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Articles Posted in Third-Party Liability

In a recent Florida District Court of Appeal opinion, the court considered whether a defendant was civilly liable for a death that occurred on its property. The case is unique because it involved allegations that the deceased accident victim was involved in criminal activity shortly before she died.

The plaintiff in the case filed a claim against the defendant lodge after her mother was fatally shot in a parking lot owned and operated by the lodge. Following a brawl between some individuals who were part of the decedent’s group and some members of the shooter’s group inside the lodge, the two groups were removed to the parking lot, where a second fight began. Evidence showed that the decedent participated in the parking lot fight and struck a pregnant female who was part of the shooter’s group. After the fight in the parking lot ended, the shooter’s group left the parking lot, and the decedent’s group got into their vehicle, which was parked in the defendant’s parking lot. Before the decedent’s group could pull out of the parking lot, the shooter’s group returned to the lot and opened fire on their vehicle. The decedent was fatally shot while sitting in the front seat.

At the lower court, the defendant argued that they should not be held liable for the decedent’s death because the decedent knowingly struck a pregnant female on their property, committing a crime. Because Florida law prohibits an accident victim from recovering for their injuries if they were hurt while engaging in a crime, the defendant argued that they were not responsible for the decedent’s death. The trial court disagreed and argued that the defense did not apply because the decedent was not engaged in a felony when she was shot.

Under Florida law, employers with four or more employees must purchase workers’ compensation insurance. Additionally, construction businesses must provide this insurance for every employee. This coverage is essential to both business owners and employees, because it covers various expenses related to workplace injuries. The insurance is designed to cover injuries that an employee suffered on-the-job. It typically covers medical expenses, recovery costs, missed wages, and funeral and burial costs. Employers may obtain private or state insurance or self-insure their employees. Employees do not share in the cost of the insurance premium. However, in exchange for the coverage, in most cases, the law prevents Florida employees from suing their employers to cover expenses from their workplace injuries.

Fault is not a consideration in workers’ compensation claims; however, employers must still keep their workplaces safe. In some situations, employers do not meet this burden, and as a result, their workers may suffer exposure to dangerous conditions. In many cases, workers’ compensation does not adequately cover the extent of the employee’s damages. For instance, although the insurance covers medical bills and lost wages, it does not compensate for pain and suffering. The bar on recovery can cause serious financial hardship to employees.

There are certain exceptions to workers’ compensation laws that may allow victims to recover additional damages. Employees may file a lawsuit against employers who did not carry workers’ compensation insurance or failed to process a claim in a timely manner. Further, employees may file lawsuits for workplace injuries against negligent third parties. For example, if an employee is driving a company vehicle for work and suffers injuries in a car accident, the employee may file a lawsuit against the negligent driver. Further, employees can file a lawsuit if an employer denies a workers’ compensation claim in bad faith.

Recently, a Florida appellate court issued an opinion in a consolidated appeal arising from the tragic mass murders at the Pulse nightclub. The facts indicate that the shooter entered the nightclub shooting and injuring fifty-three patrons and killing forty-nine others. The survivors and decedents’ representatives filed a lawsuit against the company that hired the shooter to work as a “Custom Protection Officer.” The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant breached their duty to engage in an appropriate investigation of their prospective employees before hiring them, and this negligence created a foreseeable zone of risk to the general public.

In support of their claim, they provided evidence that the defendant knew that the man was dismissed from a corrections officer training class for making statements suggesting that he would bring a gun to class. Despite this knowledge, the defendant hired the man for a position that required him to obtain a Class G firearm license. The license requires a psychological evaluation, and the defendants submitted a fraudulent one on behalf of the man.

While the man was working for the company, the Sheriff’s Department demanded that the defendant terminate the man because he continually threatened his colleagues and claimed to be associated with various terrorist groups. About two weeks before the shooting, the man tried to purchase ammunition from a licensed gun dealer, but he was turned away. A week later, he brought his Class G license to a different retailer and purchased the guns that he used for the mass shooting. The plaintiffs maintain that the defendants owed them a legal duty because they were in the foreseeable zone of risk that the defendants created.

