It was supposed to be one of the most joyous times in the young couple’s lives. They were recently married and had won a trip through their church to attend a marriage retreat in Fort Lauderdale. They were also expecting their first child, a boy, who was due within two months.
But they would never see that day. While standing outside the hotel cabana, located at the corner of a sharp curve with lots of fast-moving traffic, the pregnant wife was struck by a drunk driver. Both she and her unborn son were killed. Her husband, who had been in a nearby restroom, sustained only minor injuries. But his life would never be the same.
Jurors in the civil lawsuit against the drunk driver and the hotel determined husband/plaintiff should be awarded $24 million for his losses. In apportioning fault, jurors determined the drunk driver was 85 percent to blame, while the hotel was 15 percent responsible. If the verdict withstands an appeal (to which the hotel as alluded), it will owe $3.6 million.
Although $24 million sounds like a lot of money, consider plaintiff is not likely to collect most of it. With the lion’s share of the liability falling on the shoulders of the drunk driver, and with her in prison for the next 15 years after pleading guilty to two counts of DUI manslaughter, it isn’t likely plaintiff will receive much from her. He may collect some from her insurance company. He may be able to seize whatever assets she may have had. And if she filed for bankruptcy, judgments for DUI-related accidents and injuries are non-dischargable.
Still, realistically speaking, there may not be much to gain.
It’s the case against the hotel that will be the most beneficial – not only monetarily, but in terms of preventing future incidents.
Drunk driving remains a scourge in the U.S., accounting for a third of all fatal crashes. This is true even though prison penalties, fines and civil damages are hefty. People continue to engage in this reckless and careless behavior.
But there are other entities that can be held liable when DUI crashes occur. For example, a bar that serves alcohol to a minor who later gets in the car and causes a crash may be found responsible for damages under Florida’s dram shop law. The owner of the vehicle driven by a drunk driver may be liable. A victim’s own insurance company may be compelled to pay underinsured/uninsured motorist benefits if the at-fault party lacked adequate insurance coverage.
In this case, the issue was the hotel’s alleged inaction despite knowing about the potential hazard. The cabana, which was open to guests, was situated on a sharp curve with no barrier between guests and the traffic that rounded that bend. A traffic study entered into evidence revealed vehicles routinely went around the curve at speeds in excess of 50 mph, and some even went as fast as 75 mph.
Staffers were aware of the danger, evidence showed. In fact, they one had written to city council about the problem, calling that stretch of road a “race track.” The problem had also been discussed at staff meetings. At one point, staffers illegally erected a stop sign on the city road, though that was later removed.
At no point did the hotel erect a barrier and neither did it warn guests of the potential for danger or keep them from entering the hazardous area.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Jury Awards $24 Million to Widower in Fatal Cabana Crash, June 24, 2015, By Emily Miller, Sun Sentinel
More Blog Entries:
Mathis v. Huff & Puff Trucking – Proving Injuries and Causation, June 30, 2015, Broward County Car Accident Attorney Blog