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Driverless semi-trucks could be sharing Florida highways as early as next year, according to recent reports, and there will be no requirement that surrounding motorists know it.

These autonomous driving systems will not need to be tested, inspected, or certified before being deployed under a new state law that takes effect July 1.

Starsky Robotics, a San Francisco-based startup company that’s been testing its driverless trucking technology in Florida and Texas, has put out a call for job applicants who one day want to pilot big rigs remotely.

Starsky envisions its remote drivers logging onto computers in an office environment to take the reins of its trucks during the first and last miles of their long hauls.

That means the trucks will be on autopilot for the vast majority of their highway journeys.

Driverless deployments should begin in Florida by the end of 2020, Starsky says.

That’s much sooner than 2027, the year consulting firm McKinsey & Company projects fully driverless trucks will be ready to hit the highway.

On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill enacting the law in a ceremony at SunTrax, the state’s new autonomous vehicle testing track in Auburndale.

While the law will also open the door for ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to deploy fleets for commuter use, DeSantis’ signing ceremony was staged in front of a Starsky-branded semi-truck.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Fischer, a Duval County Republican, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, the new law replaces an existing one that required a human driver be present and able to take over driving chores in autonomous vehicles operating on public property for any other reason than testing.

Brandes, Fischer and other proponents of driverless vehicle technology say automated systems will make transportation safer by removing the potential for human error. Driverless technology proponents envision a day in the not-too-distant future in which most driving becomes automated, freeing commuters to stare into their smartphones or their dashboard video screens.

The safety requirements under the new state law are limited.

Companies will be allowed to deploy their systems with no state inspection or certification.

Owners of autonomous commercial vehicles will be required to carry at least as much liability insurance as the state requires for commercial vehicles driven by humans. Currently, that means a minimum level of $300,000 in combined bodily liability and property damage coverage for trucks with a gross vehicle weight of 44,000 pounds or more, and lesser amounts for lighter vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles used for “on-demand” networks must be covered for at least $1 million for death, bodily injury and property damage, the law states.

Autonomous vehicles also will be required to achieve what’s called “minimal risk condition” — such as coming to a complete stop and activating their hazard lights — if their operating systems fail.

Existing traffic laws requiring drivers to promptly notify law enforcement agencies of crashes and then remain on scene to provide information or render aid will be exempted if law enforcement is notified by a vehicle’s owner or by the vehicle’s automated system.

When asked how Starsky Robotics plans to assure Floridians of the safety of the company’s driverless trucks, Starsky founder and CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher said only that the company, founded in 2016, has been working with all relevant authorities, including the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Highway Patrol, the Florida Turnpike Authority, and those agencies’ federal counterparts.

The company has also developed a “Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment,” based on recommendations from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, that will guide how its vehicles will react to unforeseen circumstances.

Starsky this week launched a campaign titled “The future of driverless trucking is not driverless” to attract recruits willing to drive in its fleet of 36 traditional over-the-road rigs before — if they make the cut — transitioning to the autonomous truck side. Those drivers will work at a computer in a fixed location and go home to their families between shifts, the company said.

In Florida, the company will locate its remote drivers at its facility in Jacksonville, a spokeswoman said.

The company currently has three trucks capable of autonomous operation but expects to have up to 25 by next year as it begins removing human drivers. Florida will be among the first states where it will run driverless trucks.

The company completed a seven-mile driverless test on a closed-off rural road near Lake Okeechobee in February 2018. It expects to conduct another test sometime this year, Seltz-Axmacher said.

This new wave of autonomous trucks is propelled by the rapid growth of e-commerce, retailers such as Amazon are busy automating as much of their supply and delivery chains as possible, and shipping is a major cost component ripe for disruption, according to reports.

Keeping drivers on the road for a month at a time has become a huge problem for the trucking industry, where the turnover rate for at large carriers averaged 89 percent in 2018 — two points higher than the previous year, according to the American Trucking Association.

Consumers’ demand for cheap goods and cheap shipping costs means haulers want to pay truck drivers cheap wages. That contributes to a 60,000-driver shortage in the U.S.

