It was 6AM, and Susan (not her real name), was on her way to work. Just as she did every weekday, she was traveling on Colonial Drive near downtown Orlando. As she approached an intersection, a large truck going the opposite direction on Colonial Drive turned in front of Susan’s oncoming car. A horrible crash occurred with Susan’s car impacting the passenger side front wheel area of the truck.
Emergency personnel were on the scene very quickly. Susan was unconscious, but breathing. The firefighters used their Jaws of Life equipment to remove Susan from her crushed automobile. Susan was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital and underwent multiple surgeries. Susan had multiple fractures and a head injury. Susan’s family was with her at the hospital when the officer investigating the crash came to see her.
Susan had no recollection of the crash. The last thing she remembered was driving on Colonial Drive on her way to work and then waking up in the hospital bed after undergoing surgery.
The investigating officer said there were no witnesses to the crash and there were no cameras at the crash scene or in the truck. The only witness was the truck driver whose truck collided with Susan’s car. The truck driver told the officer he had a green arrow and Susan ran a red light.
Susan’s family hired me to help. I knew it was critically important to view the scene and the vehicles as quickly as possible. Any time there is an accident involving a company truck, the company quickly dispatches a supervisor and/or investigator to the scene. They sometimes arrive even before the investigating police officer.
Within an hour of meeting Susan and her family at the hospital, I was taking pictures of the scene and obtaining the crash report. The scene pictures did not tell the story whether Susan ran a red light or whether the truck had a green turn arrow. I filmed the light sequence at the intersection to see what the traffic signal lights were for both streets at the intersection just before the truck would have received a green arrow. There was nothing that would have blocked the truck driver’s view of Susan’s oncoming car.
If Susan had entered the intersection under a green light, the truck driver would have also had either a solid green light to go straight ahead in the opposite direction on Colonial Drive, or a red turn arrow. If that was the case, when he turned in front of Susan’s oncoming car, he was not paying attention for some reason. Was he not paying attention because he was distracted by something?
The FHP Crash Report stated the truck was towed to a repair lot in south Orlando. I traveled to the repair lot to see the truck and to see if it was possible to look into the cab of the truck to see the view the truck driver had and to see if there was any evidence of something that could have distracted him.
At the repair lot a worker showed me the truck and remained with me and watched as I took photographs. I opened the driver’s door and looked inside.
In the middle console cup holder was a 7-11 coffee cup. On the floor below the driver’s seat was an open McDonald’s salt packet, with salt on the floor. On the floor to the right of the driver’s seat was a McDonald’s hamburger wrapper with a partially eaten cheeseburger. I photographed the evidence as the repair lot employee watched. It was evidence that suggested the truck driver had just started eating the cheeseburger and dropped it on the floor when the crash occurred.
We were fortunate. Whoever came to the scene of the crash for the company did not carefully inspect the inside cab of the truck. If they had, I believe they would have removed and destroyed that evidence and nobody would have ever known it was there.
I wrote a letter to the company that owned the truck and to their insurance company letting them know I was Susan’s attorney. I researched the company and learned they serviced only the Orlando area. My letter asked them to preserve any evidence concerning the crash and to provide a copy of their driver’s cell phone bill showing any entries the morning of the crash. I received a response that their driver had stopped at the intersection, waited for a left turn green arrow, and when he had a left turn green arrow he slowly began turning left when his truck was struck by a vehicle that ran a red light. The letter stated they denied any fault at all for the crash and that Susan was 100% at fault.
I traveled to the company’s office at 5:30AM on a weekday so that I could trace their driver’s likely route of travel from leaving the office in the truck until the time of the crash. I passed several 7-11 stores where the driver could have purchased coffee I passed a McDonald’s less than a mile from the scene of the crash.
Susan had no recollection of the crash. She knows she has always been a very careful driver. No traffic tickets in the 40+ years she had been driving. She never used her cell phone while driving. Her cell phone records showed she made no calls that day. She was certain she would not have run a red light into the path of a truck. She was out of the hospital and at a rehabilitation facility recovering from her fractures. She agreed to our filing a lawsuit against the truck company.
