Frederick Wood was killed in a Fort Worth, Florida car accident when a tractor-trailer swerved onto the wrong side of the highway yesterday. The driver of a Ford Expedition, who also hit the tractor-trailer, is in critical condition at Lakeland Regional Medical Center.
In my analysis of the available facts, I believe that Frederick Wood’s family is entitled to substantial compensation under Florida’s wrongful death statute.
Under Florida law, 3 things are needed to make a wrongful death action successful.
1) There must be liability… meaning, the person who caused the accident must have done something wrong.
2) There must be injury… in the case of wrongful death, injury is obvious. However, it is still necessary for injury attorneys to prove that the death was caused by the offending party’s negligence.
3) The responsible party must have sufficient insurance or assets to satisfy any out of court settlement or judgment.
According to news reports, the car accident occurred in the same stretch of U.S. 27 as two other accidents that morning, with a total of nine vehicles involved. There was apparently a controlled burn happening near the area, and drivers reported that the air smelled like smoke. Furthermore, the stretch of highway is located near a swampy area with no overhead lighting.
It is unclear why the controlled burn took place in the morning, when heavy fog is already common in the area. “What we understand is that visibility was poor,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd commented, saying that poor visibility is common in Florida mornings in March.
“When you have a foggy condition, especially at this time of year – and there’s lots of patchy fog — you have to be exceptionally cautious when you are driving a motor vehicle,” said the officer. “We tell people, you’ve got to be careful… but sometimes people are not careful enough and things happen.”
During the accident, a southbound tractor-trailer crossed the median, going towards northbound traffic at approximately 4:55 a.m. It is not clear whether the driver was adhering to the 65 miles per hour speed limit or whether drowsiness or other factors were involved in the crash.
Wood and the Expedition collided with the tractor trailer as it crossed the median. The motorcycle flipped over, while the Expedition rolled over onto its right side, trapping the driver. Wood, who was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, was pronounced dead at the scene by responding paramedics. The unidentified driver of the Expedition was airlifted to the hospital after emergency rescue workers cut the roof of the vehicle off in order to extract the driver. The driver’s name has not yet been released.
The driver of the tractor-trailer was unhurt and is cooperating with authorities. It is not clear whether charges will be filed regarding the car accident, which closed down all U.S. 27 lanes in conjunction with the other two car accidents that morning. The highway was reopened at approximately 11:30 a.m.
The second accident involved four vehicles: a white Ford pickup truck with a cargo trailer attached, a silver Toyota RAV-4, a white Chrysler minivan, and a dark red Dodge Charger. The crash occurred in the northbound lane of U.S. 27 near the first accident. All people involved in the crash were taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center of Lake Wales Medical Center, but none sustained serious injures.
The third accident, which occurred in the southbound lanes of the highway, involved a Mitsubishi four-door sedan and a dark red Ford Taurus. Neither driver was hurt. “It was so foggy, I couldn’t even see the semi [from the other accident] at all. I’ve never seen fog like that before… it’s almost like a thick smoke instead of a fog,” said Tom Morrow, who was driving the Taurus.
When the tractor trailer swerved onto the wrong side of the highway, the driver violated Florida law in two different ways. First, he/she failed to maintain a single lane. Second, he/she drove the wrong way.
These traffic violations are clearly what caused the accident. As a result, the first element of a successful injury case seems to be met. Namely, that the responsible party did something wrong to cause the accident.
Since the accident is what caused Frederick Wood’s death, it appears as though the second element of a successful injury case is also met.
As a result, the ultimate question in this case, from an injury lawyer’s perspective, comes down to whether or not the tractor trailer driver had insurance.
In my past experience, tractor trailers do have substantial insurance because they are commercial vehicles driven by the employees of various corporations. It is rare to find a commercial truck company or other corporation that fails to adequately insure its drivers.
It is important to keep in mind that my analysis in this case is based on the limited information made available in the news media. However, with that in mind, I suspect that Frederick Wood’s family will be able to recover a substantial award for his death.
I think liability is clear, causation of death is clear, and the likelihood that the tractor trailer was insured is great.
For this reason, Frederick Wood’s family should hire an injury attorney as soon as possible. Building a winning case takes time and requires substantial work. This is especially so in cases that seem good and lack any serious evidentiary or other legal problem.
Putting all these legal matters aside, the most important thing to recognize here is that a person lost their life. No amount of money or compensation will ever make that right. The family is missing a loved one and seeking justice in court is realistically limited.
My condolences go out to his family. Hopefully they will