Andrew Hickey, Robert McHenry and Christopher Andrews were killed in a Boynton Beach, Florida car accident earlier today. Ernest Woods and Thelonius McCarthy, both of Pompano Beach, are thankfully alive, but in the hospital with very serious critical injuries.
Of all the car accident cases we report on in this blog, I can tell you this is one of the worst we have seen, given the number of people who have been harmed.
As a Florida personal injury lawyer, I strongly suspect that these victims will be entitled to VERY substantial compensation from the driver who caused the accident.
Here’s what we know:
At approximately 10:15 a.m. this morning, a Toyota Tundra and a Ford pickup were stopped in an emergency lane of I-95 as 5 men tended to some kind of mechanical breakdown or flat tire. While stopped on the side of the road, a Mercedes-Benz driven by Cheryl Lee Daugherty crossed three lanes of traffic before slamming into the rear of the parked Toyota Tundra.
This caused the Toyota to fly forward and strike the 5 men, killing Andrew Hickey, Robert McHenry and Christopher Andrews and critically injuring Ernest Woods and Thelonius McCarthy.
In its most basic form, a winning injury case has three fundamental elements. It makes no difference if you are talking about a car accident, a motorcycle accident, a truck accident, or even an aviation disaster, the three basic elements of a winning case are always the same. They are:
1) Provable Negligence 2) Provable Injury 3) Collectible/Insured Defendant(s)
In law, the term “negligence” refers to when someone does something wrong to cause injury to another. Negligent conduct can also occur when a person fails to do something right. For example, a car accident can be caused when someone drives recklessly. This would be an example of doing something wrong.
At the same time, a car accident can also be caused when someone fails to repair old brakes. This is an example of failing to do something right. Photo credit: Sun-Sentinel
When we analyze the accident that killed Andrew Hickey, Robert McHenry and Christopher Andrews (and which critically injured Ernest Woods and Thelonius McCarthy), I believe the driver of the Mercedes will be held legally accountable for two reasons:
First, she was the rear driver in a rear end collision. Under Florida law, whenever someone rear ends another vehicle, the law presumes that the car in the rear (who did the rear-ending) is the responsible party. As a result, most rear drivers in rear end collisions are the ones who are held legally accountable in court.
At the same time, this presumption is not absolute and can be “rebutted” with evidence that proves the contrary.
However, the specific facts of this case lead me to strongly suspect that such a rebuttal is impossible. This is because the Toyota Tundra and the Ford pickup were lawfully stopped in the emergency lane tending to a mechanical problem.
What could the 5 men have done to prevent this accident? Obviously they were stopped where they were for reasons beyond their control.
Secondly, the facts of this case show that Cheryl Lee Daugherty (the driver of the Mercedes-Benz) failed to maintain a single lane. Under Florida Statute 316.089, “A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”
Clearly, Daugherty did not move from her lane before ascertaining that such movement could be made safely. On the contrary – she hopped over three lanes of traffic and entered the emergency lane despite the presence of two stopped vehicles directly in her path of travel!
However this point really a moot one.
The bottom line is this: Even if Daugherty hypothetically maintained a single lane, it is clear that she absolutely failed to driver her car safely.
Remember, under Florida law, a motor vehicle is considered a “dangerous instrumentality.” In other words, its a machine that can seriously injure and kill when not used properly.
For this reason, Florida law places a duty on ALL drivers to operate their motor vehicles safely.
At a MINIMUM, this means looking out for others who may be stranded on the side of the road.
For these reasons, I suspect that personal injury attorneys representing the dead and injured will be able to easily prove that Cheryl Lee Daugherty acted negligently, thereby causing the accident.
In regards to injury, this case presents mixed possibilities.
For Andrew Hickey, Robert McHenry and Christopher Andrews, proving injury should not be a problem because they were killed. The injury is as obvious as can be and is therefore easy to prove.
However, the injuries suffered by Ernest Woods and Thelonius McCarthy can get a lot more complicated. Thankfully they lived. However, this will present a greater challenge to injury attorneys who need to account for the full extent of their injuries, such as their need for future medical treatment. For example, I suspect these men suffer the following:
- Chronic Pain
- Diminished Earning Capacity
- Lost Income
- Medical Expenses
- Ongoing Therapy/Treatment/Surgery
- Pain and Suffering
- Permanent Disability
- Psychological Trauma
Lawyers need to work with doctors treating Ernest Woods and Thelonius McCarthy doctors to figure out the full extent of their claims and how it will effect the remainder of their lives. For all intents and purposes, their claims may be as big as the ones made by those who were killed.
Finally, this leads me to the third element: Collectable/Insured Defendant(s)
In other words, is there a responsible party who also has the means to actually pay these men (and their families) compensation for their losses. In most car accident cases, compensation is paid for by insurance companies. However, in the case of a very large claim, like this one, a claim may be paid by insurance and the responsible person’s personal assets. This is because a claim in this case may actually exceed the policy limits of Daugherty’s car insurance.
Ultimately, this means that injury attorneys will need to make a claim against Daugherty and her insurance company to obtain full compensation for their clients’ injuries and losses.
Aside from the three point analysis we applied above, there are a number of very specific questions that need to be asked in this case. Such as:
- Was Cheryl Lee Daugherty DUI?
- Was she a licensed driver?
- What does her driving record look like?
- Has she been in other accidents?
- Does she have a criminal history?
- Does she have a drug, alcohol, or mental health problem?
- Did she fail to properly maintain her car?
Unfortunately, as a nice of a lady as Ms. Daugherty might be, some tough questions need to be answered. Not only are the victims entitled to have this wrong made right, but we the public need to know what happened so that similar accidents can be prevented in the future.
For the victims and their families, the most important thing I can recommend is to hire a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Serious cases like these get very complicated very fast… this is especially so when insurance adjustors are eager to quickly settle for pennies on the dollar.
People who represent themselves notoriously get taken advantage of by accepting compensation that is far less than what an attorney could get them.
I am sorry if this analysis sounds a bit matter of fact, but my role as a personal injury attorney is to clean up the practical, real life mess left behind when accidents like these occur.
In the real world, this means medical bills need to be paid, dependent children need to be fed – even when their dads can no longer earn an income to support the family, and certain wrongs need to be righted.
It is important to mention that this case is still under investigation by authorities. Since not all of the facts are known at this time, it is still too early to draw any concrete or final conclusions. For this reason, I must emphasize that my positions in this analysis are not final.
That said, I also think it is important to mention that I am sure Cheryl Lee Daugherty is having a tough time herself.
As of the writing of this entry, the reason why she lost control of her car has not been made public. We do not yet know if she was DUI, had a mechanical problem of her own, or even suffered a medical emergency, like a heart attack.
However, this has nothing to do with her legal duties now that the accident is over.
Three men have been killed and two are left with critical injuries.
They need their medical bills paid. They need compensation for their pain and suffering. Surviving family members need to be compensated for the wrongful death of their loved ones.
Most importantly, my heart goes out to the families and those still suffering in the hospital. Putting all the legal-mumbo-jumbo aside, I pray that Ernest Woods and Thelonius McCarthy have a speedy recovery. I also offer my condolences to the surviving families of Andrew Hickey, Robert McHenry and Christopher Andrews. Hopefully they will find peace one day and be able to remember their loved ones for fond memories and not the accident that took their lives prematurely.