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Auto Insurer Pays Families of Teens Who Died in Stolen SUV, Despite Their Fault

Although Florida is a “no-fault” state when it comes to auto insurance, personal injury protection (PIP) benefits (paid to insureds, regardless of who is to blame) only goes so far. You’ll get up to $2,500 for emergency medical coverage and up to $10,000 total for medical expenses. If you’re in a serious crash, that won’t go far. PIP also won’t cover your damages for pain and suffering. However, you can step outside of the no fault law and file a liability claim against the at-fault driver for damages that extend beyond PIP, but only if you’ve suffered a disabling condition, permanent scarring, broken bones or your loved one died. 

You can’t expect, though, that it will be an easy win. In most cases, insurers put up a fight, whether it’s about the issue of liability or how much they should pay in damages. The fact that this is the norm made it somewhat rare when recently a big name auto insurer agreed to pay the maximum limit on a liability policy to the families of three teens killed in a crash – even though the teens were almost certainly at-fault and the insured was also injured.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, a representative for the insurer insisted that while there was no evidence the insured was at-fault, it was only trying to protect its 29-year-old insured when it paid out $20,000 – the liability limit on the policy – to the families of the three teens who died in the crash and a fourth who survived, but was injured. The insured was injured too, and is still using a wheelchair and enduring physical therapy. 

News reports of the collision are that the insured was on his way to work at 4 a.m. when the teens, in a stolen sport utility vehicle, ran a red light and slammed into his passenger car traveling 112 mph. Local police investigators concluded unequivocally the older man was not at-fault for the crash.

Despite a lack of any evidence the insured was to blame, the insurer explained the payout ultimately comes down to Florida’s comparative fault law. As explained in F.S. 768.81, in any negligence action, any contributory fault (shared fault by a plaintiff) will not bar recovery, but it will proportionately diminish the amount of economic and non-economic damages awarded. What that means, as our West Palm Beach car accident attorneys can explain, is even if the victim’s share of the blame was 1 percent, the teens’ parents could pursue him for it.

That’s not to say that cases with such slim margins are worth pursuing, but it seems the insurer was prepared to eliminate that possibility with a $20,000 payout that relieved its insured of any future liability. Of course, $20,000 doesn’t go far in any case, and certainly not a wrongful death action when it’s split four ways. But it will put the matter to rest for the insured, and the insurer insists it will not raise the rates of the policyholder as a result of the payout.

As for the policyholder, he may have a few different options for collecting damages. The first would be through his own personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, which provide up to $10,000. Because he has serious injuries, he would likely be eligible to step outside Florida’s “no fault” system to pursue bodily injury liability coverage from the other driver, but considering the car was stolen (and we don’t even know if the joyriding teen behind the wheel had a license) it isn’t likely insurance will cover the crash. Nor could the vehicle’s owner be held vicariously responsible because the owner had not given the teens permission to drive it.

That leaves two options:

  • Uninsured motorist coverage;
  • Personal liability action.

Usually, UM coverage would be the only option in a case like this, as teens don’t typically have their own assets, or at least not a wealth of them worth pursuing to collect damages. However, if the teens’ estates are able to collect on the victim’s liability policy, it’s possible he could turn around and collect that money from the estate.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Geico: We agreed to pay $20,000 to families of kids who died in a stolen SUV to ‘protect’ our client, Oct. 14, 2017, By Zachary T. Sampson, The Tampa Bay Times

More Blog Entries:

Relate Back Rule Can Be Applied in Some Florida Injury Cases Where Statute of Limitations Has Expired, Oct. 19, 2017, West Palm Beach Car Accident Attorney Blog

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