While the rest of Miami was celebrating Thanksgiving, the Chambers family was suffering a horrible loss. In the middle of Thanksgiving Day afternoon, while the rest of us were sitting around a table, Miami-Dade Police and Fire Rescue were responding to a fiery car crash in the 2900 block of Northwest North River Drive.
According to news reports, a Mercedes-Benz and a Honda Civic were traveling at a very high rate of speed when one of the drivers lost control, causing both cars to veer off the roadway and crash.
Police suspect that the drivers may have been racing. Whatever the motive, the impact of the crash caused both vehicles to burst into flames, trapping the occupants of the Mercedes-Benz. Sadly, the driver, Trevor Chambers, and his toddler (who was secured in a car seat), Allison Chambers, were both killed. Also on board was the toddler’s mother, Marilyn Leon, who has been hospitalized with severe burns and other injuries.
Is this a criminal matter? What role does racing play in the case?
According to police, the evidence suggests that the two cars may have been racing. This claim seems to be based on two factors. First, the vehicles were both traveling at very high rates of speed. Unless the data was lost in the fire, police may be able to obtain the speeds of both cars from their onboard computers. In the alternative, accident reconstructionists will be able to determine the speeds of both cars based on forensic evidence obtained from the roadway, the crash scene, and video that was recently obtained by a neighboring business.
Second, the video clearly shows both cars traveling next to each other in tandem.
However, in my opinion, this evidence presents more questions than answers. Just because both cars were traveling at high speed and appeared to be doing so in tandem in the last fraction of a second before impact, does not conclusively prove they were racing.
This could have also been a road rage incident where one car cut the other off and an angry chase ensued. Police will be the first to tell you that drivers routinely chase each other down at high speeds, swerve at each other, and get crazy violent over the dumbest roadway slights in Miami.
That said – a confession would make all the difference in the world.
If the driver of the Honda Civic, Carlos Gutierrez (age 50), admits to police that they were racing, this case could quickly turn into a criminal investigation. Especially since it is no longer a run of the mill racing case – it is now racing causing an accident with death and serious bodily injury. Two deaths to be exact.
Police will also want to speak with Marilyn Leon, if they haven’t already. As the lone survivor from the Mercedes-Benz, investigators will want to know what was going on moments before the crash. Was this a race? Was this a road rage?
How will the criminal case effect a lawsuit for wrongful death?
Crashes like these present a number of important issues both for police and for any personal injury attorney helping Marilyn Leon recover for her injuries and the death of her daughter and spouse.
First of all, if this is a racing case, the drivers of the Mercedes-Benz and the Honda Civic may be precluded from making a winnable claim. This is due to the fact that there is a concept called “assumption of risk”. When someone willfully engages in dangerous behavior, such as racing, it serves to minimize their right to make a claim.
Second, there is also a concept in injury law called “comparative negligence”. This means, a person’s claim is reduced by the amount they are personally responsible for causing the accident. If both drivers are equally at fault because they were racing each other, each one’s claims may be reduced by at least 50% if not more.
HOWEVER – this should not affect Marilyn Leon’s claims for her own injuries and for the death of her toddler Allison Chambers.
As passengers, Marilyn Leon and Allison Chambers have little control over what the driver does. WITHOUT QUESTION this definitely applies to little Allison – who as a toddler – has absolutely no control over what the adults around her do.
The bottom line is this: Insurance companies are going to be writing checks to this family.
To win in court, a personal injury case has three basic components. First, the person suing must be able to prove that the other party was negligent. Second, there must be damages. In this case, damages are obvious. Third, to make it all come together, you need a collectible defendant.
Odds are a 50 year old man driving a Honda Civic has little or no insurance. However, if Trevor had insurance, attorneys could make claims for both Marilyn and Allison – at a minimum. Remember, Trevor’s insurance should cover his passengers, especially since they had no way to control the speed of the car.
It is important to note that the only way to know what this case is about is to hear from the survivors – Marilyn Leon and Carlos Gutierrez – in light of what the forensic and video evidence proves. Only Marilyn Leon and Carlos Gutierrez know whether or not the cars were racing. Considering the extent of Marilyn’s injuries, she may not even remember what happened.
Since no arrest has been made, it is my guess that Carlos Gutierrez was smart enough to remain silent or deny involvement in any racing – otherwise he would likely be in custody.
If this was a road rage case or something else other than racing, Trevor’s surviving family may also be able to make a claim for his death.
Remember, this is a courthouse blog about law. We are here to discuss the legal issues and explain how common life events, like car accidents, play out in the court and are handled by the law.
As far as this case is concerned, it is a toss up. Attorneys representing Marilyn Leon need to conduct a thorough investigation and handle things according to what the evidence proves.
I personally believe that a solid claim can be made for Marilyn’s terrible injuries and for the wrongful death of Allison. Whether or not they recover will ultimately depend on the quality and coverage of Trevor’s insurance and any other policies that may be in effect, such as ones belonging to the other driver.
At a minimum, attorneys representing Marilyn need to get on scene and do a thorough investigation. They need to talk to people along that roadway to learn what they saw and heard and to uncover any additional video surveillance that may have captured the two cars further up the road.
Clues are everywhere – you just need to know where to look.
Putting the law aside, this accident presents a terrible tragedy and is yet another reminder of how dangerous Florida’s roadways are. People are getting killed in car accidents every week. My condolences go out to the family.
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