Lakeland Driver Causes Wrong Way DUI Accident On I-4

Wrongful Death

Travis Coats was intoxicated and driving the wrong way on I-4 in Polk County on January 14, 2017 when he caused a fatal crash.  Coats has been charged with DUI manslaughter, DUI with property damage, and DUI and driving in the wrong direction.  The accident caused the death of 32-year-old Demerrio Tobler from St. Petersburg.  Travis Coats is 24 years old and is from Polk City, Florida.  The accident happened at approximately 3:15 a.m. when Coats drove a 2005 Dodge Ram in the west in the eastbound lane of I-4 near mile marker 33 (just west of the overpass for Carpenters Way).  The truck struck Tobler’s 2016 Ford Fusion head on and with Emily Smart in a 2014 Ford Fiesta.  Coats and Smart sustained minor injuries and were taken to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center.

Wrongful Death Under Florida Law

Demerrio Tobler’s death is a wrongful death under Florida law and is actionable.  Wrongful death damages are payable based on the relationship that each survivor has with the decedent and their ages.  I have outlined these in my page on wrongful death.  A probate may or may not be necessary depending on the circumstances.

What Insurance Applies To This Accident And How Does It Work?

First, there is a $5,000 PIP/no-fault death benefit that is available to Tobler’s family to pay for funerary expenses.  This benefit can be paid to the estate, a family member who has paid funeral expenses, his next of kin, or the funeral home directly.  This insurance benefit comes from Tobler’s insurance policy because it is a no-fault benefit (meaning it is paid regardless of who caused the accident).  Ms. Smart will have her no-fault insurance to pay for her hospital bills.

Secondly, the insurance company for Coats should disclose its policy limits for bodily injury liability coverage and should pay those limits to the claimants.  This is clearly an excess case for which policy limits are immediately justified.  A failure of the insurance company to promptly offer policy limits could result in a lawsuit and a civil judgment that not only exceeds the company’s policy limits but also results in a judgment against Coats for punitive damages.  It is likely possible to avoid this with prompt payment of limits in exchange for a release.

Third, Tobler and Smart may have underinsured motorist’s coverage (UM) coverage in addition to the wrong way driver’s liability limits.  The way that damages are calculated for UM damages in Florida is that the insurance company does pay until other benefits have been exhausted.  Hence, if Coats has a $10,000 bodily injury liability policy, then the UM carrier’s liability for payment begins at $20,001 (there is a setoff for no-fault and for underlying coverage).

Call A Lakeland Car Accident Lawyer To Discuss Your Case

If you would like to speak to a car accident attorney about your case, you should contact a Lakeland injury attorney for a free case review.


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January 14, 2017