How A Hit-And-Run Can Affect An Auto Accident Case

 In Personal Injury

Auto Accident Case In Greenacres, Florida Sheds Light On Implications Of A Hit-And-Run Accident

On March 23rd, 18 year old Marielena Plaza was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver who ran a stop sign.  Marielena was a backseat passenger at the time of the incident and was ejected after the crash.  Marielena’s mother, Carmen Cluadio Rosa, was driving her Honda CRV and stated that she caught sight of a Toyota Camry barreling toward her vehicle at an intersection so fast she couldn’t swerve.  Marielena was pronounced dead that night at St. Mary’s Medical Center.  Later, the authorities caught the hit-and-run driver of the Camry, Hector Calderon (19), hiding behind a nearby restaurant.  Charges of DUI manslaughter against Calderon are pending.

While this horrible and tragic accident should never have occurred, hopefully the family of Marielena Plaza will gain some comfort from the legal system as it will certainly go after the negligent and reckless behavior of Hector Calderon.  Aside from the obvious criminal matter to be handled by the State Prosecutor’s office, there will likely as well be a civil lawsuit against Calderon. 

On the civil side of this terrible incident, a negligence action should be filed by the family of the late Ms. Plaza.  In addition to the negligence action, the family should include a punitive damages count against Calderon.  The punitive damages count should be pled based on Mr. Calderon’s reckless and extremely dangerous behavior (drinking and driving).  Punitive damages are damages awarded in addition to actual damages (such as medical expenses and pain and suffering) when the defendant acted with recklessness, malice, or deceit.  The purpose of punitive damages is to reform or deter both the defendant and others from these types of wrongs in the future.

Furthermore, in regards to the hit-and-run, Florida law allows for a presumption of negligence in this matter.  Since a jury may infer that a driver who flees the scene of an accident is negligent, it follows that the act of fleeing may also be indicative of the driver’s degree of fault.  For example, a jury could reasonably determine that a driver who is only 1% at fault in an accident would be less likely to flee from an accident than a driver who was more at fault; conversely, a jury could determine that a driver who is 99% at fault is more likely to flee than a driver who was less at fault.

Also, if the plaintiff in a hit-and-run accident suffers additional mental anguish as a result of the fact that a defendant fled the scene of the accident, they may be entitled to additional damages.  A victim’s additional suffering due to the circumstances of an accident is relevant to prove, and probative of, the victim’s damages.  White v. Westlund, 624 So.2d 1148 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993).

The real issue with these types of cases is comes down to insurance coverage for both the defendant and the family.  Florida currently does not require drivers to carry bodily injury insurance coverage (BI).  Florida does require all drivers to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection insurance (PIP) and $10,000 in property insurance coverage.  Unfortunately, the Florida Legislature cares more for automobile property coverage than it does for the people injured inside those vehicles.  The purpose of PIP is that the first $10,000 of your medical treatment after an accident is covered by your own automobile insurance, regardless of who is at fault for the accident.  If the defendant driver does have BI insurance, then any medical treatment and pain and suffering should be attached to that coverage if they are at fault.

Sadly, all too often accidents such as these do not provide enough coverage to fully compensate the injured parties.  I oftentimes have clients come in and say they have “full coverage” only to find out that they do not.  Please consult an attorney if you are unsure what coverage you have.  If the person at fault in your accident does not have BI coverage, then you must go after them personally for any recovery. In my experience that is unlikely because if they have low coverage they almost always have no personal assets to go after.  Also, if the at fault party does not have enough BI coverage to fully compensate your injuries, you are stuck in the same situation as mentioned before.  This is why I always advise people to purchase uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM) for their vehicles.

UM/UIM coverage kicks in when the at fault party in your accident either has no BI coverage, or an inadequate amount of coverage to compensate you for your injuries.  UM/UIM coverage is purchased through your own automobile insurance company.  I always recommend that people purchase at least $100,000 in UM/UIM coverage if they can afford it.  Your UM/UIM coverage may also be “stacked” with other vehicles you own under the same policy.  For example, if you have a $100,000 UM/UIM stacked policy with two vehicles under that policy, you now have $200,000 in coverage.  While this option does cost more, it is worthwhile to consider purchasing it to provide you with adequate coverage.  Please consult with your insurance agent about these possibilities.

Additional possibilities do exist to search for other insurance policies to help contribute if the at fault driver does not have adequate insurance and you do not have UM/UIM coverage.  Theories on negligent road design, inadequate signage or inadequate lighting may be other avenues to explore in order to be fully compensated for your injuries.  While these possibilities are feasible in some circumstances, they are usually unlikely to br a contributing factor in accidents.

The attorneys at LaBovick, LaBovick & Diaz have years of experience dealing with automobile accidents and finding enough coverage to fully compensate injured victims and their families.  Unfortunately, accidents happen and proactively protecting yourself and your passengers with insurance coverage is extremely important should you become injured due to the negligence of another.  If you have any questions about insurance coverage you would like to discuss or you have been injured by the negligence of another, call today for a free consultation.

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