Articles Posted in Government Liability

When someone is injured on the property of another party due to some defect or hazard on the property, they may file a South Florida premises liability lawsuit against the landowner, seeking compensation for their injuries. In general, landowners owe a duty of care to most people who enter their land. The extent to which a landowner must go to provide a safe property depends heavily on the relationship between the parties and the reason why the visitor is on the landowner’s property.

Rope SwingOne question that often comes up in Florida premises liability lawsuits is whether an accident victim can recover compensation when they are hurt on another party’s land while engaging in a recreational activity, such as swimming, hiking, hunting, fishing, or boating. The answer, as with many questions in the law, is “it depends.”

Under Florida’s recreational use statute, Florida Statute 375.251, some landowners who allow others to use their property for recreational purposes are immune from liability. In order to qualify for this immunity, a landowner must show that they allowed the injured person to use their land for a recreational purpose and did not collect a fee for doing so. The burden is on the landowner to establish these elements, and a landowner’s failure to present evidence of each will result in the court declining to find that the landowner is immune from liability. A recent case illustrates how a court might analyze a recreational use defense.

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A large number of Florida premises liability cases are resolved through pre-trial settlement negotiations. Indeed, settling a personal injury case is preferable for many plaintiffs, who do not want to risk taking the case to trial, which may result in a defense verdict or an inadequate award amount. However, settlement agreements should be treated with caution. A recent appellate opinion discusses how one plaintiff’s execution of an overly broad settlement agreement actually dismissed multiple defendants from the case, despite her lack of intention to do so.

SidewalkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a slip-and-fall accident that occurred outside an auto parts store. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, an employee of the auto parts store had recently mowed the lawn in front of the store and failed to clean up the grass clippings.

As it turns out, there was a recessed area in the pavement where a utility box sat. The grass clippings covered up this recessed area, and as the plaintiff walked past, she stepped in the hole, causing her to fall and sustain serious injuries.

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Florida landowners generally have a duty to make sure that their property is safe to those whom they invite onto their property. If a landowner, including a business or government entity, fails to maintain their property, and someone is injured as a result, the injured party may be able to recover compensation for their injuries through a Florida premises liability lawsuit.

RollerbladesThere is an exception to this general rule, however, and that lies within the Florida recreational use statute, F.S. 375-251. The statute provides immunity from liability to certain landowners who open up their land for the public’s general use. In order to qualify for this immunity, a landowner must not charge a fee for the use of the land. A recent Florida appellate opinion discusses the applicability of a recreational use statute to a rollerblade injury case, finding that the plaintiff was prevented from bringing a lawsuit against the government entity he claimed was responsible for his injuries.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was rollerblading on the street in Delray Beach when he encountered a pothole. Unable to maintain his balance as he hit the pothole, the plaintiff fell to the ground, resulting in serious injuries. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the City of Delray Beach. The plaintiff admitted that it was against the law to rollerblade in the street but nonetheless argued that the city was negligent in maintaining the roadway and letting a pothole develop.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that was brought by the mother of a child who was struck by an errant golf ball as she was wheeling her son in a stroller on a walking path owned and maintained by the city. The appellate court hearing the case determined that the city was not entitled to government trail immunity because the dangerous hazard that caused the injury was not a condition of the trail itself.

Golf BallThe Facts of the Case

The walking path where the injury occurred directly abuts a private golf course. A few years before the accident, the golf course installed a fence and strategically planted large trees to decrease the likelihood that golf balls would leave the course. However, there was no evidence that the city took any precaution regarding golf balls that were hit out of the boundaries of the golf course.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city as well as the golf course. The plaintiff claimed that the city failed to take any action to remedy the known dangerous condition created by the potential of errant golf balls.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion highlighting the importance of complying with all of the procedural requirements in a South Florida personal injury lawsuit. Ultimately, the court determined that the plaintiff did effectuate proper service on the government defendant and rejected the defendant’s appeal. However, the case should serve as a warning to would-be plaintiffs that even a single misstep may result in the dismissal of an otherwise meritorious case.

Law BooksThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in an accident with a school bus. Believing the accident to be the fault of the school bus driver, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the bus as well as the school district that employed the driver. The plaintiff claimed that the school bus driver was negligent in operating the bus and that the school district was negligent in hiring the driver.

As is required under state law, the plaintiff set out to serve the defendants. The plaintiff hired a process-server, who went to the school district’s main building and inquired where he could deliver the service documents. The front-desk attendant directed the process-server to the HR department. Once at the HR department, the process-server met with the receptionist to the Deputy Superintendent. The receptionist called her superior, who instructed her to accept the service and said that she would come by later to pick it up. The process-server left the documents with the receptionist.

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Last month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a car accident between the plaintiff and an employee with the Department of Transportation. Ultimately, the court determined that the plaintiff’s complaint did not conform to the mandatory procedural requirements of a complaint filed against a government entity. As a result, the plaintiff’s case was dismissed by the court.

