Golf carts have become a daily mode of transportation for many Florida residents. From going to the neighborhood pool to picking up groceries, many people prefer the ease of getting behind the wheel of a golf cart to driving their car, biking, or walking.
Since riding in a golf cart is fun, most people overlook the dangers. According to news reports, there are more than 13,000 injury-involved golf cart accidents in the United States annually, and approximately half of all victims are minors. This includes an estimated 3,250 children under 13 who suffer serious traumatic injuries in golf cart accidents yearly.
Our firm recently represented the parents of one of these children.
Our client’s 12-year-old child suffered catastrophic head injuries in a golf cart accident in 2016. The owner’s 16-year-old niece was driving the golf cart. When she failed to stop at a stop sign, a car hit the golf cart, and our client’s child was ejected. After trial, a Florida state court in Miami awarded our clients a $50 million verdict against the golf cart’s owner. A second lawsuit against the niece’s parents remains pending.
Determining Responsibility for a Golf Car Accident in Florida
When our clients came to us, they were struggling with the same question that many parents (and adult victims) face after golf cart accidents: In this scenario, who is responsible?
In this case, our client’s child was not responsible. He was a 12-year-old boy and was along for the ride. But, between the golf cart driver (also a minor), her parents, her uncle who owned the golf cart, the car driver involved in the collision, and even the golf cart manufacturer, several parties were potentially liable for our clients and their son’s losses.
Our investigation revealed that the 16-year-old niece was solely at fault in the crash due to running a stop sign—and this quickly narrowed down the claims we could file on our client’s behalf. But, to reach this conclusion, we had to evaluate all possible claims. These included claims against:
- The Golf Cart Driver – When a golf cart passenger is injured in an accident, one of the first potential claims we evaluate is a claim against the golf cart driver. Like car, truck, and SUV drivers, golf cart drivers can be held liable when they are negligent behind the wheel. Running stop signs, driving while distracted, and driving under the influence are common driver-related factors in serious golf cart accidents.
- The Golf Cart’s Owner – Golf cart owners can be held liable for accidents based on negligent maintenance and entrustment. If a golf cart’s tires or brakes are worn, it isn’t safe to be on the road. The same is true if it doesn’t have functioning headlights or brake lights. Under Florida law, golf cart owners can also be liable for negligently entrusting their low-speed vehicles (LSVs) to inexperienced, unsafe drivers. This issue ultimately led to our clients’ $50 million verdict.
- The Golf Cart Driver’s Parents (in the Case of a Minor Driver) – As noted above, since the golf cart driver who injured our clients’ son was a minor, we are also continuing to pursue a claim against the driver’s parents. If parents are negligent in allowing their children to partake in dangerous activities, and if someone else gets injured, they can—and should—be held liable for the consequences of their mistake.
- The Golf Cart Driver’s Employer (if Applicable) – While our clients’ case did not involve questions of employer liability, employers can be held liable for their employees’ negligence on the job. If an employee causes an accident while driving a golf cart for work, their employer can be held fully liable under Florida law.
- The Other Driver Involved in the Collision – Any time a golf cart accident involves another vehicle, it is essential to investigate the possibility that the car, truck, or SUV driver was at fault in the collision. Drivers make all kinds of mistakes, leading to accidents in many cases. If a car, truck, or SUV driver causes a collision with a golf cart, the driver (or their insurance company) can be held liable just as if the collision involved any other type of vehicle.
- The Golf Cart’s Manufacturer – Like all manufacturers, golf cart manufacturers can be held liable when they sell dangerous and defective products. Under Florida’s product liability law, manufacturers are “strictly liable” for defect-related accidents, which means that victims and their families can file claims without proof of negligence (though proof of a defect is required). From electrical issues to defective brakes and tires, numerous issues can cause unexpected accidents, resulting in serious—if not life-altering or life-threatening—injuries.
- Other Third Parties – Along with golf cart owners, parents, employers, and manufacturers, various other third parties can also be liable for golf cart accidents. This includes parties ranging from government agencies to HOAs and vehicle manufacturers to rideshare companies. When seeking just compensation for a golf cart accident, it is essential to thoroughly evaluate all potential claims, as it may be necessary to file multiple claims to recover the long-term costs of the crash fully.
