Articles Posted in Car Accident

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.

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.

While insurance is supposed to provide a motorist with peace of mind after a Florida car accident, in reality, the opposite is often true. Because insurance companies are for-profit corporations, they rely on taking in more money each month in premiums than they pay out in claims. Thus, insurance companies approach each claim with the same goal: expending as little money as possible to resolve the claim.

In some cases, insurance adjusters will offer low-ball settlement agreements knowing the claim is worth much more in hopes of catching an accident victim in a moment of desperation. In other situations, insurance companies will outright deny a claim based on their interpretation of the policy language. For this reason, it is critical that Florida motorists take care to ensure that they understand their insurance coverage and that it meets their needs. A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court illustrates just one type of issue that may arise after a Florida car accident.

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was killed in a traffic accident when he was struck while riding a moped. The moped was powered by a small 49cc motor, similar to that which would power a scooter. The motorist’s family initially filed a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. However, because that policy only provided $100,000 in benefits, the family then filed a claim with their insurance company under the underinsured motorist (UIM) provision of the policy.

Earlier this month, a jury returned a substantial verdict in favor of two families, each of which lost a teenage child in a fatal 2018 Florida car accident. According to a recent news report covering both the tragic accident as well as the jury’s recent verdict, the collision occurred in the evening hours when the at-fault driver crashed head-on into the teens’ vehicle.

Evidently, a 99-year-old man was operating an RV that was traveling the wrong way on a divided highway in Fort Pierce. The teens were also traveling on the divided highway, and were unable to avoid a collision with the RV. The two vehicles collided head-on. As it turns out, the RV was being operated without headlights, although it was dark outside at the time of the accident.

Both teens were killed in the accident, and the driver of the RV died a few days later. There was some evidence suggesting that the at-fault driver had previously been determined to be incompetent to drive in Michigan. However, it also appears that the man had also recently taken and passed the Michigan driver’s exam.

Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida motorcycle accident case discussing the “drug and alcohol defense” which, in certain situations, can completely preclude a plaintiff’s ability to recover for their injuries after a serious accident.

Under Florida’ comparative fault system, even a plaintiff who is partially at fault can recover for their injuries. In these situations, the court would first determine the appropriate amount of damages the plaintiff sustained as a result of the accident and then reduce the actual damages award by the plaintiff’s own percentage of fault.

The drug and alcohol defense is an exception to this general rule. Under Florida Statutes section 768.36, a plaintiff cannot recover for their injuries if the defendant can establish that the plaintiff was 1.) “under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug to the extent that the plaintiff’s normal faculties were impaired,” or that the plaintiff’s blood-alcohol content was .08 or greater, and 2.) “as a result of the influence of such alcoholic beverage or drug the plaintiff was more than 50 percent at fault for his or her own harm.”

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida car accident case discussing whether the plaintiff’s claim that her insurance company acted in bad faith should be permitted to proceed towards trial. Ultimately, the court held that although the insurance company eventually made payment under the plaintiff’s policy, the payment was too late. Thus, the court permitted the plaintiff’s case to proceed.

Bad-Faith Claims Against Insurance Companies

Under Florida law, insurance companies must provide timely payment to policyholders. If an insurance company does not make payment on an insured’s claim, the insured can pursue a bad-faith claim against the insurer. However, before this type of claim can be pursued, the insured must file a civil remedy notice (CRN), giving the insurance company 60 days to respond and cure the bad faith.

The Facts

In its opinion, the court explained that the plaintiff and another driver was involved in a Florida car accident in the summer of 2013. For the purposes of this opinion, it was agreed that the plaintiff was not at fault. Both the plaintiff and the at-fault driver were insured by the same insurance company. Because the plaintiff’s injuries were serious and exceeded the coverage limits of the at-fault driver’s policy, the plaintiff filed a claim under the at-fault driver’s policy as well as her own underinsured motorist (UIM) policy.

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Typically, when a Florida car accident victim files a case against another driver, they must establish that the defendant’s conduct was negligent and that their negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. However, under certain circumstances, the law imposes what is called a presumption of negligence. A “presumption” allows for a judge or jury to conclude a fact based on the surrounding circumstances unless it can be shown by greater evidence that the presumption should not apply.

One example of a legal presumption in Florida personal injury law is the rear-end collision presumption. In Florida rear-end collisions, without any additional showing, the rear driver is presumed to have been negligent. However, that does not necessarily mean that the rear driver’s negligence was the sole cause of the accident. A recent case illustrates how Florida courts apply the rear-end collision presumption.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was rear-ended by the defendant as she was driving on a Florida highway. The plaintiff and defendant offered differing versions of the events leading up to the accident; however, the defendant admitted that he could have avoided the accident had he not been following so closely.

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