Orlando Crash Kills Two Teenagers
February 6, 2011. A rollover car accident occurred in Orlando, Florida on Interstate-4 near Lake Mary. The accident occurred when Laura Grant, 17, was driving a 2003 Ford Expedition SUV going east near Lake Mary when she suddenly lost control of the vehicle. The vehicle is reported to have swerved to the right and then overturned. Investigators do not know what caused Grant to lose control of the vehicle, however, alcoholic beverages were found inside the vehicle and were scattered among the debris. This accident resulted in the deaths of Laura Grant (driver) and Edward Culberhouse, 19. Culberhouse and Grant were dating. Neither are reported to have been wearing their seatbelts. Four other passengers, Elizabeth Harrison, 18, Connor Geis, 17, Hershall Keeton, 19, and Alisa Pelot, 17, were apparently also not wearing seatbelts. This accident critically injured Harrison.
While this case is very tragic in that two young people lost their lives and that it resulted in some major injuries to the surviving passengers, there is liability on both the driver, the owner of the vehicle, and the parent/guardian who signed as a guarantor on Ms. Grant's driver's license. It is likely that Ms. Grant was not the sole owner of the Ford Expedition. The owner of that vehicle has strict liability for this accident under Florida's "dangerous instrumentality" doctrine. The dangerous instrumentality doctrine makes the owner equally liable to that of the driver (Ms. Grant). One twist of Florida law is that the owner of a vehicle's insurance policy is primary before that of the driver. So, even if Ms. Grant was borrowing that vehicle, it is the owner's policy that pays first and the driver's policy (if she had one) second.
Secondly, drivers in the State of Florida are accountable in tort to their passengers for negligence. There is insurance coverage for such legal liability except in the case of family members or resident relative household members.
Third, there is a PIP/no-fault death benefit of $5,000 available for each deceased to pay funeral expenses or other expenses that are owed as a result of the accident. This PIP/no-fault death benefit would be paid by the deceased's own policy. In particular, I am thinking that Mr. Culberhouse had his own separate auto policy by age 19.
Fourth, there is hopefully some uninsured/underinsured (UM) motorist's coverage to pay excess damages for the injured and Mr. Culberhouse's estate/survivors. Mr. Culberhouse's survivors will very likely need a probate opened to make such a claim as well as to claim damages or cash a check from a tortfeasor.
Finally and most importantly, Florida law requires that an adult sign for and guarantee a minor's liability when they get their driver's license. This is normally done by a parent. Sometimes parents get their children their own policies (notwithstanding that I do not believe that Grant owned the Expedition) thinking that doing so absolves them of liability for the minor's torts. Such a guarantor shares liability until the minor turns 18. Thus, this is yet another legal avenue for the injured/deceased to pursue in this case. There is further significant liability due to the presence of alcohol.
While many people may feel guilty about bringing a claim after a tragic event like this, the purpose of an insurance policy is to compensate those who have suffered a loss due to the action's of another. While making a claim will not make the injuries disappear and bring back the dead, this is the only legal remedy available. The fact that seatbelts were not worn is significant but likely would not affect the ultimate value of the claims because the defendant would have to show that the seatbelts would have made a difference. Due to the likely policy limits, this probably will not be where the claim turns.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a car, please contact a Central Florida car accident lawyer for legal advice regarding your situation. Each case is different and each claimant within a case is also different. Moody Law represents persons injured in car accidents in the greater Central Florida area. Home and hospital visits are available upon request. A consultation with a Central Florida car accident lawyer at Moody Law is free.