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Palm Beach County, FL

The decedent in this wrongful death action was a 68-year-old man who was making a left turn at a Boca Raton intersection when his car was struck by the defendant’s vehicle, resulting in fatal injuries to the decedent. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant caused the collision by driving at an excessive speed. The defendant maintained that he was driving with the right-of-way at or near the speed limit when the decedent made a sudden left turn in front of him, thereby causing the collision. The decedent was ejected from the vehicle and the defendant also asserted a seatbelt defense, as well as a claim that the decedent was impaired by alcohol.

The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert testified that the decedent was attempting to make a left turn when the defendant’s vehicle entered the intersection. This expert opined that the defendant’s vehicle was traveling at a speed of approximately 70 mph before it skidded about ________ feet and struck the side of the decedent’s car. Evidence showed that the posted speed limit in the area of the accident was 40 mph. The investigating officer also testified that, in his opinion, the defendant’s vehicle left about ________ feet of skid marks prior to the impact.

The decedent was ejected from the vehicle and sustained a brain injury. He remained conscious and hospitalized, except for a few days, until the brain injury eventually caused multi-system failure including pulmonary failure which required mechanical ventilation. The decedent died approximately six months post-accident. He was survived by his wife and adult children.

The defendant denied that the ________ foot skid mark in question was caused by his vehicle. He claimed that he was driving at about the 40 mph posted speed limit at the time of the accident. The defendant’s accident reconstruction expert opined that the defendant’s speed was just over the posted speed limit.

The defendant contended that the traffic light in his direction turned to green just as he entered the intersection and that the decedent’s left turn lane had a green arrow that had turned to a solid green light before the decedent turned left. The defendant contended that he did not have time to slow his vehicle or avoid the impact when the decedent suddenly turned left in front of him and violated his right-of-way.

Evidence showed that the decedent’s blood alcohol level was measured at .05 about 30 minutes after the accident. The plaintiff’s toxicologist testified that the decedent’s alcohol level was rising at the time of the collision, so it would have been lower than .05 at the time of the impact. However, the defendant’s toxicologist testified that the decedent’s blood alcohol reading at the hospital was lower than it was at the time of the accident and, thus, would have been higher at the time of the collision. The defendant’s expert estimated that the decedent consumed four or more glasses of wine with dinner prior to the accident.

The defendant’s seatbelt expert brought an exemplar seatbelt mechanism to court to demonstrate that the belt had a “pre-tensioner” which locked the seat belt harness on impact when the airbag sensor deployed. The defense argued that this showed that the seatbelt in the decedent’s vehicle was locked in the stowed position upon impact, and could not have been in use. The defendant’s seatbelt expert also testified that the unbelted decedent would have sustained only slight injury if he had remained in the vehicle belted with airbags deployed; but that the fatal head injury occurred due to the decedent being ejected out the passenger window, then airborne for about 15 feet and tumbling onto the sidewalk another 16 feet.The jury found no negligence on the part of the defendant which was a legal cause of injury to the decedent.

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