Gainesville Personal Injury, Divorce and Alimony Attorney

Improving Safety Issues Associated with Low-Visibility in the Paynes Prairie Area

As residents that live in close proximity to Florida’s notorious Paynes Prairie, the Gainesville Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC takes note of the numerous smoke and fog related accidents that have occurred in this area. In response to the 2012 pile-up, which injured 21, and took the life of 11, Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles conducted an independent review of the circumstances, in an effort to reduce the likelihood of similar accident in the future. As stated in the Incident Response Report,

“Due to the low-lying geography of Paynes Prairie, and the history of frequent environmental conditions that cause limitations in visibility in that area, a fixed messaging system should be implemented.These fixed signs and electronic message boards would forewarn travelers of hazardous conditions along the roadway.”

Prompted largely by residents’ general discontentment over the lack of progress made in addressing safety concerns during the year following this horrific pile-up, State Representative Keith Perry took action in March of 2012. Following much debate over funding and planning, funding was eventually approved for an improved message warning system, to include an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS).

Earlier this year, work commenced on incorporating ITS, which uses car-level visibility sensors, both infrared and standard, as well as traffic cameras, to relay data back to Gainesville Traffic management Center for the purpose of posting warnings and alerts on message signs.

Many are optimistic over this updated alert system, which includes fixed messaged boards at both ends of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Yet, at the same time, many are concerned over whether the proposed placement of the signs will provide motorist with ample warning when visibility issues pose a hazard to public safety.

While footers for the columns that will hold the message signs have already been installed, local concerns have prompted the city to cultivate an alternate southbound location, positioned in closer proximity to Williston Road. Earlier this week, a public meeting was held in which 14 out of the 15 speakers supported moving the southbound sign to a location farther north.

General consensus over the relocation centered on the benefits of a more advanced warning of low-visibility due to smoke or fog. Stated differently, the sooner a driver becomes aware that they are approaching a dangerous condition, the better able they will be to adapt and take the necessary safety precautions. In particular, speakers noted the manner in which early warning provides motorists with an option to turn around, and thereby avoid the hazard altogether.

As Accident & Injury Attorneys, we support moving the southbound sign, for the simple reason that, ‘it just makes sense.’ Although contemplation of relocation would have been preferable, had it occurred prior to installation of the footer, this consideration must take a backseat when it comes to improving public safety. Quite simply, the magnitude of the problem, warrants that appropriate measures be taken to implement long-term solutions that will effectively and efficiently address the problem.

Florida’s Move Over Law

The Gainesville Auto Collision Attorneys of the Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC discuss changes to Florida’s Move-Over Law, which went into effect July 1, 2014. Under the former law, the requirement for motorists to move-over applied only to authorized emergency vehicles and tow-truck drivers, when such vehicle were displaying audible and/or visual signals. However, pursuant to 2014 revisions to Florida Statute 316.126, motorists must now also move-over for sanitation and utility service vehicles as well, as follows:

  • Sanitation Vehicle performing a task related to the provision of sanitation services on the roadside
  • Utility Service Vehicle performing a task related to the provision of utility services on the roadside

The actual move-over procedures will remain the same, in that motorist have two options, depending on the circumstances. They can either vacate the emergency vehicle, sanitation vehicle, utility service vehicle, or wrecker. However, if movement cannot be safely accomplished, the motorist can slow their vehicle as follows: (a) 20 mph or less if the speed limit is 25 mph or more; and (b) 5 mph if the speed limit is 20 mph or less.

A summary of ALL vehicle included under Florida’s Move-over Law, as revised, is as follows:

1)Authorized emergency vehicles – en route – audible or visual signals

2)      Authorized emergency vehicles – parked on roadside – visual signals

3)      Wrecker – parked on roadside – displaying amber rotating or flashing lights is performing roadside recovery or loading

4)      Sanitation vehicles – parked on roadside – performing sanitation related task

5)      Utility service vehicles – parked on roadside – performing utility service related task.

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***INITIAL POST: Florida’s Move-over Law (Prior to 2014 Revisions)***

If you are like many Florida drivers, you may be aware that we have a ‘Move Over Law,’ but may not know precisely what the law encompasses, or fully understand what it requires in a particular situation. The Gainesville Attorneys of the Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC discuss this important law, in hopes that we can provide clarification, as well as promote safety awareness.

