23-Year-Old Passenger Dies In North Lakeland Accident

Wrongful Death

Rachel Nicole Tew, 23-years-old, died on March 27, 2017 after an accident on Deeson Road in Lakeland, Florida.  Tew was a passenger in a 1999 Ford F-250 pickup truck driven by Haley Carnley.  The accident happened at approximately 9:15 pm. as Carnley attempted to stop for another pickup truck in front of her and skidded off the roadway and into a ditch.  The pickup truck flipped over and hit a fence.  The driver of the pickup truck, Carnley, is only 16 years old.

Legal Claim Of Passenger Against Driver In Florida

Florida allows a passenger who is injured to sue the driver for an accident.  With this particular case, Carnley and Tew were likely friends, however, Tew’s estate (likely established by her parents) has a right to sue Carnley for damages for the wrongful death of their daughter.  The fact that they were friends does not matter in the eyes of the law.

Joint And Several Liability Of Responsible Adult

Because Carnley is only 16 years old, she was required under Florida law to have a parent or legal guardian sign and agree to be legally responsible for her through the age of majority.  Pursuant to section 322.09, Fla. Stat.:

(2) Any negligence or willful misconduct of a minor under the age of 18 years when driving a motor vehicle upon a highway shall be imputed to the person who has signed the application of such minor for a permit or license, which person shall be jointly and severally liable with such minor for any damages caused by such negligence or willful misconduct.

In Florida, jointly and severally liable means that the adult signing the license may have to pay the entire judgment against the minor should the case go to a jury trial.  This is why the insurance company for Carnley and the responsible adult should offer their policy limits to the estate, even if the limits may not be enough to satisfy the value of the legal claim.

Joint And Several Liability With Vehicle Owner

In addition, the owner of the vehicle driven by Carnley is going to be held vicariously liable for Carnley’s negligence under Florida’s “dangerous instrumentality” doctrine.  In Florida, a motor vehicle is considered a dangerous instrumentality due to its propensity to cause serious injury or death to others.  Florida law holds the owner jointly and severally liable for an accident up to the caps contained in section 322.021, Fla. Stat.  Again, joint and several liability means that the owner may have to pay the entire judgment.

This law applies any time that you loan your vehicle out to another person in Florida.  When you do so, you should be prepared to be held financially responsible for any accidents or damage that the borrower causes.  Your insurance rates will also go up after a permissive user causes an accident with your vehicle.

Proper Way To Bring A Wrongful Death Claim

If the only survivors of Ms. Tew are her parents and there are no claims against the estate for medical expenses or liens, then an insurance company can settle their claims without the necessity of a probate.  However, if Ms. Tew has a minor child and/or statutory medical or hospital liens, then a probate will become necessary for court approval of the settlement and allocation of the settlement among the claimants and creditors.  A release from the lienholders will need to be obtained by the estate and on behalf of the survivors.  It is important to remember that statutory medical or hospital liens can attach the settlements received by survivors with “derivative” claims by statute, under contract theories, or by case authority.

Talk To A Lakeland Wrongful Death Attorney For Help With Your Loved One’s Case

If you lost a loved one in an accident, you may be entitled to legal damages as a “survivor” under Florida law.  A Lakeland wrongful death attorney can help you bring the appropriate legal claims by the appropriate legal means.  Contact us today for your free consultation.

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