Florida Jury Awards Driver $12.2M in Dump Truck Crash

A jury verdict found a dump truck driver negligent and her employer vicariously liable in a motor vehicle lawsuit filed in Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Osceola County, Florida.

Dump truck in traffic

ByKandace Watkins, J.D.

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Published on January 26, 2024

Dump truck in traffic

Background

On June 25, 2020, Joanne Woida was driving to work on Nolte Road in St. Cloud, Florida when Rosetta Thomas pulled out into the intersection and crashed into the rear passenger side of Ms. Woida’s vehicle. At the time of the car accident, Ms. Thomas was driving a vehicle owned by her employer, Evers Wood Products, Inc.

The collision resulted in significant damage to Ms. Woida’s car, which was ultimately determined to be totaled. In addition, Ms. Woida sustained injuries to her neck and back, including a severe disc herniation, which required two surgeries.

Plaintiff’s Allegations

On July 29, 2021, Ms. Woida and her counsel Grant Gillenwater at Morgan & Morgan PA. filed a complaint in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Osceola County, Florida. They alleged that Ms. Thomas, while in the course and scope of her employment with Ever Wood Products, Inc., negligently operated a dump truck owned by Ever Wood Products, Inc., so that it collided with Ms. Woida’s car.

The plaintiff went on to allege that as a direct and proximate cause of Ms. Thomas’ negligence, she suffered from bodily injury, including permanent injury to the body as a whole, pain and suffering of disability, physical impairment, disfigurement, inconvenience, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life, aggravation of an existing condition, expense of hospitalization, medical and nursing care and treatment, loss of earnings, loss of ability to earn money and loss of ability to lead and enjoy a normal life. In addition, her car was totaled.

The plaintiff also alleged that Evers Wood Products, Inc., was vicariously liable for the negligence of Ms. Thomas under Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine. This legal principle provides that the owner of a motor vehicle is responsible for any harm caused by the vehicle while it is being operated by someone else with the owner’s permission. Under this doctrine, all a plaintiff needs to prove is that the driver was negligent, and then the owner of the vehicle is included in the lawsuit, creating strict liability for the vehicle owner.

Ms. Thomas and Evers Wood Products, Inc., represented by John Chiocca of Cole Scott & Kissane PA., argued that they were not negligent and disputed the nature and extent of Ms. Woida’s alleged injuries and damages.

The defendants presented Ms. Woida with a settlement offer of $350,000, which she rejected.

The Trial and Verdict

The matter was set for trial in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Osceola County, Florida before Judge Chad Alvaro. On November 30, 2023, following the arguments and presentation of evidence from both sides, the jury returned a verdict for Ms. Woida. They found negligence on the part of Ms. Thomas, and therefore Evers Wood Products, Inc., was found to be vicariously liable. The jury awarded Ms. Thomas more than $506,000 in past medical expenses, plus $700,000 for future medical expenses. In addition, the jury awarded $3 million for past damages and $8 million for future damages.

Key Takeaway

When someone is injured in a truck accident, it is important to include the owner of the truck in the lawsuit, if possible. Including the truck owner or truck company in the lawsuit will enable the victim to obtain a more fair outcome that closely meets their expectations. It is important to note that Florida courts have expanded the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine over the years to apply to even more vehicles.

In the context of a truck accident, a trucking company can be held liable pursuant to a vicarious liability claim if:

  • The driver was an employee under the control of the trucking company;
  • The driver was under the actual control of the company based upon their authority; and
  • The employee was on the job at the time of the accident.

If a plaintiff can demonstrate the elements of vicarious liability, along with the driver's negligence, then they may be able to recover substantial damages due to the significant insurance policies transportation companies are required to carry.

About the author

Kandace Watkins, J.D.

Kandace Watkins, J.D.

Kandace Watkins, J.D., is distinguished in the field of financial regulatory compliance, currently holding the position of Compliance Counsel II at SECU. She has previously served as the Assistant General Counsel at Self-Help Credit Union and was an Associate Attorney at Young Moore and Henderson, P.A. Her legal acumen was further developed through her role as a Judicial Law Clerk at the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Kandace's legal education includes a J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law and specialized training in International Human Rights at the Paris Summer Institute, a program of Cornell University Law School.