One of the most important legal doctrines that all accident victims should understand is the concept of comparative fault. While some Florida personal injury accidents are solely the fault of one party, many accidents involve a situation where the parties share responsibility for that accident. The doctrine of comparative fault determines which parties involved in an accident can recover for their injuries.

Under Florida Statutes section 768.81, any “contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as economic and noneconomic damages for an injury attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault, but does not bar recovery.” This means that an accident victim’s negligence will be considered by the jury, and will be used to reduce the victim’s overall recovery amount, but will not completely prevent them from recovering for their injuries from any at-fault parties.

While some states prohibit an accident victim who is more than 50% at fault from pursuing a claim, Florida law employs the “pure” comparative negligence model, meaning a plaintiff can bring a claim even if they are found to be more than 50% at fault. For example, assume a Florida car accident victim is found to be 30% liable for causing the collision, and the only other driver involved is determined to be 70% at fault. If the plaintiff’s damages were $500,000, then the plaintiff would be entitled to recover $500,000 less 30%, or $350,000.

While juries can determine the appropriate amount of compensation to award a plaintiff, a jury’s award must be consistent. On May 29, 2019, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida car accident case holding that the jury’s zero-dollar award for the plaintiff’s claim of past non-economic damages was legally insufficient because it was inconsistent with the jury’s determination that the plaintiff suffered injuries that required medical treatment.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was stopped at a red light when he was struck by another car. Evidently, the defendant made an illegal left turn into the intersection and hit a vehicle that then struck the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff did not receive medical care at the scene and did not go to the hospital after the accident.

Nearly four years after the accident, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the car as well as the owner of the car. The plaintiff claimed that the driver was negligent in causing the accident and that the owner of the vehicle was negligent in entrusting her vehicle to the driver. The defendant acknowledged that the defendant driver was responsible for causing the accident, and so the trial proceeded only on the issue of damages.

When a Florida car accident is caused by someone who was working at the time of the accident, anyone injured as a result of the employee’s negligence may be able to pursue a claim against both the employee and the employer through the doctrine of vicarious liability. The doctrine of vicarious liability allows accident victims to hold one party liable for the negligent acts of another party, even if the employer was not alleged to be directly at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries.

In the case of employer liability, a Florida accident victim must be able to establish that the employee’s actions that are the basis of the plaintiff’s claim were:  1.) within the scope of their employment, and 2.) during the course of employment and to further a purpose or interest of the employer. If these elements are met, the plaintiff can name the at-fault party as well as their employer as defendants, regardless of whether the employer had any reason to know that the employee presented a danger to others.

Florida accident victims can also pursue a claim of primary negligence against an at-fault party’s employer based on the employer’s own negligence. Unlike claims alleging vicarious liability, these claims require the plaintiff to establish that an employer was somehow negligent. Examples of primary liability claims against an employer are negligent hiring and negligent retention claims. A recent case illustrates one way an accident victim can pursue a claim against an at-fault driver’s employer.

The typical Florida personal injury case requires the plaintiff to establish proof of four elements:  duty, breach, causation, and damages. In many cases, the defendant acknowledges that they breached a duty that was owed to the plaintiff and that the plaintiff suffered injuries, but they claim that their breach of the duty was not the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

To satisfy the causation element, a plaintiff must show that their injuries were the direct or natural consequence of the defendant’s actions. Importantly, a Florida personal injury plaintiff does not need to prove that the defendant’s negligence was the only cause of their injuries, only that it was a contributing factor. A plaintiff can even recover from a negligent defendant if the plaintiff shared responsibility for the accident resulting in their injuries.

Proving that the defendant’s actions were the legal cause of an injury can be tricky, depending on the circumstances. Generally, a plaintiff cannot rely on speculation and must present some evidence indicating that the defendant’s actions were the cause of the plaintiff’s injury. A recent decision issued by a state appellate court discusses the element of causation.

While filing any personal injury case can be complicated, Florida medical malpractice cases have an exceptionally complex set of procedural requirements. If a plaintiff fails to follow these exacting requirements, the court will likely dismiss their case, potentially leaving the plaintiff without any remedy for their injuries.

When discussing the requirements of a medical malpractice lawsuit, perhaps the best place to start is with the Florida medical malpractice pre-suit requirements. Before an injury victim can file a medical malpractice case, they must provide notice to each of the defendants named in the lawsuit. The plaintiff must attach an affidavit from a medical professional stating that the plaintiff has a valid medical malpractice claim.

Once the defendant receives the plaintiff’s pre-suit notice, there is a 90-day period in which the defendant must investigate the claim and determine whether they will contest the allegations or agree to settle the claim. During these 90 days, the statute of limitations is tolled. If the defendant denies liability, the plaintiff will have 60 days from that date, or until the end of the statute of limitations, to file a formal case against all defendants.

