Daniel Huerta, 17, was killed in a car accident near Naples, Florida two weeks ago. The driver of the vehicle, Johnson Atilard, was also killed when he lost control of their SUV, crashed into a road sign, and plunged into a canal. Fortunately, the six other youths in the vehicle were treated for non-life threatening injuries.
Sadly, not only does this case concern the death of a young person, but these youths were members of the Big Cypress Wilderness Institute, which is a 35-bed residential program for at-risk boys ages 14 to 18. This program is funded by the State of Florida and operated through the court system and Department of Juvenile Justice. In essence, it exists to help at-risk boys get on the right track.
Given my perspective as an injury lawyer, I think Johnson Atilard’s terrible driving history makes this case one that will result in a substantial recovery for Daniel Huerta’s family.
Get this: Atilard’s driving record was so bad that the director of Big Cypress Wilderness Institute wrote a memo to him instructing him not to drive any of the company’s vehicles and not transport any of its delinquent youth in his personal vehicle.
The memo went on to state that Big Cypress’ insurance would not cover Atilard in the event of an accident. It further stated that “Failure to abide by these restrictions places AMIkids Big Cypress in a position of great liability.”
However, in his memo, the director also advised Atilard that he may be able to regain his driving privileges when one of his past driving citations lapses beyond a three year monitoring period in August 2011.
As an injury attorney, I find that last part utterly remarkable. Rather than being concerned with a three year monitoring window, the director should have been more focused on finding a safe driver for the program’s kids.
Professional drivers are abundant, especially in today’s poor economy. There was absolutely no reason to sacrifice safety by permitting a driver with a questionable record to continue his employment.
The people who drive our children should have impeccable records. Not merely acceptable ones.
For this reason, I personally believe Big Cypress acted with negligence and they should be held accountable.
To have a successful injury case, an injury lawyer must be able to identify three key elements.
First, the underlying client must have sustained a quantifiable injury. Clearly, no injury is worse than the loss of life. Second, there must be sufficient evidence to prove the defendant is responsible for the damages/injuries. Third, the defendant must be collectible.
In this case, it is clear that Daniel Huerta’s death satisfies the injury element. When it comes to proving responsibility, it is clear that Big Cypress knew that Atilard had no business transporting children. However, it is still unknown whether Big Cypress will self-insure, whether the State of Florida may be required to pay their damages since this is a state run program through the Department of Juvenile Justice or if a private insurance company may be held accountable for payments.
In any event, Daniel Huerta’s family needs to hire an injury attorney as soon as possible. Handling this case professionally and with skill is necessary from the very beginning if they hope to obtain the justice that they deserve.
In my personal opinion, this is an accident that could have been prevented. Programs like these should only allow drivers with impeccable records to transport our children.