The insurance company for the truck company hired an attorney to defend the lawsuit. We scheduled the depositions of the truck driver and of the company investigator who came to the crash scene. The depositions under oath were scheduled in a large conference room at a court reporter’s office. The investigator’s deposition was first.
The truck company investigator said he came to the crash scene, took the truck driver’s statement, photographed the car and the truck at the scene, and determined there were no witnesses to the crash. He said he would have looked into the cab of the truck and everything appeared normal.
From the scene of the crash he took the driver to an urgent care medical office where the driver provided a urine sample. The investigator produced the urine sample result that showed no drugs of any kind in the sample. The truck company investigator produced the driver’s logs showing the driver ended his route the day before the crash by returning the truck before 5pm, at which time the truck was inspected and checked in by the company.
Next was the truck driver’s deposition under oath. He testified he arrived at the company office and parked his personal vehicle and picked up the company truck about 30 minutes before the crash. His time card confirmed that fact. The driver testified he had a clear recollection of the events of that morning. He was certain that immediately after leaving the company lot he began his route and he made no stop anywhere before approaching the intersection where the crash occurred.
The driver testified that as he was driving on Colonial Drive he approached the intersection where the crash occurred and he had a red left turn arrow. He testified he stopped and waited for a green turn arrow. He testified cars travelling on Colonial Drive going in the opposite direction apparently had a solid green light while he waited at the red arrow. He said for about 10 seconds there were no other cars traveling in the opposite direction on Colonial Drive when he received a left turn green arrow. He said he did not see any oncoming cars and he slowly began to turn left. He testified that as the front of his truck had passed all oncoming lanes on Colonial Drive he heard tires screeching and felt an impact at the front passenger side of the truck.
He testified he was certain he did not stop anywhere between the time he started his route and the time of the crash. He testified he had no food or drink of any kind in the truck. He produced his cell phone record that showed no calls that morning before the crash.
We took a break in the driver’s deposition and I had the court reporter mark as exhibits copies of the photographs I took of the truck and the cab interior. The last photographs the driver was shown were the McDonald’s salt packet and the partially eaten cheeseburger in the McDonald’s wrapper on the floor near the driver’s seat. The driver looked at them longer than would be normal. The driver then said the cheeseburger and salt were not his. He also denied the 7-11 coffee was his. It was obvious he was lying.
I had also secured records from the Orlando Traffic Control center that documented the sequence of the traffic light signals at that intersection. The records proved that if Susan’s light had changed from green to red, the truck would have continued to have a red light because what would have occurred next is the light facing the intersecting side street would have turned from red to green for 30 seconds so that traffic on the side street could cross Colonial Drive.
Not long after the depositions were taken, due to Susan’s extensive injuries, the case settled for an amount in excess of two million dollars. If we had not had the photographs of the food inside the cab of the truck, the insurance company for the truck company probably would not have voluntarily paid that settlement amount.
This case is an example of why it is so important to not delay in the investigation of an accident case. Unfortunately, accident victims are all too often confronted with the party who caused the crash later attempting to deny fault for the crash.
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My father and mother taught me to always treat people the way you would want them you treat you. To put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand the way they see things. To try to do your best at everything you do. To make as many friends as you can, because you never have too many.
My first job after law school was with the Public Defender’s office in Sanford and then in Orlando. I was in court every week the five years I was an assistant Public Defender. Some of the best trial lawyers get their start as assistant Public Defenders. You learn trial skills, effective communicating, and you develop your reputation in the legal community. The downside is as you become better and better as a Public Defender, you are called upon to represent those accused of more serious and heinous crimes…
Voted by peers as “Best of the Bar” in Insurance Law (Orlando Business Journal)
Voted by attorneys in Florida for recognition as a “Legal Elite” attorney in Civil Trial Law and Insurance Law (from Florida Trend Magazine).