While some accidents involving law enforcement occur due to the actions of an officer, many more are caused by the negligent, reckless, or unlawful actions of another motorist, as an officer is carrying out their official duties. According to the FLHSMV, over the past fifteen years, “more than 200 law enforcement officers in the United States have died and thousands injured in a crash as a result of being on the side of the road doing their job and being hit by an oncoming vehicle.”

In 2002, Florida enacted legislation, referred to as the “Move Over Act,” as enumerated in Florida Statute 316.126 (2013). Although viewing the statute may be helpful for some, interpreting its provisions can be very difficult. Further, many of the efforts, initiatives, and safety campaigns aimed at promoting the Act, fail to explain what motorists must do in alternate scenarios (i.e. what to do when they cannot move over safely).

In recognition of the need to better inform Florida drivers, FHP recently increased its efforts to educate the public about the move over law, as part of  ‘Operation Staying Alive on Interstate 75.’ Heightened enforcement will begin Friday June 27th at midnight and continue through Sunday June 29th.  In support of these efforts, our Gainesville automobile collision attorneys discuss some of the most common areas of inquiry pertaining to the law.

Q: Who do I need to move over for?

A: Authorized emergency vehicles, including patrol cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and in some cases even tow truck drivers. The best way to determine whether a vehicle falls within the type which requires drivers to move over, is by the presence of either audible or visual signals. Audible signals include sirens, exhaust whistles, or other similar device. Visual signals include blue or red flashing lights.

Q: When do I need to move over?

A: The short and simple answer—as soon as is safely possible upon becoming aware of the authorized emergency vehicle. This applies not only to motor vehicles, but also to other road users, such as bicyclists and pedestrians.

Q: Where do I move over?

A: This depends on whether the emergency vehicle is in transit or is parked, as follows:

In transit: Pull your vehicle safely over as close as possible to the edge of the curb—clear of any intersection—and remain there until the vehicle passes.

Parked: Vacate the lane closest to the emergency vehicle.

Q: What if I cannot move over?

A: Again, this is dependent on whether an emergency vehicle is parked or moving.

In transit: This can be tricky, because sometimes proceeding to the curb is not the best choice, such as when other vehicles are moving towards the middle of the road. Take note of your surroundings—if you cannot see the vehicle, listen to determine the direction it is coming from. In other words, use reasonable judgment in making room for the oncoming vehicle, determining whether to remain stationary, or proceeding further if you are already in an intersection.

Parked: If you cannot vacate the lane closest to the emergency vehicle you MUST slow to 20 mph or less than the posted speed limit. However if the posted speed limit is under 20 mph, you must reduce your speed by at least 5 mph less than the posted limit.

Q: Are there any other exceptions?

A: Yes. If a law enforcement officer instructs you to do otherwise, you must abide by his instructions. Further, the requirement to move over for tow trucks applies only when the tow truck driver is performing a recovery or loading along the roadside.

Q: Why do I need to move over?

A: It’s the law, and a violation can result in a fine and points on you license. More importantly, failure to do so poses a public safety issue—both to the professional(s) responding to the emergency, as well as the persons requiring assistance.

The Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC understands that in some cases, it may be difficult for motorists to determine what actions are lawful given the circumstances involved. Of course, Florida legislators make a valid effort to take into consideration all potential scenarios when drafting our laws, it is not always possible to account for each and every unique scenario. As such, the best approach is adhering to the law as close as is possible, and when in doubt utilizing due care and reasonable judgment in taking necessary precautions.

Do Florida Courts Favor Mothers Over Fathers in Custody Cases?

The Gainesville Child Custody Attorneys of the Law Office of Alba & Straile take note of a common area of inquiry often presented by parents with minor children, particularly those contemplating or in the process of a separation or divorce. That is—do Florida courts favor the mother over the father? Stated differently—is there a preference placed on granting custody to one parent over another, solely based upon gender? The answer to both—NO—mothers are not afforded preferential treatment under the law, and gender considerations are irrelevant to custody determinations.

Although from a statistical perspective, mothers do win custody battles more often than fathers, this has nothing to do with gender but more to do with individual prejudices and societal norms. In better understanding the manner in which courts decide custodial issues, it is helpful to consider the historical background and societal developments that eventually led to reform, and more importantly, where we stand now.

Historically, the courts have, as a practical matter, favored mothers during child custody proceedings, often granting child custody exclusively to mothers. This was based upon a principle referred to as the ‘Tender Years Doctrine,’ in which it was believed that the best place for a young child was with their mother. As stated in a publication by the Journal of the American Academy for Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), “[t]he doctrine, supported by stereotypes, helped to perpetuate the image of women as being softer and more natural nurturers.”

