Florida Court Reverses Ruling in Palm Beach Car Accident at Intersection Where Traffic Lights Were not Working – Searcy v. Zawackis

In Searcy v. Zawackis, the Fourth District Court of Appeal explains that negligence is a two-way street in a Florida car accident lawsuit.

Sue Ellen Kelly was killed when the car she was driving collided with a FedEx truck at an intersection in Palm Beach County. The accident occurred shortly after Hurricane Wilma struck the area, as a result of which the traffic lights at the intersection were out of service. Florida law requires motorists to treat an intersection with inoperable traffic lights as a four-way stop. The FedEx truck allegedly had stopped at the intersection facing west just before the accident. As the truck turned left to head south, Kelly’s car – headed northbound – allegedly entered the intersection and collided into the truck.

The personal representative for Kelly’s estate sued both FedEx and the driver, alleging that her negligence caused the accident.

A driver who was headed northbound at the time of the accident testified at a deposition that Kelly was speeding when she entered the intersection – the driver said he was going 42 miles-per-hour (the speed limit was 35) and that Kelly passed him “really going fast” – and did not stop at the intersection before crashing into the truck. A southbound driver also testified during a deposition, stating that the truck driver looked right and left, then looked down for two or three seconds before looking right again and then straight ahead before proceeding into the intersection when Kelly’s car “came flying” in. The FedEx driver testified at deposition that she did not look down at any time before moving into the intersection.

Although the circuit court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the Fourth District reversed the decision on appeal, finding that “[D]efendants did not show conclusively the absence of any genuine issue of material fact regarding the FedEx driver’s alleged lack of negligence.” According to the court, the question of whether the truck driver looked down before pulling into the intersection is material because the delay caused “may have been sufficient for her to see the decedent speeding towards the intersection in the northbound lanes.”

Florida operates under a comparative negligence system, in which a person who is injured partly due to his or her own negligence can hold another negligent party proportionately liable. Here, the truck driver’s failure to look left again before proceeding may constitute negligence, according to the court, despite the fact that Florida law required the drivers to treat the intersection as a four-way stop. In reaching this decision, the court noted that an accident reconstruction expert deposed by Kelly’s estate testified that if the truck driver failed to look left, it would have been a contributing cause to the accident.

The court reversed the summary judgment ruling and remanded the case to the circuit court for trial.

The South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine represent clients throughout the area, including in Fort Lauderdale, Hialeah and Coral Springs. If you have suffered injury because of another person’s negligence, call for a free consultation today.

Related blog posts:

Court Explains Causation Presumption in Florida Rear End Car Accidents – Sorel v. Koonce

Court: Paralyzed Car Accident Plaintiff Not Injured By Alleged Failure to Wear Seatbelt – Henry v. Hoelke

Causation In Florida Car Accident Litigation – Durse v. Henn