Many people are familiar with the popular myth that the pedestrian always has the right of way. Although the vulnerability of pedestrians makes it important that drivers of all types of motor vehicles exercise caution when pedestrians are present, there are circumstances where a driver will not be liable for a fatal pedestrian accident. If the truck driver was operating his big-rig lawfully, the trucking company and the commercial driver might avoid liability if he has taken all reasonable actions to avoid the pedestrian accident. In this blog, our Miami tractor-trailer accident attorneys analyze a recent decision by the Florida 2nd DCA that provides an example of the type of evidence a court will consider when determining whether the driver of a large truck is liable for the death of a pedestrian.
In Panzera v. O’Neal, a pedestrian was struck by a tractor-trailer after he scaled a fence and tried to cross the interstate. The man attempted to cross where no street lights were present at 3 a.m. After the tractor-trailer had stricken the man, his estate filed a wrongful death action because the man failed to survive his injuries. The driver of the semi-truck testified that he could not see the pedestrian until he crossed the emergency lane into the lane occupied by the semi-truck. The truck driver also testified that he applied the brakes hard immediately upon seeing the pedestrian in an attempt to prevent the tragedy.
In support of the commercial driver’s claims, several types of evidence were presented. Evidence was introduced revealing the truck was equipped with a governor that prevented the truck from exceeding 65 miles per hour, which was less than the posted speed limit. The big-rig produced a report that revealed the driver did attempt a sudden deceleration of the vehicle. This report was corroborated by the Traffic Homicide Investigation Report prepared by a highway patrol officer. The officer indicated that the truck left skid marks over a distance of a hundred feet before the collision substantiating the driver’s claim that he attempted to stop suddenly to avoid the pedestrian accident. The officer concluded based on his investigation that the truck driver could not have done anything more to avoid the crash. Based on this conclusion, the officer concluded that the pedestrian was the sole proximate cause of the fatal accident.
The trucking company filed for summary judgment based on the law enforcement fatality report. The commercial carrier contended that the evidence relied on by the law enforcement investigation established the pedestrian was the cause of the accident. The evidence offered by the estate of the decedent was testimony from the pedestrian’s parents speculating that the commercial driver could have executed further evasive maneuvers. The trial judge granted the motion for summary judgment.
The 2nd DCA upheld the trial judge’s decision to grant summary judgment noting the lack of evidence that the truck driver was negligent in hitting the pedestrian. The appellate court observed the parents of the decedent did not have first-hand knowledge of the pedestrian accident nor did they have any experience or training in accident reconstruction. The court dismissed the persuasiveness of the parents’ testimony as merely speculative layperson opinion. Rather, the appellate court observed the admissible evidence revealed the truck driver was obeying the speed limit and engaged in an attempt to brake as soon as he could reasonably see the pedestrian crossing the interstate in the dark. The skid marks also revealed that the truck driver swerved to try to avoid running into the pedestrian. Because the estate offered no admissible evidence since the parents did not observe the accident and lacked the background to give expert testimony, the appellate court upheld summary judgment for the defendant.
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This case dispels the myth that a pedestrian will always recover damages when hit by a tractor-trailer or other motor vehicle. The plaintiff has the burden of proving the negligence of the trucking company and its driver. The evidentiary analysis can be complex as this case reveals, so you should speak to a proven Miami trucking accident attorney. Our Miami personal injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to pursue the results you desire. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.