By Matthew J. Vaughn, Trial Lawyer, & Mark A. McClure, Chief Paralegal, Peterson & Myers, Lakeland
The 1970 film Love Story featured the quote, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” However, does the law mean that you can never say you’re sorry? At the 2013 NASCAR Daytona 500, at least 30 people were injured when car parts flew into the grandstands following on on-track collision. The injuries varied in severity, but 14 people were transported to the hospital. Following the race, Daytona Speedway president Joie Chitwood responded by stating, “We responded appropriately according to our safety protocols” and “we expect to go racing tomorrow with no changes.” However, driver Brad Keselowski’s take on the situation was different. His response was “I’m just hoping everyone was OK, as drivers we assume the risk, but fans do not.” The question is, when you have been involved in an accident, what are the legal ramifications of making such a statement?
When you are in a car accident, should you apologize to the other driver or tell them you feel terrible about what happened? Well, that depends on how you structure your statement. Many states, including Florida, have enacted apology legislation that dictates whether an apology at the scene of an accident can be admitted into evidence against the person who says it. The Florida rule is that a “benevolent gesture” is not admissible to prove that you were at fault in the accident, but a “statement of fault” that is a part of the “benevolent gesture” is admissible. What all this means is what you say and how you say it means everything. Statements such as, “I’m sorry you are hurt,” or “I’m sorry that this happened,” cannot be used in court. However, saying something like, “I’m sorry, it was all my fault,” or “I’m sorry this happened, I shouldn’t have driven so fast to get around that truck” are examples of statements that could be used to prove you were at fault. In Keselowski’s example, his statement seems to be one that could potentially be used in court to show fault. Whether it ever will remains to be seen.
In conclusion, most Americans would agree that car and truck accidents are a classic example of a necessary evil that society must cope with in the name of the American economy’s advancement. Let’s face it, without the use of motor vehicles, our economy and trade would grind to a halt. However, the number of car and truck accidents happening every year in the United States, and the number of injuries and deaths associated with them paint a sobering picture. Statistics show that 3 out of 4 Americans will be involved in a car accident at some point in their lives. The average American driver will be involved in 3 or 4 auto accidents in their lifetime. On average, there are 6 million accidents on U.S. roads each year resulting in 3 million Americans being injured or killed. With the introduction of smart phones and text messaging, these numbers continue to rise. The statistics all seem to imply that the question is not if you will be involved in an auto accident, but when. And when it happens, what you say to the occupants of the other vehicle involved matters.