PEOPLE ARE INITIATED into grownup society through a series of rites of passage—significant life-changing moments, like learning how to drive a car or achieving a career-defining job. As we go through the motions of an established routine, created by habits adhered to consistently every day, the last thing on our mind is the fragility of life in its most mundane moments.

Life and consistency are freighted with new meaning for many of the clients we meet as personal injury attorneys. A client of mine, at the time a 38-year-old husband and father of two, was blindsided by a severe car accident during one such mundane moment—while commuting to work.       In the dark early-morning hours, the driver of a tractor-trailer had pulled over to the highway shoulder to check out a problem with his truck’s electrical system. The driver returned to the road, pulling out in front of my client—with no lights on. In the dark, traveling at highway speed, my client couldn’t make out the unlit truck in time. His car smashed into the back of the trailer, crushing his vehicle and pinning it beneath the truck, which continued down the road. The car caught fire, incinerating my client’s legs before fire and rescue were able to extract him. The injuries he sustained were pivotal, resulting in bilateral amputation of the legs and multiple surgeries.

I have always led with the conviction that no detail is too small, and no opponent too big. Met with the expected stony opposition of an industry leader, we persevered—and our suit against a massive Fortune 10 trucking company eventually closed in a settlement in favor of my client, who sought damages for medical bills, future medical care, lost property, lost wages and pain and suffering. In addition to seeking a promising settlement for him, I wanted my client to be prepared for many drastic changes to his everyday life.

Interstate 95 in Florida, on which the incident took place, is known as one of the least regulated stretches of road in the Sunshine State, Florida Highway Patrol auxiliary trooper Charles Miller told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2020. It’s the most traveled road in the state, traversed by more than 300,000 vehicles a day. Its size—it ranges from four to 12 lanes of traffic—and 70 mile-per-hour average speed limit have made it indispensable for moving goods through the state and to and from its many ports.

Infrastructure is the cornerstone of Florida’s economy. According to a 2021 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the state’s population grows by about 1% a year, an increase of some 200,000 people—in effect adding a city the size of Orlando every 12 months. A U.S. Census Bureau report from the same year ranked Florida number two for the largest population growth from 2020 to 2021.

As the state’s infrastructure continues to develop in conjunction with the regular influx of new residents, out-of-state travelers and consumer demand, highway traffic and commercial trucking are on the rise. The growing number of enormous vehicles on the road challenges the safety of all drivers. Trucking companies, manufacturers and drivers, now more than ever, must be aware of the safety responsibility inherent to the operation of a 40-ton vehicle. Drivers must be properly trained, pilot mechanically sound vehicles and adhere to the laws and regulations in place to make highways safe for all.

At one point, in an effort to reduce crashes involving large trucks and cars on the southeastern stretch of I-95 that result in severe injuries and deaths, law enforcement agencies in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas launched “Operation Safe Drive on I-95,” adding traffic enforcement to more than 900 miles of highway. Given that the Florida Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles reported an increase of more than 19,000 medium/heavy truck accidents from 2010 to 2020, it’s imperative that the state and private businesses initiate changes to commercial trucking.

My client was lucky to have survived. Reckless and hasty decisions unfairly and grievously affected this man and his family in what was, ultimately, a preventable tragedy. In the ensuing years, my client faced extensive medical treatments and will forever be reminded of that day as he performs daily tasks with a fraction of his former ease. The practice of personal injury law so often reminds me that our lives can change in the blink of an eye—and of the importance of first responders, medical professionals and legal teams in protecting the livelihood of truck accident victims whose lives have been instantly shattered.

Looking back today, my client speaks of strength, greatness and perseverance as well as how crucial it is to surround oneself with supportive people during the healing process. I’m tremendously grateful to have witnessed such courage throughout my career—and while I’m also grateful to have played a role in fighting for truth, justice and restitution, trucking companies need to have better training and safety protocols in place to ensure that accidents like these do not happen to innocent drivers.

 

 

TED BABBITT is an award-winning West Palm Beach, Florida, personal injury lawyer. He has obtained some of the largest recoveries ever seen in Florida and helped his clients out of difficult times. A member of the Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only group limited to 100 top U.S. plaintiffs’ lawyers, he has also been named to the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, a group of 500 of the world’s preeminent trial lawyers. He’s a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, one of the field’s most prestigious and selective associations. One of just a handful who have been named to all three of these prominent organizations, Babbitt has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America® every year since 1987 in personal injury litigation. He is a shareholder at Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley.