Why did four Langston Hughes high school students die this past Monday? It was noted that the driver of the SUV that contained four other students ran a red light. Under Georgia law, that is referred to as failure to obey a traffic control device that is codified in O.C.G.A. 40-6-20. The law requires that the driver of the SUV shall obey “the instructions of an official traffic-control device” unless otherwise directed by a police officer in an emergency situation. The facts do not indicate that an officer was present who instructed otherwise.

But what made the driver fail to obey the traffic control device? The news articles are silent as to the reason and the only survivor, Lexus Todd, a high school girl (the 5th high school student), has not provided the answer at this time. It was around 1 p.m. and sunny at the time of the wreck so weather doesn’t appear to be the issue. The facts and photographs of the scene do not indicate any visual obstructions to the driver. The investigation should later reveal whether or not there were any malfunctions with the brakes – but I highly doubt it. So what was it?

It seems that teenagers are bombarded with electrical messages or music from the sky, land, home and school. Most own or use a smart cell phone. It would not be unheard to perceive that five teenagers cramped together in an SUV would be laughing, singing, joking or carrying on. But, what was the driver doing just a second before the crash?

My personal experience on the road has seen many a Georgia motorist texting, looking down or using a smart phone that diverts his/her attention away from the road and traffic lights. Just traveling 35 miles per hour equates to traveling 55.333 feet per second.   If an electronic device or his passengers distracted the driver of the SUV for just a second, then he would be moving forward on the road for 51 feet without his eyes on the road. If the traffic signal was 51 feet (or less) away from the time of the distraction, then that distraction may have led the motorist to pass under the light and strike the truck. If the speed were increased to 40 mph, then the SUV would be traveling 58.67 feet per second; at 50 mph, the distance is 73.33 feet per second.

From the facts, it appears as if there is no liability on the trucker who was by all accounts lawfully within the intersection with the right of way. However, it appears that the driver of the SUV was at fault for the collision. From a legal perspective, the immediate families of the deceased students could pursue a wrongful death action against the estate of the motorist and perhaps a negligent entrustment and family purpose action as well. If any of the families of the deceased had applicable underinsured motorist coverage on their auto policies, then that coverage may be available to help the families.

The lawyer(s) of the deceased student could take action to create the estate of the deceased in his/her choice of venue if the deceased family would not agree to file and appoint an administrator for the estate in the wrongful death action. This unilateral move would create a strategic advantage, as the lawyer would attempt to utilize a probate court to create the estate in a claimant friendly venue, such as Clayton or DeKalb.

The lawyer would have to present facts (to survive a summary judgment motion) that the deceased was an incompetent driver, that the parents knew or should have know that the deceased was an incompetent driver and that the parents entrusted the SUV to their son irrespective of such knowledge to maintain the negligent entrustment action. A family purpose action would have to show facts that the deceased was provided the vehicle for a family purpose.

The facts will come to light as the investigation progresses through the evidence. It is a shame that four teenagers lost their lives. This tragedy can be used a teaching tool by parents to their teenager drivers and the ramifications of a lost second on the road.   Our condolences go out to the families that lost a loved one.

Please note that the Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford is currently accepting accident and wrongful death cases throughout Georgia, including collisions caused by a distracted driver. If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of the negligence of a motorist, then please contact an experienced attorney for a free consultation to document and preserve evidence and present your claim in a competent and timely fashion. We have over 25 years experience and can come to you. Please call 404-869-6969 or use our toll free number (855) LAW-FORD to secure your rights today.

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