Paying someone $50,000 to $60,000 a year isn’t enough to keep them behind the wheel of a truck for a month, so the logic to solving that is to remove a person from the cab entirely.

Florida is not just testing out driverless big rigs. In Clearwater Beach, they are testing out driverless buses. Orlando is testing out a small driverless bus that soon will maneuver around Lake Nona. Driverless shuttles could be cruising Bay Street in downtown Jacksonville very soon. And in just a few months, Gainesville residents will be among the first in the state to travel for free through their town in a driverless shuttle.

Driverless cars, buses, shuttles and semi-trucks are officially upon us and no longer just  a thing of the future. These autonomous vehicles have been designed with cameras, sensors, artificial intelligence and algorithms to replace human drivers and eliminate human error, which is one of the leading causes of truck accidents, car accidents and bus accidents across the country. The hope is for these driverless vehicles to operate safer than human drivers, who can become distracted, drunk and careless when behind the wheel.

Much like everything else, nothing is perfect and these driverless vehicles can absolutely find themselves involved in an untimely collision. This will bring a whole new wave of car accident lawsuits, and it will certainly be interesting to see how these claims play out. Just like regular auto accidents between human drivers, driverless motor vehicle crashes will require thorough investigations to determine liability.

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Millions of people visit Disney World, Universal and Legoland safely every year, but every now and then serious injuries occur. Some of the most common injuries are slips, trips, or falls. In other cases, serious injuries occur on park rides, roller coasters, or attractions, causing permanent disability or wrongful death.

Disney World, Universal and Legoland Accidents and Injuries

A serious injury at Disney World, Universal or Legoland can ruin what was supposed to be a magical vacation. While accidents are going to happen, the park is not always to blame. But sometimes, severe injuries occur and it is the park’s  fault for not protecting their guests safety. This is called negligence, and proving negligence is a critical factor in winning personal injury lawsuits. Because of this, it is essential to hire an experienced personal injury attorney who can prove that the theme or amusement park is at fault for your injury.

If you have a personal injury lawsuit for a Disney World, Universal or Legoland injury, you could be entitled to significant financial compensation for your pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost income, and more. Our Florida Amusement Park Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can help you recover full and fair compensation for your suffering.

Disney World, Universal and Legoland Slips, Trips, and Falls

Slips, trips, and falls are some of the most common Disney World injuries. How can a slip, trip, or fall injury occur at Disney World, Universal and Legoland? There are many scenarios that can play out and cause these injuries. A fountain may have sprayed water onto a slippery surface causing a small child to sip and fall. Maybe a drink spilled at a restaurant area and employees neglected to clean it up in a timely manner, creating a hazard. Falls can happen on ramps or stairs that lack handrails or in the slippery boarding areas for water rides. The list of potential dangers goes on and on.

A serious slip, trip, or fall can result in the following injuries:

  • Broken bones
  • Sprains and strains
  • Cuts, scrapes, and lacerations
  • Severe bruising
  • Head, neck, spinal, or back injuries
  • Wrist or ankle injuries
  • Concussion
  • Seizure
  • Disability
  • Wrongful death

Ride Injuries at Disney World, Universal and Legoland

Some of the most serious and deadly accident injuries take place on Disney World, Universal and Legoland rides, roller coasters, and other attractions within the park. These injuries can happen when rides have design flaws, they malfunction due to poor maintenance, or because employees fail to follow proper safety procedures. An amusement park injury on a ride could lead to severe injury, permanent disability, or death.

What constitutes negligence at a theme park?

  • Rides that are not maintained or inspected properly that lead to breakdowns, causing injuries to passengers
  • Ride operators who do not make sure all riders are secured safely in their seats, leading to injuries
  • Being hit by a tram, bus, or other moving vehicle within the park by a driver who failed to pay attention to surroundings
  • A Disney World, Universal or Legoland employee who was not trained properly, and injures themself or other park visitors

Reporting an Injury Claim

If you are injured at Disney World, Universal or Legoland, you should immediately report the injury to a park employee as soon as possible. While this is not necessarily required to make a claim, an incident report will confirm that you were injured on Disney’s property. This could definitely be reliable evidence for your injury claim.

