Driving is an essential part of most people’s lives, but it can also be incredibly frustrating, especially on congested roadways like the ones in Fort Lauderdale. Even if frustration starts to rise, it isn’t an excuse for a driver to act irresponsibly.
Unfortunately, many Fort Lauderdale drivers give in to frustration and cause accidents and injuries. If a driver’s road rage causes you injury, the aggressive driver is responsible for your injuries.
Read on to learn what puts Fort Lauderdale drivers at risk for road rage accidents, the civil and criminal penalties for road rage, and how to recover compensation for your injuries.
What Is Road Rage?
There is no universal definition for road rage, and it is often used interchangeably with aggressive driving. The National Highway Safety Administration defines aggressive driving as driving that endangers other people’s lives or property.
Under Florida law, aggressive careless driving occurs when a driver commits two or more of these acts simultaneously or in succession:
- Exceeding the posted speed limit;
- Unsafely or improperly changing lanes;
- Following another vehicle too closely;
- Failing to yield the right-of-way;
- Improperly passing; or
- Violating traffic control and signal devices
While aggressive driving is focused on the way a driver controls a car, road rage can encompass a wider range of behaviors, including:
- Verbal insults;
- Angry gestures;
- Purposefully tailgating;
- Blocking a vehicle from changing lanes;
- Intentionally cutting off another vehicle;
- Physically confronting another driver;
- Intentionally bumping or ramming a vehicle
Up to 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression, or rage at least once a year according to a study by AAA, and Florida was the state with the most road rage incidents for several years running. Fort Lauderdale was ranked in the top 20 cities with the most aggressive drivers.
Fort Lauderdale drivers experience significant amounts of traffic congestion thanks to high-rise development and issues with traffic flow. This congestion has caused road rage to rise. Another trigger for road rage in Florida is slow drivers in the left lane on highways. To reduce road rage, Florida made it illegal to drive more than 10 miles below the speed limit in the left lane.
Even when you drive properly and patiently, you might still be the unfortunate victim of another person’s frustration and anger, simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Who Is Responsible?
A party who acts on their frustration and commits one or more acts that constitute aggressive careless driving or road rage is responsible for injuries caused by their actions.
These drivers might find themselves the subject of criminal and civil liability.
- Criminal: At its most extreme, road rage involves threats and physical altercation. Assault encompasses any intentional threats, words, or actions that cause a person to feel afraid of impending violence. Offensive physical contact is battery. Both assault and battery are crimes in Florida. The extent of the threat or the type of victim will determine whether the act is a misdemeanor or felony. Reckless driving is also a crime under Florida law. The state will pursue any criminal charges against the driver, including fines or imprisonment.
- Civil: An injured victim must bring a civil lawsuit against an aggressive driver to secure a recovery for their injuries. The civil claim will be based on the negligent or intentional acts of the aggressive driver. Any action outside the normal standard of care of a reasonable driver is considered negligent. Evidence of criminal conduct will help support a claim for civil recovery.
The most common responsible party in a road rage incident is the aggressive driver. You should also evaluate whether the driver was acting in the scope of their duties as an employee at the time of the accident. Drivers who spend long hours on the road are more likely to become frustrated, including commercial drivers and delivery drivers.
An employer is responsible for the negligent or intentional actions of an employee, and it is often preferable to pursue the employer because their insurance policies provide more coverage.
You will need to compile evidence that supports your argument that the aggressive driver and their actions were responsible for your injuries.
In a road rage case, two important pieces of evidence include:
- Police Report: A police report will document all the relevant information collected by the police when they respond to the scene, including pictures of the accident scene, witness statements and witness contact information, and traffic citations issued against any driver involved in the accident.
- Criminal Investigation: If the state pursues criminal charges against the aggressive driver, they will need to collect evidence to support their case. Be sure you work with a car accident lawyer who can track the criminal investigation and use it to support your civil recovery case.
In addition to the above evidence, keep track of all documentation relating to the accident and your injuries. These documents will be used to establish your case and prove the damages you suffered as a result.
While you are busy building your case, the defendant and their insurance provider will try to raise any defense to their responsibility for their accidents. You will need to be cautious about any representation or communication you make about the accident to avoid providing them evidence to use against you. The defendant and their attorney will keep an eye on your social media, so work with your auto accident lawyer to understand if and how you should post on public channels.
How Much Can I Recover?
The defendant is responsible for all injuries caused by their aggressive driving.
Road rage incidents can result in a wide range of damages, including:
- Medical Expenses: Include all the costs incurred due to your injuries in a damages demand. Common medical expenses include emergency transportation, hospital stays, surgical procedures, doctors’ bills, and prescription medication. Be sure to include an estimate of future medical expenses such as physical therapy or in-home care.
- Lost Wages: Many injuries keep the victim from performing their work duties, either in whole or in part. The defendant should compensate you for any lost wages resulting from your injuries. This is an area where a social media post could be used against you. For example, if you claim that you can’t meet the physical requirements of your job but post images on social media of you out playing basketball, the defendant will use the post to challenge your claim. If your injuries will continue to keep you from work or will limit your future earning potential, work with an expert to include an appropriate estimate of these losses in your demand as well.
- Property Damage: Damage to your vehicle or other property is common after a road rage incident. If the aggressive driver’s actions cause an accident and damage to your car, they are responsible for repair or replacement. There is also a chance that the defendant damaged other property, such as electronics, because of the accident or an intentional act.
- Emotional Distress: A road rage incident is a distressing event. Not only does it involve the normal distress associated with a car accident, but it adds to the impact of targeted threats and physical aggression. Common emotional impacts of a road rage incident include anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Emotional distress can severely impact a victim’s life in ways as extreme as keeping them from getting back behind the wheel of a car. Work with your lawyer to attribute an appropriate amount of monetary damages to your emotional distress.
- Loss of Enjoyment: Each person’s life is made better by participating in activities they enjoy. For some, this could be an afternoon spent gardening, and for others, it could be playing a team sport. No matter the activity, the defendant is responsible for your loss of enjoyment if your injuries keep you from participating in a meaningful activity.
- Punitive Damages: While most damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries, punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant for particularly bad behavior. In Florida, punitive damages are only awarded if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant acted with intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Many road rage actions will rise to this level, so discuss punitive damages with your attorney. Florida caps punitive damage recovery at the greater of three times the compensatory damages award or $500,000.
A comprehensive damages demand is an important tool in your pursuit of recovery. If your case proceeds to trial, the jury will assess your demand when awarding damages.
Even if your case is resolved through settlement, it is important to have a complete understanding of your damages. Otherwise, you might accept an award well below what you deserve. While a settlement offer may not cover the full amount of your damages, make sure you accept a settlement that matches the strength of your case. Don’t accept a settlement offer without first discussing it with your attorney.
While it is important to take the time you need to establish a strong case against the defendant and to prepare your damages demand, you will also need to watch the clock. Florida requires all personal injury victims to bring their claims against a defendant within four years of the injury. Otherwise, you will lose the right to pursue a lawsuit.
While four years might feel like sufficient time to prepare, it will pass quickly as you manage your injuries, investigate the case, assess your damages, and negotiate over settlement offers.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
An experienced road rage accident attorney will be a critical partner as you pursue recovery against the defendant.
Your Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyer will help you through each step of the case, including:
- Assessing the facts of your case;
- Preparing a case strategy;
- Securing information on any criminal proceedings;
- Compiling evidence of fault including expert analysis and accident reconstruction specialists;
- Coordinating expert input on your damages demand;
- Advising on settlement offers;
- Communicating with the defendant and their insurance provider;
- Preparing court documents; and
- Advocating on your behalf at trial