David E. Roberson was killed in a Bradford, Florida truck accident early yesterday morning. According to news reports, David Roberson, who is from Mershon, Georgia, was a passenger in a 2005 Chevrolet pickup truck driven by Debra Sharpe. Reports indicate that the accident occurred when Sharpe rear ended a tractor trailer driven by Joseph Goble. It is being claimed that Goble was stopped at a light and Sharpe simply failed to stop in time.
Sadly, this has resulted in the loss of a person's life.
As a legal blogger, my purpose in writing this entry is to identify the evidentiary issues and discuss the law as it relates to a case of this type. As legal journalists, we report on Florida cases like these as they develop.
Given my perspective as an injury attorney, I can tell you I have mixed feelings about this case. For reasons I will explain below, I suspect that David Roberson's surviving family will likely be entitled to substantial compensation for his passing. In all likelihood, such compensation would come from Sharpe's car insurance and not her personally. There is also a remote possibility, which I will discuss later, that may permit a claim against the insurance of the tractor trailer driven by Goble.
Cases like these give me mixed feelings because passengers who get killed are usually friends or family of the driver who may have caused the accident. This puts the passenger's family in a strange situation. While they may be entitled to compensation for their loss, its a weird feeling and one many people aren't necessarily comfortable with.
That said, there are a few legal issues a case of this type concerns.
First, this case concerns a rear end collision. Whenever one driver rear ends another, Florida law presumes that the rear driver is the responsible party. This is due to the idea that drivers have a legal duty to follow at a safe distance and stop, even in an emergency, without making contact with the vehicle in front of them.
However, this law is also something we injury attorneys refer to as a "rebuttable presumption."
In other words, this assumption, while likely accurate in most cases, may be attacked and discredited with other evidence. For example, if the front driver erratically changed lanes or failed to yield right of way, causing the rear driver to crash into them, then the rear driver may not be the one at fault.
Accidents of this type are common when slower moving traffic tries to merge in front of faster moving traffic, such as at highway on-ramps.
Second, this case not only involves a rear end collision, but one with a tractor trailer.
This can change the whole calculus for the injured/deceased party. This is due to a part on the back of a tractor trailer called an "underride guard." This device is basically a super strong metal bumper that is intended to prevent a smaller vehicle from travelling up the rear of a tractor trailer in the event of a rear end collision.
Some trucks have strong underride guards, others have weak ones. The difference can sometime be drastic, depending on the circumstances. Take a look at the following comparison I found on the website for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS):
The vehicle on the LEFT sustained a 35 mph full-width crash into the rear of a Hyundai trailer with a weak underride guard. In contrast, the vehicle on the RIGHT sustained a 35 mph full-width crash into a Wabash trailer with a strong guard. As you can see, the RIGHT vehicle did not suffer any damage to the passenger compartment. In some accidents, this can make the difference between life and death.
Why do I bring this up? Well, maybe the strength of the underride guard in this case was not to par. Maybe it was damaged. Maybe it was missing altogether.
These are important considerations because the trucking company may be held accountable if it can be proven that they failed to properly maintain the underride guard on the tractor trailer.
You see, for David Roberson, two things are responsible for causing his death: 1) the fact that the vehicle he was in didn't stop in time, and 2) and the fact that they collided with the rear of a tractor trailer.
At the end of the day, a smart injury attorney will analyze his/her client's case for any and all sources of liability. If the trucking company was negligent in how it maintained or used its truck, they may be held accountable.
In any event, the most important thing to remember here is that someone lost his life. Our roads are so dangerous and sadly, people are killed on them every week.
My condolences go out to David Roberson's family. I am sure they and Ms. Sharpe are all suffering right now.