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Charges Filed In Brevard County Dual Fatal DUI Crash

Oldham & Smith Dec. 16, 2017

Authorities charged 21-year-old Tanasia Shelton with two counts of DUI manslaughter for her role in a June alcohol-related car crash.

Investigators say that Ms. Shelton’s BAC level was well above the legal limit when she drifted onto the wrong side of the road in her Jeep, hitting another vehicle head-on. The other driver, 28-year-old Ariel Arriera of Melbourne, died at the scene. Ms. Shelton’s passenger, 23-year-old Zoe Barbee of Orlando, was rushed to a nearby hospital with serious injuries; she was subsequently declared dead. Ms. Shelton said she had been drinking that night prior to driving, but could not remember how much. At the time of the crash, officers noted that her breath smelled of alcohol and that she slurred her speech.

She is being held at the Brevard County Detention Center without bond.

Establishing Liability in Florida Alcohol-Related Crashes

If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is charged with DUI, the victim/plaintiff can use the negligence per se shortcut to establishing liability for damages. In a traditional negligence case, victims/plaintiffs must establish five elements by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). But in negligence per se cases, they need only establish that:

  • The tortfeasor broke a safety law, such as DUI, and

  • That infraction substantially caused the victim/plaintiff’s damages.

In some cases, most notably safety law violations that do not carry jail time, negligence per se is the only evidence of negligence and not absolute proof of liability.

Even if the tortfeasor is not legally intoxicated, the victim/plaintiff can still prove impairment by using circumstantial evidence. Given the low standard of proof, this objective is often rather easy to accomplish. For example, if the tortfeasor recently left a place where alcohol was served, the jury may conclude that more likely than not, the tortfeasor had been drinking.

Responding to Some Defenses in Florida Car Crash Cases

When the tortfeasor crosses into oncoming traffic, insurance company lawyers often assert the last clear chance defense on behalf of their clients. According to this doctrine, the tortfeasor is not liable for damages if the victim had a reasonable opportunity to avoid the crash yet failed to do so. But for the defense to apply, the victim must have the last clear chance and not the last possible chance. There is a significant difference in Florida, because many times, the victim may see the other car coming but can do nothing to avoid the crash.

If the victim was a passenger in the tortfeasor’s car, the insurance company usually raises the assumption of the risk defense. There are two elements:

  • The voluntary assumption of

  • A known risk.

Similar to the last clear chance defense, there is a difference between a theoretical risk and a known risk. Intoxication is a theoretical risk because many drunk drivers do not cause car wrecks in Florida. But if the passenger saw the tortfeasor driving erratically or had other similar cause for concern, the risk may be a known one.

Rely on Experienced Attorneys

Car crash victims are entitled to fair compensation, but insurance company lawyers put up a tough fight. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Orlando, contact Oldham & Smith. We are on your side.