Deputy John Blackwelder was killed in an Oakland Park, Florida motorcycle accident earlier this afternoon. According to news reports, Deputy Blackwelder was off duty at the time of the crash and riding his personal motorcycle. John Blackwelder was 45 years old and leaves behind two children.
Based on the facts of this case as reported by BSO and the media, I suspect that John Blackwelder’s family is entitled to very substantial compensation for his death under Florida’s wrongful death statute.
According to a press release by the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Blackwelder worked for BSO from 2000-2007 and again from 2010 until his death earlier today.
As a cyclist myself, motorcycle accidents like this one resonate with me in a very personal way. While I ride a Trek road bike and not a Honda motorcycle like Deputy Blackwelder, I am very conscious of careless drivers who ignore the importance of looking out for those of us riding on two wheels.
You would be amazed to see the level of carelessness we riders encounter on Florida roadways. Sometimes it can really make you wonder.
Given my perspective as a Florida trial lawyer, I also can’t ignore the fact that the other driver in this case was 75 years old. Moreover, a review of the accident facts make it sound as though this elderly driver was the one responsible for causing the accident.
According to information obtained from news media, the other driver, Stajka Vangov, turned her Cadillac to the left into John Blackwelder’s path of travel, causing him to crash into the right side of her vehicle.
In my mind’s eye, I see Stajka Vangov cutting across an intersection without regard for any on coming traffic, as so many careless motorists do in our area.
In the alternative, I also imagine the possibility of her poor vision playing role. At 75, I suspect Stajka Vangov’s ability to clearly see objects at a distance, especially small, sleek objects like a motorcycle, to be impaired due to old age. Her ability to judge the speed of such a vehicle must be equally impaired.
This is why I have very strong feelings against laws that permit elderly drivers to keep their licenses without more stringent controls on their physical and mental abilities. In so many ways, old age and dementia can impair a driver like alcohol or drugs.
When it comes to analyzing who is responsible for this accident from a legal perspective, I suspect that Stajka Vangov is guilty of failing to yield the right of way to John Blackwelder.
Under Florida law, whenever a driver wishes to cross lanes, he/she must look for on coming motorists and yield to those who have the right of way. Given my experience litigating traffic cases, I suspect that Stajka Vangov did not even see John Blackwelder or his motorcycle. She either turned without looking or failed to see him due to her age and physical condition.
In order to obtain the compensation they deserve, John Blackwelder’s children should hire an injury attorney who understands traffic litigation and who is capable of building a winning case for their father’s estate.
In order to make a successful claim in a case like this, injury attorneys will need to establish three primary elements:
First, they must prove that Stajka Vangov acted with negligence. Given the factual description of this accident in the news, I think it is clear that she failed to change lanes in a safe manner and may have also failed to yield the right of way. Therefore, I expect her to be completely responsible for causing this accident.
Second, injury lawyers must prove that Stajka Vangov’s negligent conduct resulted in damages/injury to John Blackwelder. This part of the case is obvious. No injury or damage could be worse than loss of life and it is clear that the fatality in this case was caused as a direct result of the accident.
Third, the defendant party, in this case Stajka Vangov, must have enough insurance or personal assets to pay any settlement or judgment obtained on behalf of John Blackwelder’s estate.
Based on the limited information presented about this case, it is my suspicion that the first two elements will be easily proven. As a result, this case will likely hinge on Stajka Vangov’s ability to pay the necessary compensation, whether from her insurance or from her own assets.
I would conclude by saying that it is still too early to draw any concrete conclusions about this case. At a minimum, police need to compete their crash investigation. From there, injury attorneys representing John Blackwelder’s family will need to review all reports, witness statements, crash reports, and any other documentation.
Most importantly, it may be necessary for private investigators working for injury attorneys to canvass the scene of the accident and look for potential witnesses and surveillance video that may have been overlooked by police investigators.
Not to second guess the police, but I have seen this happen before. I believe in being thorough and finding out things for myself.
This case is extremely tragic and there is no amount of money that will ever compensate the Blackwelder family for their loss. For his service, I hope BSO honors John Blackwelder with an official honor guard at his funeral. He may not have been killed in the line of duty, but he was a public servant doing a dangerous job that requires our respect.
My condolences go out to the Blackwelder family and all of those affected by his death.