initiated by a chain reaction. The primary collision might set off a series of subsequent impacts. For instance, if a car abruptly stops and is rear-ended, the struck car might then hit the vehicle in front of it, and so on. Each impact might involve different drivers and varying degrees of fault.

    Florida’s Comparative Negligence System

    Florida’s approach to negligence in tort cases, including multi-vehicle accidents, is governed by a doctrine known as comparative negligence. This means that each party involved in an accident can be held liable for their percentage of fault.

    Under Florida Statute 768.81, the concept of comparative fault is used to proportionally reduce the damages a claimant can recover based on their share of fault in causing the incident.

    This statute outlines several key aspects of how fault and damages are determined and allocated in negligence actions:

    1. Definitions and Scope

    The law starts by clearly defining key terms:

    • Accident: This covers all events and actions related to the incident and any alleged defects or injuries.
    • Economic Damages: These include tangible losses like lost income, medical expenses, and property damage.
    • Negligence Action: This term encompasses various legal claims, including those based on negligence, strict liability, product liability, and professional malpractice. Essentially, this defines the types of lawsuits where these rules apply.

    2. Effect of Contributory Fault

    If you’re involved in an accident and found to be partly at fault — for example, you were distracted or broke a traffic rule — this will affect your compensation. The law states that your recovery will be reduced by the percentage of fault you share. However, unless you’re more than 50% responsible, you won’t be barred from receiving compensation. This ensures that even if you were partially at fault, you could still recover some damages, proportional to your level of fault. In 2023, Florida’s Legislature changed the longstanding law that allowed injured victims to recover even if they were more than 50% at fault.  They would recover the part that was not their fault (for example, if they were found 60% at fault, they could recover the 40% of their damages that was not their fault).  This means that now an injured plaintiff’s contribution to the fault must be 50% or less to recover anything.

    3. Apportionment of Damages

    In lawsuits, the court decides how much each party should pay based on their share of the fault. This is especially important in multi-vehicle accidents where blame might be shared among multiple drivers. The judgment will reflect the specific percentage of fault assigned to each involved party.

    Determining Fault in Multi-Vehicle Accidents

    Determining fault in multi-vehicle accidents involves a thorough investigation. Law enforcement, insurance adjusters, and legal professionals often rely on various forms of evidence, including:

    • Eyewitness Testimony: Witnesses can provide crucial details on the sequence of events leading up to the accident.
    • Traffic Camera Footage: If available, this can objectively show how the accident unfolded.
    • Vehicle Damage Analysis: The pattern and extent of vehicle damage can indicate points of impact and suggest how the accident occurred.
    • Forensic Evidence: Electronic Control Modules (ECM’s) that are now standard in most cars, record relevant data nad telemetry about the car leading up to an accident.  This data can help provide information about what the driver and vehicle were doing in the moments before the crash, whether there was braking, lights were on, the speed, whether seatbelts were used, what gear the car was in, etc.
    • Accident Reconstruction Experts: These professionals can help clarify complex accident scenes by reconstructing the events based on physical evidence and scientific principles.

    What about the Weather, Malfunctions, and Other Factors?

    Weather conditions, vehicle malfunctions, and other factors can significantly impact multi-vehicle accidents and the assignment of fault. In Florida, these factors are considered within the comparative negligence framework, meaning they can influence the determination of each driver’s liability.

    • Weather Conditions: Inclement weather, such as heavy rain, fog, or hurricanes, can impair visibility and road traction, which in turn can contribute to accidents. If drivers fail to adjust their driving behavior according to the weather conditions, they may be held partially liable for any resulting accidents.
    • Vehicle Malfunctions: Mechanical failures, such as brake failures or tire blowouts, can cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle. If the malfunction was due to a product defect, liability might then be shared between the driver for maintenance negligence and the manufacturer.
    • Other Factors: Road conditions and external distractions can also play roles in multi-vehicle accidents. Poor road maintenance, such as lacking signage or pothole issues, might shift some liability to governmental entities responsible for road upkeep.

    Legal Implications

    For individuals involved in a multi-vehicle accident in Florida, it is advisable to seek legal counsel. A skilled attorney from Leighton Law can navigate the complexities of comparative negligence, advocate on your behalf, and help ensure that fault is fairly assigned. We have decades of experience in representing people injured in car crashes and have won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in Florida.

    Article by:

    John Leighton

    A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite


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