For the last few days I’ve been following the story out of Winter Haven where a Polk County deputy sheriff was killed as he stood outside of his patrol car. Apparently, the deputy was killed when his patrol car was struck by a Cadillac Escalade that was seemingly out of control, causing the patrol car to strike the deputy. Tragically, the deputy was pronounced dead several hours later.
During the event, the Escalade also struck another pedestrian, jumped a guard rail, ran through some shrubbery and a retention pond, before finally coming to rest.
The driver of the Escalade, 79-year old Leo Saunders, has asserted that he blacked out behind the wheel and has no memory of striking anyone or anything. The Florida Highway Patrol is still investigating as of the time of this writing.
As an Orlando automobile accident attorney, who has represented the families of many people tragically killed in car accidents, my heart goes out to the deputy’s family. There is no higher service to the community than is provided by our first responders.
It will be interesting to see how this case develops, should the family of the deputy choose to pursue a wrongful death claim. First, it occurs to me that the family would want to know if there is any proof that Mr. Saunders really did lose consciousness or blackout behind the wheel. I would think that there would be medical tests to tell whether he very recently suffered a stroke or seizure and whether his story is legitimate. Believe it or not, defendants in significant automobile accident cases sometimes make up stories to explain otherwise careless behavior.
Second, if Mr. Saunders really did black out, then I would think the family would want to examine his medical history to see if he has any medical conditions or was taking any medication that he knew would, or might, cause him to blackout. If Mr. Saunders left his house that day with any inkling that he might pass out or lose consciousness, then it was clearly negligent for him to be out driving.
Third, if it can be proven that Mr. Saunders was negligent in the operation of his vehicle, then — in addition to receiving a death benefit under Workers’ Compensation — the deputy’s family would have liability claim against Mr. Saunder’s insurance company. If Mr. Saunders did not carry sufficient liability coverage to fully compensate the deputy’s family, then the family could make a claim under the deputy’s personal Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist automobile insurance.
This case obviously presents a host of challenging legal issues. Hopefully, the deputy’s family has consulted with an experienced personal injury lawyer and have had all of their questions answered.