Seek Medical Attention

Disney World, Universal and Legoland has medical centers where staff can tend to any injuries. They can also call an ambulance in the event of a more serious injury. Making sure your injuries are documented is critical to obtaining financial compensation from Disney, Universal or Legoland.

Watch What You Say

When you make an injury claim with Disney, Universal or Legoland, their representatives may try to get you to give a formal recorded statement. During these statements, they will ask you about the incident and your injuries. Remember, these reps will use anything you say against you in the event your case does not settle. They will be looking for ways to hold you responsible for your injuries and keep the blame off of them. It is best to have an attorney help you with your case before you provide a statement of any kind. Our Florida Amusement Park Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can make sure you don’t say anything that can be misconstrued and make you look to be at-fault.  

Don’t Negotiate By Yourself

Disney, Universal and Legoland adjusters negotiate for a living. Do not expect to go head to head with them and win, as you are not an adjuster. They know exactly what questions to ask to minimize your settlement amount, or how to talk you into agreeing to a lowball settlement when your case is worth far more.

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A log ride at a California amusement park malfunctioned and flipped over on May 25, leaving a woman critically injured and her husband and child also harmed.

The incident occurred at Castle Park in Riverside on the Log Ride, which, according to the park’s website, features a 48-foot drop.

Riverside Fire Department officials said they were called to the park at 4:37 p.m. and that the three members of one family were tossed into the water after something went haywire with the log they were riding in and overturned.

According to witnesses at the scene, a 10-year-old boy injured in the incident appeared to suffer a cut to his ear and head injuries, while his father suffered scrapes to his arm and back.

Fire department officials said a mechanical problem with a ride’s water pump apparently caused the accident.

An investigation is underway by the California Department of Health and Safety to determine the exact cause of the malfunction.

The Log Ride was immediately shut down. A spokeswoman for the Castle Park did say that the ride had been inspected earlier Saturday and nothing was found wrong.

Most amusement parks have their own water parks or pools for patrons, or at least some type of water ride. These wet zones are very popular in Florida, where it is pretty warm year round. While these water attractions are a great way to “beat the heat,” a ride down the water slide or a dip in the wave pool can lead to serious accidents and injuries. If an amusement or theme park is negligent when it comes to cleaning, inspecting, maintaining, or supervising water rides and the people using them, and someone is injured or killed as a result, then the park can be held financially responsible for the damages incurred by all victims involved.

When you choose to visit an amusement park or water park, you expect that park owners, operators, maintenance workers, and other employees will do everything they can, within reason, to ensure all guests remain safe. And while most visits will be free of incident, the reality is that many theme park and water parks have been the sites of accidents in the past.

If your injury, or a loved one’s death, was caused by another person’s negligence, the most common theory under which a case of this type is usually brought is called premises liability. Under Florida law, there are three types of people that may enter someone else’s property: invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Invitees are those who come for business reasons, licensees are there for their own business, and trespassers are on the property without permission. Florida law clearly states that each type of visitor is owed a different duty of care from the owner or operator. A guest at a theme park or water park would be classified as an invitee of the business, and they are owed the highest duty of care.

A property owner has a duty to make sure their invitees are safe on their land, which means making at least a reasonable effort to warn them of any conditions or hazards that could pose a threat to their well being. Failing to make reasonably safe accommodations to invitees can give rise to a premises liability case when the victim(s) can show that a dangerous hazard was not warned for sufficiently.

Anyone can easily become a victim when a water park or amusement park fails to take reasonable safety precautions. Injuries that can be caused by water ride accidents include:

  • Back Injuries
  • Bone Fractures
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries
  • Facial Injuries
  • Internal Bleeding
  • Internal Injuries
  • Neck Injuries
  • Organ Damage
  • Paralysis
  • Severe Blood Loss
  • Severed Limbs
  • Spinal Cord Injuries

Certain injuries sustained may never fully heal, and can completely alter the course of a person’s life forever. These injuries can lead to a loss of physical capabilities, cause ongoing emotional distress and mental anguish, and require costly medical treatment. Some injuries may require around the clock care or permanent supervision.

