Jennifer E. Jenkins and Kathleen M. O'Callaghan were killed in a Zolfo Springs, Florida car accident yesterday afternoon. Also injured was Daniel Jenkins and his 2 month old daughter Ashley Jenkins. According to news reports, the accident was caused by a semi-truck that crossed into Jennifer Jenkins' lane of travel and hit her head-on.
As a Florida trial lawyer, I can tell you that the families of Jennifer Jenkins and Kathleen O'Callaghan are most likely entitled to VERY substantial monetary compensation for their loss in this case. I also expect Daniel Jenkins and his daughter Ashley to receive substantial compensation for their injuries as well.
As a lawyer who travels all over the state and who has been on many rural highways, I will never understand why these high speed areas are only 2 lanes wide with no dividers between lanes. Every time I am passed by a semi-truck on one of these roads I hold my breath and sigh a relief when I am passed unharmed.
Why doesn't our government simply build these roadways wider? Why don't they put dividers between lanes? At least a painted median would create a buffer that might give a drifting vehicle that extra fraction of a second to avoid a crash.
I am always at a total loss when I hear of cases like this one.
Regardless, this entry will focus on the legal issues created by this case given my perspective as a Florida trial lawyer. I will offer my legal analysis and explain why I think the Jenkins and O'Callaghan families are entitled to very substantial compensation for their losses and their injuries.
Accordingly, lets begin with a discussion of the facts.
According to news reports, Jennifer Jenkins was driving a 2005 Toyota Corolla eastbound on SR 64 when a westbound semi-truck driven by Michael J. Phillips crossed the center dividing line and hit her head-on.
Kathleen O'Callaghan was a passenger in Jennifer's Corolla.
In an effort to avoid the accident, Jennifer Jenkins slammed on her brakes and tried swerving to the right. This effort was unsuccessful and the semi-truck hit her Corolla anyway, causing it to be pushed backwards and rotate counter-clockwise.
The physics of these events are very important because they tell me that the semi-truck's speed was a factor in this crash.
Even though we are talking about two different vehicles with huge disparities in weight, it nonetheless takes a tremendous amount of velocity to stop a car, push it backwards, and rotate it counter-clockwise... especially when that car is moving forward at highway speeds.
As Jennifer's vehicle took its evasive maneuvers and collided with the semi-truck, Daniel Jenkins took evasive maneuvers of his own. In an effort to avoid the crash, Daniel swerved to the left. This caused his 2003 Ford Escape to flip over and land on its side.
Thankfully Daniel and his infant daughter were not killed. According to news reports, their injuries are only minor.
The driver of the semi-truck, Michael J. Phillips, was seriously injured and transported to Tampa General Hospital for treatment.
It is important to note that all drivers and passengers in this case were wearing seat belts.
Under Florida law, whenever a vehicle crosses the dividing lane into on-coming traffic, that vehicle is legally responsible for any accidents it causes. This is called failing to maintain a single lane.
The step-by-step facts of this accident are important because a successul claim for wrongful death resulting from a car accident or truck crash, must have three elements:
1) The "defendant" party must be "liable" for causing the car accident. This means the defendant party must have done something wrong to cause the crash. In this case, the semi-truck is liable for causing the accident because the driver failed to maintain a single lane of travel and crossed into on-coming traffic, causing a head-on collision.
2) The "victim" party must have sustained provable injuries as a result of the "defendant" party's liability. In this case the injuries are obvious: two women were killed and two others were hurt when their SUV flipped over.
3) The "defendant" party must have sufficient insurance or assets to pay any settlement or judgment rendered in favor of the victims.
To obtain the compensation they deserve, the families of Jennifer Jenkins and Kathleen O'Callaghan should hire very experienced trial attorneys because a case like this one can get very complicated. Whenever fatalities are an issue, responsible parties immediately are placed in a position to defend themselves and minimize losses.
However, building a winning case does not happen on its own. Rather, injury lawyers will need to put together all the available evidence and build a strategy aimed at obtaining the best result possible for the victims.
In this case, police reports, eye witness statements, crash photos, and vehicle data recorders (which record vehicle speeds and brake application) will need to be scrutinized.
While liability is seemingly clear, injury attorneys can build an even stronger case if the victims can prove that the the semi-truck was speeding or that the driver failed to use his brakes in a timely fashion. It would also be interesting to know whether or not the semi-truck driver was using his cell phone at the time of the crash, instead of paying attention to where he was driving.
Regardless, I doubt liability is going to be an issue in this case. Whatever the reason, the semi-truck left its lane and crossed into on-coming traffic.
Instead, I expect this case to hinge on insurance and collectability.
Unlike accidents between two individuals, car accidents with semi-trucks usually involve a commercial trucking company or some other corporate entity.
When this occurs, adequate insurance coverage is expected. In a horrific case like this, a skilled injury attorney should be able to obtain a settlement to policy limits, assuming these limits compensate the victims in a meaningful way.
However, if the insurance company refuses to make a reasonable settlement offer, they may be held liable for bad faith. When this occurs, an insurance company makes it worse for themselves because bad faith will increase their exposure should the matter end up in litigation.
As a result, I expect the victims in this case to make a VERY substantial collection from insurance companies, assuming there is adequate insurance.
If there is no insurance or there is only inadequate insurance, a lawsuit against the driver and the company's assets may be necessary. However, there is simply not enough information available at this point in time to make that judgment.
The families of Jennifer Jenkins, Kathleen O'Callaghan, Daniel Jenkins, and Ashley Jenkins need to hire a Florida injury attorney to handle their claims as one. Standing together will make them stronger.
They have all been wronged and each needs the other to command the best outcome.
From there, injury attorneys need to immediately begin building their case. This will require the collection of all relevant documents, such as police reports, crash reports, medical examiner reports, and eye witness statements.
Other data must be collected as well, such as photographs of the accident scene.
Injury attorneys will also need to preserve the vehicles and their onboard data recorders. This is done by sending correspondence from the law firm to the those in possession of the vehicles.
It is important to note that this is a very sensitive time in this case, from the injury attorney's perspective. While the families are undoubtedly in a state of major shock and grief, injury lawyers must act quickly to preserve evidence and build their case before valuable evidence is lost or destroyed.
Delay can hurt. Time is always the worst enemy of good evidence.
For that reason, it makes good legal sense to get a team of injury lawyers working on this matter as soon as possible.
First and foremost, this case is clearly one of the worst accidents to transpire on Florida's roadways this holiday season. Legal issues aside, we can not forget that two women lost their lives in an accident that should not have occurred. Nothing could be worse.
This case is nothing short of a complete tragedy.
Given my perspective as an injury lawyer, I can tell you that no final conclusions can be drawn simply from the information published in the media. A full case analysis must be conducted and all the facts and evidence must be collected. Until all the information is known and verified, it is impossible to identify the responsible parties and hold them accountable.
In any event, my heart goes out to the victims' families. I am sorry for their loss. Hopefully they will recover from their grief and use this case as an opportunity to make change and save other lives in the future.