Daniel Mac Dobbins, of Pensacola, Florida, was tragically killed in a truck accident in Santa Rosa County, Florida Monday night. News agencies report that his car rear-ended a tractor trailer parked in the far left lane of the roadway. Sadly, he was pronounced dead on the scene.
From my standpoint as a personal injury attorney, this case presents a number of important legal challenges. When an injury attorney analyzes a truck accident case for possible litigation, there are three basic elements that come to mind:
1) Evidence of Liability 2) Evidence of Injury/Damages 3) Collectability
Evidence of liability concerns the proof needed to establish that another party, other than Daniel Mac Dobbins, is responsible, at least in part, for causing the accident.
Evidence of injury refers to the proof that someone was injured as a result. In this case, proof is obvious because a person was tragically killed. However in cases where a persons sustains a serious injury, but lives, proving the extent of injury, disability, need for future medical treatment, and economic losses can be challenging.
Collectability refers to the responsible party’s ability to actually pay compensation to the victim party. Since this case concerns an accident with a commercial truck, I expect the trucking company to have adequate auto insurance coverage to pay compensation for negligence on the part of the truck driver.
In this particular case, proving injury is not going to be a legal challenge because it is clear that Daniel Mac Dobbins tragically lost his life as a result of the accident. Because this truck accident involves a commercial truck, as was mentioned earlier, I also suspect that there will be adequate insurance coverage to pay any claim for negligence.
However, the legal issue that makes this case challenging is proof of negligence on the part of the truck driver.
Under Florida Law, there is a presumption of fault when it comes to rear end collisions. Specifically, the law assumes that the rear vehicle is the one responsible for causing the accident. This presumption is based on two concepts: 1) that drivers are expected to travel at a safe distance and speed behind the vehicles ahead of them, and 2) that drivers are expected to pay attention to changing road conditions and adjust their driving accordingly, including the avoidance of obstacles in the roadway… such as stopped vehicles or road debris.
In this case, it appears as though Daniel Mac Dobbins rear-ended the tractor trailer.
According to news reports, the tractor trailer was stopped in the far left lane following an earlier accident. It is also reported that the truck driver had placed emergency reflectors in the roadway as well as activated his emergency flashers.
At first glance, it would appear as though the truck driver did everything he/she was supposed to do and that this accident was caused solely by Daniel Dobbins.
However, this may not be the case and the truth about what happened may be very different.
Here are some questions that I believe must be answered by an injury attorney:
1) Why didn’t the tractor trailer pull off the roadway instead of remaining in its lane and obstructing traffic?
2) How many emergency reflectors were placed in the roadway?
3) How big are the emergency reflectors?
4) How far behind the tractor trailer were the reflectors placed?
5) In what pattern were the reflectors placed?
6) Did the emergency reflectors actually reflect enough light to indicate an emergency to other motorists?
7) Were the tractor trailer’s emergency lights functioning normally?
8) How dark was the roadway?
9) Were street lights working normally?
10) Who caused the accident that led the tractor trailer to remain stopped in its lane of travel?
By properly investigating this case and answering the above questions, an injury attorney may discover that the truck driver was at least partially responsible for causing this car accident.
Since it is obvious that Daniel Dobbins rear ended this vehicle because he did not see it stopped until it was too late, it begs the question about how visible the tractor trailer really was.
If street lights were out, the Florida Department of Transportation may be liable for failing to maintain the roadways in a safe condition.
If the truck driver placed ineffective emergency flashers, either because there were too few to rely on, because they were too small or too dirty to reflect enough light, or because they were otherwise not adequately visible the truck driver may be responsible.
More than any other fact, I especially want to know why he didn’t pull onto the shoulder of the roadway. Under what circumstances did it make sense to obstruct a dark highway late at night?
At first glance, this case presents an important question about the strength of evidence proving negligence/liability. However, cases like these are won and lost on an injury attorney’s ability to investigate the facts and ask the right questions.
At this stage, I believe it is equally plausible to assume that either the truck driver has no liability or at least has partial liability. Nothing should be taken for granted.
If at least some liability can be placed on the truck driver, then the surviving heirs of Daniel Mac Dobbins may be entitled to a monetary recovery for his loss of life.
More important than legal issues and analysis, the most important thing to memorialize is the fact that a man lost his life, yet again, on Florida’s roadways. Driving in this state is dangerous and people are killed every day.
This car accident is tragic and my heart goes out to the family members and loved ones who are now suffering. I pray that they will find solace sometime soon for their loss.