As parental roles and the structure of the family unit evolved, and largely due to the multitude of research demonstrating the manners in which shared parenting benefits the mental well-being of the child, courts too began to acknowledge the need for reform. As stated by FamilyProcess.org in a 2007 publication,

“Overall, the empirical literature demonstrates numerous benefits to children, including better psychological and behavioral adjustment and academic achievement, when their living arrangements enable supportive and loving fathers to be actively involved in their children’s lives on a weekly and regular basis, including a combination of overnights and school-related and leisure time.”

In noting the limitations placed on preserving family ties, the resulting effect on the child, as well as the hardships and injustice to fathers created by application of these outdated and gender-specific principles, the tender years doctrine was eventually abolished. In recent years there has been a trend to equalize parental responsibility. As stated in the AAML journal article referenced above:

“The rise and fall of the tender years doctrine traces a story that starts with presumptions about fathers, leads to presumptions about mothers, and ends with a focus on children that at least attempts to decide custody without reference to stereotypical sexual characteristics of “mom” and “dad.”  The good news is that parents of both sexes are willing to fight for their kids even if it means fighting each other.  The end of the story delivers a message that parents are no longer defined by cookie-cutter roles and so the opportunity to parent has widened to those that want it, offering children different familial structures while offering different types of parents the opportunity be a part of that structure.”

In accordance with recent trends, the Florida State Legislature has made significant changes, over the past decade, to its state laws pertaining to child custody. Such changes reflect the legislative desire to promote the involvement of both parents in the child’s upbringing, by ensuring that the focus in child custody determinations remains on the best interests of the child.

As provided in Florida Statute 61.13(2)(c)(1):

It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing. There is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan of the child.

Neither parent, whether mother or father, should be discouraged from asserting their parental rights, so long as they are fit and able to properly care for the child.

If you are a parent with a question or concern regarding child custody, whether associated with a divorce, an ongoing custody proceeding, a modification, an issue of relocation, or a family law appeal, the Gainesville Attorneys of the Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC want to help you.

Rear-end Collision Rule: Then and Now

During our decades of practice, our injury team has obtained compensation on behalf of numerous victims of rear-end crashes, and in doing so, we have taken note of several areas of inquiry often shared by victims. For example, the meaning, effect, and/or application of the term ‘rebuttable presumption,’ is a concept that clients commonly inquire about following a rear-end collision. As a preliminary consideration, it is important to know that the term, in isolation, can apply not only in auto negligence cases, but also in a variety of other legal settings, such as with domestic violence in family law matters.

Defined broadly, Black’s Law Dictionary  provides that a rebuttable presumption is:

“a term for an assumption that appears on the surface to be conclusive but can be overcome by the presentation of contrary evidence.”

In applying the concept to negligence, in claims brought by a lead vehicle in a rear-end car accident, the presumption will generally arise that the negligence of the rear vehicle was the sole and proximate cause of the collision, unless and until evidence is presented to the contrary. The next logical inquiry, then, is what if a rear-end end collision occurred as a result of the negligence of the front driver? Because the answer to this resides in a culmination of the outcomes of fairly recent cases in Florida, it may be useful to provide a bit of historical background on this topic.

For decades, following the ruling in Beller v. Madsen, courts have strictly applied this so-called Rear-end Collision Rule, allowing rebuttal of the presumption in limited scenarios, such as where the front-vehicle abruptly, illegally, or unexpectedly stops or changes lanes. While this rule, which historically was premised upon the notion that the front-driver is less likely to establish factual circumstances as to what has occurred behind them, the effect of its application placed an unfair burden upon front-drivers that had valid defenses, and essentially contradicted the concept of comparative negligence.

However, in 2012, the rulings in two cases, Cevallos v. Rideout, and Charron v. Birge, addressed these issues, perhaps broadening the once narrowly confined interpretation of the Rear-end Collision Rule. As stated in the Rear-end Collision Rule Gets a Tune-up, provided on the Florida Supreme Court’s website,

“where evidence is produced from which a jury could conclude that the front driver in a rear-end collision was negligent and comparatively at fault in bringing about the collision, the presumption specified in the Rule is erased.”

Stated simply, the current trend in Florida regarding rear collisions, is one that now places greater emphasis on principles of comparative negligence, and apportioning damages in accordance with each party’s proportion of fault, as opposed to the more stringent approach that was once widely-accepted in Florida. Although in some cases these recent changes have caused us to do a little more work in obtaining the compensation that a victim deserves, we welcome any legislative changes that are better aligned with notions of fairness and justice.