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Florida’s new distracted driving law, or texting while driving, goes into effect July 1, and law enforcement agencies across the state are preparing for how they will enforce it.

As far as enforcing the rule, a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s spokesperson said it will be done on a case-by-case basis.

The Sheriff’s Office said texting violations will be treated like any other primary offense traffic violation.

Deputies expect challenges from drivers trying to find loopholes around getting a citation, because they exist.

According to officials, drivers can still use their GPS, look at weather or traffic alerts, or call in an emergency.

Traffic judges might see more work as a result.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s officials said their enforcement will go through an education period. They’ll give out a warning the first time.

But drivers better make changes, because getting pulled over multiple times for texting while driving will end up in a ticket.

A hands-free requirement while driving in school and work zones goes into effect in October.

Citations will not be handed out for this violation until January 1, 2020.

This new law that makes texting while driving a primary offense as opposed to a secondary offense is meant to curb dangerous and deadly behavior while behind the wheel. Distracted driving accounts for more teen deaths than drunk driving, and kills 9 people of all ages every day across the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Car crashes in Florida rose by 11 percent from 2013 to 2016, but collisions caused by problems stemming from distracted driving, like drifting out of a lane, sideswiping another car or simply blowing through a stop sign, increased by 40-50 percent.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a distracted driving accident, our Florida Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can investigate your crash thoroughly and determine if the other driver involved in your accident was using their cellphone or otherwise driving while distracted. We will use this evidence to establish that the other driver was indeed at fault, which may result in a more favorable outcome when pursuing financial compensation.

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The parents of a 2-year-old boy who drowned in a Baker County retention pond in April are suing the owner of the property, claiming he failed to install fencing that might have protected their son.

The toddler was found in the pond April 23 after he wandered away from the apartment where he was being watched by his 18-year-old sister while their parents were at work. A neighbor tried to revive the little boy with CPR, but he died at Ed Fraser Memorial Hospital in Macclenny.

The boy died days before his 3rd birthday.

According to court documents, the property owner did not have proper fencing as required by building permits.

The property owner applied Jan. 13, 2016, to the St. Johns River Water Management District for a permit for construction of the retention pond to be used for stormwater treatment, court documents show.

The plans for the retention pond were part of a nearly four-acre storage facility.

Plans submitted to the district detailed the construction of a 6-foot fence with a self-latching gate. A permit for construction was issued two weeks later on Jan. 27, 2016.

The man subsequently built the retention pond, which was completed in March 2017. However, the property owner did not install the fence as detailed in the construction plans, according to reports.

Children are attracted to water placing them at a greater risk of being involved in a drowning or near-drowning incident. Due to this, the law recognizes additional duties that owners of ponds, pools, hot tubs, and other bodies of water must take to protect children. Private property owners as well as public entities that do not take these precautions can be liable for a child’s injuries or death that occur on the property.

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A Florida woman hacked into a man’s social media accounts and then “maliciously posted” nude photos of him, according to officials.

The 24-year-old was arrested Saturday in Port Richey after she demanded the unidentified give her money to take down the X-rated content, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said.

Using the man’s old phone, the woman shared the nudes to his own social media profiles and changed his passwords, preventing him from deactivating the accounts, according to reports.

The woman allegedly sent the man a screenshot of a post she had not yet made public and then demanded the man give her money to “stop her actions,” officials said.

When someone posts unauthorized and non-consensual intimate images of you with the intent to embarrass, defame, ridicule or harass you, they are committing the act of revenge porn or sextortion. These malicious actions are a brutal means by which another person attempts to manipulate, humiliate, degrade, defame and destroy you. Our Florida Sextortion Attorneys at Whittel & Melton want you to know that you have done nothing wrong. You do not deserve to be tormented online and we can help you through this difficult time.