Car AccidentThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in an auto accident with an employee of the Georgia Department of Transportation. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries in the accident and filed a personal injury case against the Department under the theory of vicarious liability. Essentially, the doctrine of vicarious liability allows for a plaintiff to hold an employer responsible for the negligent acts of an employee.

Since the case named a government entity as a defendant, the plaintiff’s complaint needed to meet certain additional procedural requirements not present in cases against citizens or businesses. Generally, these additional requirements involve providing the government agency named as a defendant with appropriate notice of the lawsuit. This includes specifying the amount of damages the plaintiff is seeking.

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Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit released a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that the United States Forest Service, through its employees, was negligent in the maintenance of bike trails in a forest. The court ultimately determined that the alleged acts of negligence were covered under governmental immunity, and it rejected the plaintiff’s claims.

Mountain Bike TireThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and a friend were mountain biking in the De Soto National Forest. The bikers began their trip at the Couch Loop Trail. While the trail was closed, the plaintiff did not stop at the trail-head bulletin board, where the notice of closure was posted.

The plaintiff and her friend rode the Couch Loop Trail until they decided to take an “alternate route” to the left. This alternate route led the bikers to an area with several obstacles that had been built by a local bike association. As the plaintiff attempted to negotiate one of the obstacles, she fell off her bike and was seriously injured. She then filed a premises liability lawsuit against the U.S. government, claiming that the Forest Service was negligent in its maintenance of the bike trails. The plaintiff also alleged that the Forest Service was negligent in failing to warn her about the potential dangerous conditions present on the trails.

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Earlier this month, a Rhode Island appellate court issued a written opinion discussing principles that are important to understand for anyone considering filing a personal injury case in South Florida. The case arose out of a slip-and-fall accident that occurred in a public park. The issue for the court to decide was whether evidence of the city’s knowledge of the dangerous condition was admissible when it was presented to the court for the first time on appeal. The court held that the evidence, as well as any argument stemming from the evidence, was not admissible because it was not presented to the trial court.

Baseball DiamondA Boy Breaks His Leg While Playing Baseball

The plaintiffs’ son was playing baseball in a public park that was owned and operated by the defendant city. During the game, the plaintiffs’ son slid into home plate and got his lower leg stuck under the base. As he stood up, he broke his leg in two places. The plaintiffs filed a premises liability lawsuit, claiming that the city was negligent in failing to safely maintain the park, including the home plate where their son was injured.

The defendant city claimed that it was immune from liability under the recreational use statute, which protects landowners that allow others to use their land for recreational purposes and do not charge a fee for doing so. The plaintiffs made only a broad objection to the applicability of the recreational use statute, without explaining the basis for the objection. The court ultimately granted the city’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs appealed.

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The Supreme Court of Georgia recently published an opinion affirming a Georgia court of appeals’ decision to affirm a trial court’s grant of judgment to a defendant teacher, whose alleged negligence in failing to supervise her class resulted in the death of the plaintiff’s son. The defendant had allegedly left the classroom, and the defendant’s son was killed as a result of “horseplay” that occurred in her absence. With the most recent decision of the Georgia Supreme Court, the plaintiff will not be able to collect damages from the teacher for the claim against her in her individual capacity.`

classroomThe Plaintiff’s Son Dies After Another Student Crushes Him During “Horseplay”

The plaintiff in the case is the mother of a boy who died as a result of injuries that he sustained as a student in the defendant’s American Literature class at the defendant high school. According to the appellate court’s discussion of the underlying facts of the case, the teacher left the classroom for 30 minutes or more during and after the period of time when the plaintiff’s son sustained the injuries that ultimately took his life.

When asked by school administrators about what happened after the student’s death, the defendant first lied, stating that she was in her classroom the whole time. After the death of her son, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death claim against several defendants, including the teacher both in her official capacity as a teacher and in her individual capacity.

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The Supreme Court of Ohio recently published a decision affirming a circuit court’s ruling to dismiss the plaintiff’s case against municipal law enforcement officers after she was seriously injured when a fleeing suspect crashed into her vehicle head-on as the officers pursued him in a high-speed chase. The woman claimed that the officers’ conduct was reckless and wanton and that they should not be entitled to immunity from her claim because of the unacceptable nature of their actions. The final ruling, while affirming the rejection of the plaintiff’s claim, serves to reduce the immunity granted to police officers from that given to them by the circuit court and the Ohio Court of Appeals by rejecting any immunity for officer conduct that is deemed reckless.

Police SirensFleeing Suspect Slams Head-On into Plaintiff’s Vehicle

The plaintiff in this case is a woman who alleged that she was innocently driving her car, following all of the traffic laws, when a speeding car driving on the wrong side of the road crashed into the front of her vehicle head-on. The speeding car was being driven by a man who was fleeing from the police, who had been pursuing him in a high-speed chase through the city on roads containing significant pedestrian traffic.

The plaintiff alleged that the act of pursuing the suspect through crowded city streets was done maliciously, in bad faith, or in a wanton or reckless manner, since it resulted in the suspect driving as fast as possible with disregard for civilian safety.

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