Florida Supreme Court Answers Key Question Regarding Liability in Hit-and-Run Collisions

In Gaulden v. State of Florida, the Florida Supreme Court had an opportunity to examine the meaning of the phrase “involved in a crash” as used in Florida’s hit-and-run statute, section 316.027. Although this case is criminal in nature, it is important for motorists who suffer injuries and who seek damages from the at-fault driver in a civil proceeding. According to Florida law, an injured plaintiff can assert a rebuttable presumption that the defendant was negligent if the plaintiff can show that the defendant violated an applicable statute at the time of the accident.

In this case, the defendant was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving a fatality, pursuant to Florida Statutes section 316.027(1)(b). This provision states that the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident in which a fatality results must “immediately stop” at the scene and adhere to other requirements provided in the statute, including the provision of assistance to any injured persons. The incident in question involved a dispute between the defendant and the decedent. The two individuals were seen riding in the same vehicle. Shortly thereafter, the individuals engaged in a fight, and the decedent was ejected from the vehicle while it was in motion.

The defendant refuted the charge, stating that he was not “involved in a crash” as contemplated in the statute. The defendant argued that since the person who died in the accident was separated from the car in which he or she was riding at the time of the accident, there was no “crash.” The lower court agreed and dismissed the charges against the defendant.

The State appealed this ruling, and the appellate court reversed, finding that the statute required a much broader reading. According to the appellate court, the statute does not require that the collision involves two motor vehicles. The fact that the decedent collided with the roadway after being ejected from the car in which he was riding was sufficient for the application of this statute. The case was remanded, and the lower court concluded that the defendant was guilty of leaving the scene, pursuant to section 216.027(1)(b).

After another series of appeals, the district court certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court, asking whether a violation of the statute requires a collision with the driver’s vehicle. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative, finding that the phrase “any vehicle involved in a crash” requires the vehicle to collide with another vehicle, person, or object. The high court concluded that the facts of this case did not support a finding that there was a vehicle involved in a crash within the meaning of the statute and reversed the lower court’s rulings.

If you have been involved in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Representing victims throughout the region, including in Naples, Myers, Cape Coral, and Southwest Florida generally, we provide a free consultation to potential clients to help them learn about their legal options and how our knowledgeable team of lawyers may be able to assist them. Call us at 1-800283-7442 or contact us online to set up your appointment now.

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