Tiffany Woodham, 19, was killed in a Winter Haven, Florida car accident late last night. Woodham was a resident of Bartow. According to news reports, Woodham was a passenger in a van driven by Tawnya White, 32. Other passengers in the van included, Pamela D. Cheverier, 37, and Zachary D. Rowles, 22. (Photo Credit: Polk County Sheriff's Office and The Ledger)
Sources indicate that the van was stopped at a red light at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Cypress Gardens Boulevard when they were rear ended by a Dodge pickup driven by Thomas J. Dick, 37, of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Witnesses claim to have seen Thomas Dick driving the van in an erratic fashion just before the accident. Thomas Dick was taken into custody after a police investigation revealed that he was allegedly driving under the influence (DUI). News reports indicate Thomas Dick had a .131 blood-alcohol level after the crash.
The legal limit in Florida is .08.
This is a very serious thing because one woman was killed and two other people were injured. As a Florida personal injury attorney, I can tell you that Thomas Dick is looking at DUI Manslaughter for Tiffany Woodham's death and other DUI charges for the injuries he caused to Cheverier and Rowles.
Based on the facts reported in the media, I suspect that Thomas Dick is not only criminally liable for Tiffany Woodham's death, but civilly liable as well. This means, he can be held accountable to Woodham's survivors for her death and the death of her unborn baby.
The first legal issue that comes to mind in a case like this is "liability." In other words, when an attorney analyzes a case of this type, the first question to be asked is "Who is responsible."
Based on the facts reported in this case, I think it is pretty clear that Thomas Dick is liable.
Under Florida Law, there is a presumption of liability when on person rear ends another. Specifically, the law presumes that the vehicle doing the "rear ending" is the one who is responsible. This is because the law places a legal duty on all drivers to follow at a safe distance from the vehicle in front of them.
A safe distance means being able to stop short in case of an emergency without hitting the car in front of you.
However, this presumption is one that can be rebutted with other evidence. Remember, just because you rear ended someone, doesn't mean it was necessarily your fault. For example, if a reckless driver cut you off in traffic, causing you to clip their bumper as they sped past, it likely is not your fault.
That said, I seriously doubt that this case has anything to with an accidental rear ending. Lets face the facts... this is a DUI case.
The most probable explanation for this accident is Thomas Dick's impairment.
Ultimately, that means this case will come down to insurance coverage. Since it is pretty clear that Thomas Dick is liable for killing Tiffany Woodham, the real legal issue in this case concerns collectibility.
In other words, injury lawyers representing Woodham's survivors will need to determine what insurance policies Dick had, if any. If Dick was either uninsured or underinsured, Woodham's family may be able to make a claim against any applicable uninsured motorist coverage.
The fact that Woodham was pregnant at the time of her death and that the baby was killed as well, makes this case that much more serious.
As I keep saying on this website, Florida's roads are dangerous places. People are killed every week in accidents that are mostly preventable. In my opinion, this case is no exception. If Dick really is guilty of DUI Manslaughter, I personally hope he goes away to prison for a very long time.