04/30/2010 // 6446 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL, USA // GetMeJustice // David Shapiro
Tampa, FL (News)—A recent ruling by a Pinellas County jury brought light to the often debated question of whether a driver traveling in the right hand lane of a highway has the duty to move to the center lane to allow motorists entering the highway, to merge into traffic. The ruling, which was based on a motorcyclist who was killed while trying to merge on I-275 South, asserted that it was not just a matter of courtesy for motorists to allow cars to merge onto the highway, but a legal duty to do so.
The case centered on Anthony Berry, 49, who was attempting to merge onto I-275 South from 26th Avenue, when he was tragically killed. As Berry was entering the highway, he realized the car in front of him was not going to merge. Berry’s motorcycle subsequently slammed into the back of the car, catapulting him into the right lane of traffic where he was hit and killed by another motorist.
The Pinellas County jury was asked this question: While driving on the interstate, you notice on your right a car entering the highway via the on ramp with a motorcycle following closely behind, do you:
A.) Stay in your lane without regard to the people trying to merge?
B.) Speed up in order to get past them?
C.) Safely move into the center lane providing the drivers with a clear lane so they can safely merge?
The jury decided answer “C” was correct, which determined that the driver who failed to allow Berry into traffic was 25 percent at fault for the fatal crash. “It was a terrible tragedy. Mr. Berry left behind a wonderful wife and a teenage son” said Michael Babboni, the attorney for the Estate of Anthony Berry. “If the driver in the right-hand lane of I-275 would have permitted the car and the motorcycle to merge, Mr. Berry would have been alive today.” The jury agreed, and awarded Mrs. Berry and their son, Wyatt, $1,750,000.00, after three hours of deliberation.
“The defendant never acknowledged his participation in the accident and his responsibility for the consequences. Obviously, the jury saw it differently.” Babboni said. The jury also found Anthony Berry 25% responsible for his own death.
“We always understood and admitted that Mr. Berry had some responsibility for the motorcycle accident.” co-counsel David Shapiro said. The jury also found that the motorist who slowed down in the merging lane was 50% responsible for the collision.
There is no Florida law that requires a motorist traveling in the right hand lane to allow people to merge. However, Florida common law establishes that a person must use “reasonable care” while driving an automobile, as well as all other activities that could lead to bodily injury. “Because a motor vehicle could be a deadly weapon if not used properly, we have a great responsibility to one another to be careful and cautious and do everything within our control to see to it that everyone makes it home safely,” Shapiro said.
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