Collecting the Evidence Needed to Prove Liability for a Golf Cart Accident
As with vehicle collisions and other types of accidents, determining who is responsible for a golf cart accident involves gathering as much evidence as possible. While this usually starts with conducting a forensic investigation at the accident scene, identifying all viable claims may require several other investigative steps. When investigating a golf cart accident, some of the critical questions for determining who (or what company) is responsible include:
- Who was at fault in the accident?
- Who owns the golf cart?
- What is the owner’s relationship to the driver?
- Did a golf cart defect cause (or contribute to causing) the accident?
- Did a road or vehicle defect cause (or contribute to causing) the accident?
- Have the golf cart, road, and other vehicles adequately maintained?
- Was there anything the victim could (and should) have done to protect themself?
Answering these questions may involve collecting a variety of different types of evidence. Along with forensic evidence from the crash site (i.e., skid marks and debris), these may include photos and videos, measurements and engineering reports, weather and traffic data, cell phone records, maintenance records, employment records, and eye-witness testimony—among many others. Increasingly, social media posts are playing a pivotal role as evidence in personal injury and wrongful death cases. While some of these types of evidence will be publicly available, collecting others may involve issuing subpoenas, depositing, and using other legal means.
Calculating Liability for the Lifetime Costs of a Golf Cart Accident
In addition to determining responsibility for a golf cart accident, another critical step involves calculating the responsible party’s (or parties’) Financial Liability. This Liability is based on the victim’s (and, in some cases, the victim’s parents’ or other family members’) present and future losses.
These losses can be substantial when golf cart accidents result in life-altering or life-threatening injuries. While medical care has become incredibly expensive, the costs of care will typically represent just a tiny fraction of the long-term costs of a severe accident. Victims (or victims’ parents or other loved ones) can also face loss of income and benefits, transportation expenses, therapy and rehabilitation expenses, and additional out-of-pocket costs.
Then, there are the non-financial costs of coping with severe traumatic injuries. Florida law entitles golf cart accident victims to just compensation for their pain and suffering, scarring and disfigurement, emotional trauma, loss of consortium and companionship, and loss of enjoyment of life. These non-financial costs are typically calculated using a multiple of the victim’s financial costs; in some cases, parents and other family members will be entitled to compensation for their non-financial losses. Of the $50 million we helped secure for our clients in the case discussed above, the court awarded $46 million for the child’s financial and non-financial losses, and it awarded an additional $2 million to each parent for the harm caused to their son.
Filing a Claim After a Golf Cart Accident in Florida: How Do You Start the Process?
If you are dealing with the aftermath of a serious golf cart accident, asserting your legal rights will be an essential step toward recovery. So, how do you start the process?
1. Prioritize Your (or Your Loved One’s) Medical Care
After a severe golf cart accident, ensuring you get the medical care you need (or your child receives the medical care they need) is essential for several reasons. First and foremost, it will help ensure that the consequences of the accident are no greater than necessary. But, promptly seeking a diagnosis and treatment is essential for asserting your legal rights. Your (or your child’s) medical records will help with documenting the timing of the accident and the nature of the crash, and they will help you avoid any issues related to allegations that your (or your child’s) injuries are not a result of the accident.
2. Write Down Everything You Can Remember About the Golf Cart Accident
It is a good idea to write down everything you can remember about the golf cart accident as soon as possible. Any details you can provide may help your lawyer determine responsibility for the crash. No detail is too small; at this stage, you should not make any assumptions about why the accident happened or who is to blame.
3. Hire a Lawyer to Determine Responsibility and Calculate Liability
As discussed above, determining who is responsible for a golf cart accident requires a prompt and thorough investigation. This means you should speak with a lawyer immediately after the accident. In addition to determining responsibility, your lawyer can assess how much you and your family are entitled to recover. Then, you can use this information to make informed decisions about how best to move forward.
Contact the Florida Injury Lawyers at Silva & Silva
At Silva & Silva, we have decades of experience representing victims and their families after severe accidents throughout Florida. If you need more about your legal rights after a serious golf cart accident, we encourage you to contact us promptly for a free, no-obligation consultation. To confidently speak with an experienced Florida injury lawyer as soon as possible, please call 305-445-0011 or tell us how we can contact you online today.