When someone is injured due to a dangerous product, manufactures, retailers, and any other person or company in the supply chain can generally be held liable through a Florida product liability lawsuit. There are several theories under which an injury victim can bring a product liability lawsuit, including defective design claims, manufacturing defect claims, and failure-to-warn claims.

Design defect claims arise when a product’s design itself is dangerous. Thus, no matter how carefully the product is manufactured, it cannot be made safe. These claims can be proven by showing that the product failed to satisfy consumer expectations of a safe product or by showing that the risks presented by the product outweigh its benefits.

As noted above, a Florida defective design claim can generally be brought against any actor in the supply chain. This includes manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, retailers, as well as any other party that helps make the product available to the public. In a recent case, a state appellate court was asked to determine if a manufacturer could be held liable for a plaintiff’s injuries when the plaintiff rented the vehicle from a rental agency.

One of the most important aspects of a Florida personal injury case is the credibility of the witnesses that a party plans to call at trial. Indeed, in many Florida car accident claims, the case comes down to a “he said, she said” situation where one witness’ testimony is directly contradicted by another’s. When this is the case, ultimately, the jury must determine which party’s witnesses were more credible.

Before a Florida personal injury case ever reaches trial, the defendant will likely file a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s case is insufficient as a matter of law. Essentially, when a defendant files a summary judgment motion, they are claiming that the important factual issues necessary to decide the case are not contested, and when the court applies the law to these facts, a defense verdict is warranted.

Importantly, summary judgment is appropriate only if the defendant can show there are no issues of material fact that must be resolved by the jury, and the defendant is entitled judgment as a matter of law. Thus, there are two ways to defeat a motion for summary judgment. First, the plaintiff can show that there is at least one issue of material fact that is not resolved by the evidence presented thus far. Second, the plaintiff can argue that when the law is applied to the uncontested facts, a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor is appropriate. So, while a witness’ credibility is of critical importance at trial, it is almost irrelevant in a motion for summary judgment. A recent state appellate decision illustrates this concept.

In March 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a golf cart accident that occurred on the defendant’s property. The case required the court to determine whether the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant was more appropriately characterized as a premises liability case or a motor vehicle accident.

The case is important for Florida personal injury victims because it illustrates that there are often multiple theories of liability a plaintiff may be able to pursue against a defendant. In addition, the case shows that the outcome of a plaintiff’s claim may depend on the theory of liability they choose to pursue.

According to the facts section of the appellate court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a golf cart accident. At the time of the crash, the defendant was driving the golf cart, and the accident occurred on the defendant’s land. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of the accident, and filed a personal injury case against the defendant. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant negligently operated the golf cart, resulting in her injuries.

In April 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida personal injury lawsuit determining whether the lower court properly allowed the plaintiff leave to amend her complaint to add punitive damages in her claim against the defendant. Ultimately, the court determined that it did not have the authority to review the lower court’s decision.

According to the court’s opinion, a minor child was injured while on a ride called the “Psycho Swing.” The defendant owned the ride. The girl’s parents filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant and several other parties, including the employees operating the ride at the time of their daughter’s injury. The plaintiffs claimed that the ride was missing “crucial safety equipment, safety instructions, etc.” Specifically, the plaintiff contended that the defendant was negligent in renting out the ride without a safety harness or instructions.

Initially, the plaintiffs claim only included a request for compensatory damages. However, after obtaining additional information, the plaintiff’s sought to amend their complaint to seek punitive damages. The court granted the plaintiff’s request, and the defendant appealed the court’s decision immediately.

When a patient is injured after receiving negligent medical care, they may be able to pursue a Florida medical malpractice lawsuit against the medical professionals they believe to be responsible for their injuries. Florida medical malpractice lawsuits, however, are subject to several additional requirements that can be burdensome for many prospective plaintiffs. For example, before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, a plaintiff must determine that there are “reasonable grounds” for their claim by conducting a pre-suit investigation.

There are several other differences between medical malpractice cases and traditional negligence cases. For example, due to Florida’s medical malpractice damages cap, the number of damages available to medical malpractice plaintiffs are capped at a lower amount than damages in traditional negligence claims. Finally, the stature of limitations in a Florida medical malpractice lawsuit is just two years, whereas the statute of limitations for traditional personal injury cases is four years.

That being said, most Florida injury victims would prefer that their case be classified as one of traditional negligence. However, when a case arises in a quasi-medical setting, defendants routinely try to categorize a plaintiff’s claim as a medical malpractice claim. Depending on the nature of the claim, the stage of litigation, and the amount of time that has passed, this could completely defeat a plaintiff’s chance at recovering for their injuries. A recent case illustrates the types of arguments defendants make in hopes of successfully categorizing the plaintiff’s claim as one of medical malpractice.

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