Joseph Ricciardelli was killed in a Boyton Beach, Florida car accident after he was struck on the shoulder of I-95 yesterday afternoon. Joseph Ricciardelli was a tow truck driver with Emerald Towing and was working at the time he was killed. According to news reports, Ricciardelli had stopped to help the Florida Highway Patrol tow a car south of Woolbright Avenue on I-95.
In order to safely tow the vehicle, Joseph Ricciardelli had to close off part of the HOV lane with traffic cones. After the vehicle had been loaded onto his truck, Ricciardelli began to collect his cones when the accident happened.
Based on my experience as a Florida trial lawyer, I expect Joseph Ricciardelli’s family to be entitled to VERY substantial compensation for his death.
Given my perspective as a trial attorney, my role in this blog is to identify and discuss the legal issues created by this case, based on the information made public thus far.
An investigation has revealed that the accident was caused by Johnnie V. Knowles, who swerved into Joseph Ricciardelli in order to avoid a collision with the car in front of him, when that car unexpectedly hit its brakes.
Sadly, Mr. Knowles was also killed.
While the reason for the other car’s unexpected braking is unknown, it is clear that Knowles is responsible for Ricciardelli’s death because he had a duty to drive at a safe distance behind the car in front of him. Under Florida law, a safe distance is defined as the amount of space needed to come to a complete stop without causing an accident, should the car in front of you slam on its brakes.
This leaves four possibilities:
1) Knowles was following too closely behind the car in front of him, leaving him no choice but to swerve to avoid a crash when that car hit its brakes.
2) Knowles was speeding, therefore increasing the amount of space needed to come to a stop without causing an accident.
3) Knowles was not paying attention and failed to respond quick enough, thereby forcing him to swerve to avoid an accident with the braking car in front of him.
4) Knowles may have done a combination of any of the above, such as speeding and following too closely.
Regardless, as a Florida trial attorney reviewing the facts of this case as presented in the media, it is my belief that Johnnie Knowles is responsible for this accident, even though he may also be one of its tragic victims.
While Johnnie Knowles may be responsible for this accident, it is equally important to remember that Joseph Ricciardelli was working at the time he was killed. That means his case is as much a work related death as it is a car accident.
From a legal standpoint, I can tell you this is a good thing because it enhances the likelihood that Joseph’s family will make a recovery.
When it comes to building a successful claim under Florida’s wrongful death statute, we must keep in mind that there are three basic elements to any successful claim:
First, there must be proof that one party acted with negligence thereby causing the accident. Based on the facts presented, it is pretty clear that Johnnie Knowles caused the accident when he negligently failed to drive in a safe manner, either by following too closely, speeding, not paying attention, or a combination thereof.
Second, the victim party must have sustained a quantifiable injury. In fatality cases the injury is obvious and little debate can be had regarding the extent of damage. Nothing is worse than the loss of life. Therefore, this will not be an issue in this case.
Third, there must be a collectible party with adequate insurance or assets to compensate the victim’s family for any settlement or judgment obtained on his behalf.
According to news reports, Johnnie Knowles killed Joseph Ricciardelli while driving a 1995 Toyota Camry. Given the fact that he was driving a car that is 17 years old, I doubt he had any meaningful assets or any car insurance beyond the minimum required by law. Therefore, collecting on a successful settlement or judgment may be impossible.
However, this case is different because Joseph Ricciardelli was killed while working on the job and while performing his duties as a tow truck operator. Therefore, his death should be compensated by his employer’s insurance company.
In other words, the party to pay compensation will most likely be Emerald Towing’s insurance carrier
While no amount of money will ever compensate for the loss of life, cases like these require substantial dollar figures to make the compensation meaningful.
In most cases, when there is clear liability, someone was killed, and there is adequate insurance, injury attorneys are able to negotiate settlements to the policy limits of available insurance simply because such settlements are usually in the best interests of the insurance company and the responsible party.
Should an insurance company refuse to settle accordingly, they may be liable for acting with bad faith. Should a case of this type end up in litigation, bad faith will undoubtedly increase the amount of exposure faced by the insurance company.
However, at this stage of the case it is extremely important for Joseph Ricciardelli’s family to hire an injury lawyer. The worst thing they can do is try to figure this out on their own or rely on the representations of others.
This case needs to be investigated the right way, evidence needs to be collected and preserved (such as the vehicles), and a winning case needs to be formulated.
By following these steps, an injury attorney is able to ensure that his/her client is placed in a position where they have the greatest likelihood of obtaining a successful outcome.
Starting early increases the chances of winning and of obtaining a good result.
At the end of the day, we cannot forget that this case comes down to two men losing their lives. Nothing could be more tragic for either party. Putting all the legal talk aside, my heart goes out to the two families that are now suffering from the loss of their loved ones. My condolences go out to them all.