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A 25-year-old Jacksonville man died late Tuesday night in an ATV crash in Clay County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Troopers said the man and a 21-year-old Middleburg man were riding an ATV south on Beecher Lane in Orange Park when the vehicle flipped at Crossing Boulevard.

Both men were thrown from the ATV, and the 25-year-old died at the scene from his injuries, troopers said.

The other man on the ATV was seriously injured and was taken to Orange Park Medical Center, troopers said.

It’s unclear which of the men was driving the ATV at the time or why the vehicle overturned.

Charges could be issued pending the outcome of the investigation, according to the report.

Troopers said neither man was wearing a helmet.

ATV’s can now exceed speeds of 60 mph, so they can be extremely dangerous when not operated carefully or correctly. When racing up steep hills or turning at high speeds, ATVs have a tendency to roll over. These vehicles lack the protection of walls or a roof, so drivers can easily be crushed underneath the rolling vehicle.

If you or your loved one has been involved in an ATV accident, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Usually, these collisions are the result of poor weather conditions or human error, but sometimes they can happen because of manufacturing flaws.

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A caretaker is facing charges of abuse of a mentally disabled person after police said she hit several residents at a group home with a frying pan.

Darnika Martin is charged with two counts.

According to the arrest report, she struck two mentally ill patients at a group home in Pinellas Park.

The woman was unaware that cameras were rolling when she lunged at one of the residents with a frying pan.

The owner just happen to review his cameras over the weekend.

The woman apparently struck one man several times because he was attempting to get food from a bag.

The woman is out on a $10,000 bond.

People living in group homes are usually there because they cannot take care of themselves on a daily basis. These are some of the most vulnerable people in society, and sadly, neglect and abuse run rampant in these facilities. Even worse, people living in group homes are not able to tell others about what is happening to them.

If you have a loved one who is living in a group home, you may have reason to believe that neglect or abuse is happening. Our Tampa Bay Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can help you get the answers you need. We know the regulations that govern group home responsibilities, and what these institutions can and cannot do.

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A woman was fatally shot in the parking lot of a Home Depot on Sunday around 9:15 p.m.

When deputies arrived they found a woman suffering from a single gunshot wound.

She was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead just before 7 p.m. Monday.

Investigators believe the shooting was drug-related. No arrests have been made and the Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone with information about the shooting to call homicide detectives at (813) 247-8200.

A number of factors can make a property unsafe. A lack of security guards, broken cameras, and poor lighting are just a few things can make a property dangerous and more susceptible to a crime.

If you or a loved one is the victim of a crime on someone else’s property, including parking lots, you may have a negligent security claim, and you may be entitled to financial compensation from the property owner, property management company or security company. When crimes occur in shopping centers, parking lots, apartment complexes, hotels, bars, etc, property managers and security companies can be held accountable if they fail to provide reasonable safety and a guest is attacked or killed.

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A crash involving a golf cart in Brevard County sent an 11-year-old girl to the hospital.

According to troopers, the girl was driving the golf cart along Fox Trail Court and James Road in Cocoa on Sunday afternoon when it overturned as she rounded a corner.

The girl was flown to Arnold Palmer Hospital, where she remains in serious condition.

Officials said there were two adults in the golf cart with the child. They were not injured.

The crash is currently under investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol.

You do not have to be golfing to use a golf cart. These small modes of transportation are used on many large campuses, in communities and at airports. These vehicles can top at speeds of 40 MPH and are used commonly without reasonable safety precautions, placing riders at risk of injury.

Our Florida Golf Cart Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton help those injured in golf cart accidents throughout the state of Florida. While golf carts look like smaller vehicles and are used the same way as cars, they are not regulated like automobiles because they were never intended for road use. Golf carts are not required to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and the American National Standards Institute does not require them to have seatbelts, so this allows these vehicles to be manufactured with low safety standards.

Golf cart accidents are quite common, as they are prone to tip over easily, they lack restraints, and they are open on the sides. Golf cart accidents can result in minor injuries like lacerations and scrapes to much more severe injuries like brain injuries and even fatalities.

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