The laws in Florida are ever-changing. As such, it is imperative that auto collision victims keep this in mind when selecting an attorney. Keeping informed of amendments to existing law or newly implemented laws, as well as any changes or trends in a particular area that may impact the outcome of a case, are important traits to look for in a lawyer, because this often signifies their level of commitment.

However, continuing education, is only one factor to take into consideration. The ability to effectively apply legal concepts and principles, whether new or old, is a talent that is best achieved through actual and repeated practice experience. The Gainesville Accident & Injury Attorneys of the Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC possess the knowledge and experience that clients look for.

What Every Driver Should Know About Rollover Collisions: Safety Awareness, Risk Minimization, and Injury-Fatality Prevention

The Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC takes note of the unique nature of roll-over accidents, in comparison to nearly every other type of motor vehicle collision. In an effort to aide in the reduction of accidents, injuries, and fatalities involving vehicle rollovers, our Gainesville attorneys provide the following commentary regarding some of the most critical issues associated with rollover crashes, which, every motorist should be aware of.  For explanatory purposes, relevant factors will be discussed by delineating between three key categories: (1) Driver action; (2) Vehicle factors; and (3) ‘Other.’

Driver Action, involving an initial harmful event, such as being struck by another vehicle or traveling off a roadway, is an important consideration in terms of causation in rollover crashes. However, many drivers are unaware of the significance that subsequent motorist action can play in reducing the possibility of a vehicle rollover. As reported by the NHSTA, and demonstrated in a visual demonstration provided by safercar.gov, driver actions such as ‘panic steering’ and ‘improper maneuvering’ are common factors associated with vehicle rollovers.

An example of both panic steering, as well as improper maneuvering can be found in an Alachua County accident that occurred along I-75 on May 26th. As reported by the Gainesville Sun, “Barbara Frampton, 51, of Lake City, was driving a 1999 Honda Civic behind McArthur Myrick’s car in the right lane. Frampton traveled off the road and overcorrected back to the left, losing control of her vehicle and striking Myrick’s vehicle, the report said.” As a result, “Linda Myrick, 63, of Wauchula, died after being ejected from the 2005 Nissan Titan that McArthur Myrick, 69, was driving.”

Vehicle Factors associated with rollovers can be better understood by distinguishing between factors such as the type, condition, and safety features of vehicle involved. With regard to vehicle type, SUVs rollovers are 2.5X more likely to result in injury and nearly 2X as likely to result in fatality, than vans or standard passenger vehicles. Injury and fatality rates for rollovers involving pickup trucks are not far behind those for SUVs.

The condition of a vehicle, particularly factors associated with tire maintenance, can greatly impact the potential for a rollover collision. It is important, not only to replace worn tires, but also to ensure proper tire pressure—keeping in mind that both under-inflation and over-inflation-can contribute to a rollover. In addition, motorists are encouraged to regularly check for recalls associated with their vehicle.   Proper vehicle loading, particularly with rollover accidents involving trucks, whether pick-up, semi, or other truck with attached trailer, is another important consideration.

Safety features, such as roll-bars or airbags, can also play a role in the extent of injury sustained in a collision. While airbags can provide remarkable protection, the safety benefits that airbags offer in rollovers is often dependent on whether the vehicle is equipped with single-driver, dual-passenger, and/or side-impact airbags. There are also variations in bags or curtains that protect specific areas in particular types of collisions, and can potentially reduce catastrophic injury. In addition, newer technology, such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC) or Variable Ride-Height Suspension (VRHS), can also reduce the potential for a rollover.

Other factors associated with rollovers—our third categorical delineation—includes things such as traveling speed, roadway conditions, angle of impact, as well as location (rural vs. city), division (divided vs. undivided), and type (highway vs. nonhighway) of roadway involved. Seatbelt use, particularly with regard to the risk of ejection from a vehicle, is another important factor to take into consideration.

In conjunction with the aforementioned factors, reducing rollover accidents and resulting injuries or fatalities, can be achieved by ensuring that Florida residents are adequately informed of factual data associated with rollover collisions. A good starting point, for motorists that are either selecting a new vehicle or simply wish to learn more about their current vehicle, is checking on current vehicle safety ratings.   In addition, NHSTA  provides a variety of consumer resources associated with vehicle safety and accident prevention, both at national and state levels.