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.

When someone is injured on the job, they can typically file a claim for compensation based on the injuries they sustained. There are two types of claims, Florida workers’ compensation claims and Florida personal injury claims. A workers’ compensation claim does not require an employee establish another party was at fault for their injuries. However, Florida workers’ compensation claims provide only for the recovery of medical expenses/disability benefits, meaning that an injured employee cannot recover for the pain and suffering the accident caused.

Alternatively, Florida personal injury cases allow accident victims to more fully recover for their injuries, including for non-economic losses. However, a plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant was negligent to recover these losses. In many Florida workplace accidents, the first question that arises is which type of claim should an injured employee pursue. In reality, it is less a question of “should” and more a question of “can.”

One way of thinking about this question is to consider who was at fault for the accident. In short, if an accident is caused by the negligence of the employer or the employee, an employee’s only remedy may be through a Florida workers’ compensation claim. This is because under Florida statutes section 440.11, while a qualifying employer is responsible for an employee’s injuries, a workers’ compensation claim is usually the injured employee’s “sole remedy.” This means that an employee whose injuries are the result of a covered accident may only be able to pursue a workers’ compensation claim. Section 440.11 extends this “sole remedy” provision to situations where an employee’s injuries are caused by a co-worker’s negligence.

An important consideration in any Florida personal injury case is whether a plaintiff will be able to collect on a judgment if they are successful at trial. For example, the financial and emotional expense of taking a case to trial against a defendant who does not have sufficient assets to cover a judgment may not make sense. Thus, it is essential that Florida personal injury victims name all potentially liable parties.

In many cases, this means naming the employer of the at-fault party as a defendant. Generally speaking, employers have more substantial assets than employees, and they may also have higher-limit insurance policies making collecting on a judgment much less of a headache for a successful plaintiff.

In Florida, an employer may be liable for the negligent acts of an employee, even if the employer was not negligent in causing the accident. This is referred to as vicarious liability. Of course, employers cannot be named in every Florida personal injury accident. In Florida, to establish that an employer is liable for the negligent acts of an employee, the plaintiff must show that the at-fault employee was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident and that he was “engaged in his master’s business.” A recent state appellate decision illustrates how courts view vicarious liability claims.

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When someone is injured in a Florida workplace accident, compensation may be available through several sources. One option for the injured employee is to apply for Florida workers’ compensation benefits. One good thing about workers’ compensation benefits is that an employee can obtain benefits without a showing of fault. However, these benefits are limited in that an employee can only recover economic damages. This means an employee is not able to obtain compensation for their emotional pain and suffering.

Another option for those who have been injured in a Florida workplace accident is to pursue a personal injury claim against their employer. However, as a general rule, an injured employee’s sole remedy against their employer is a workers’ compensation claim. Thus, many employees are foreclosed from pursuing a Florida personal injury claim against their employer.

That is not the case, however, for maritime workers. Under the Jones Act, those seamen who are injured or killed in the course of their employment may be able to pursue a claim against their employer. (Note: Florida railroad workers enjoy a similar benefit under the Federal Employment Liability Act.) It is important to note, however, that an employee who brings a claim under the Jones Act must establish that their employer was negligent. As a recent case illustrates, the duties that a maritime employer owes to its employees may be unfamiliar to those without advanced knowledge of the industry.

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Determining which parties to name as defendants in a Florida trucking accident is a crucial decision that must be made early on in the process. Of course, an obvious choice is to name the driver of the truck involved in the accident. However, Florida truck accident victims would be wise to consider whether additional parties may also be liable for their injuries.

As a general rule, employers are vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their employees so long as, at the time of the accident, the employee was acting within the scope of their employment. However, this only applies when the truck driver and the trucking company have an employee/employer relationship. If the truck driver is an independent contractor, the contracting company will likely not be held liable for the driver’s actions. Thus, the determination of whether a truck driver is an employee or a contractor commonly comes up in Florida truck accident cases.

A recent state appellate decision illustrates how courts analyze claims against trucking companies.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a plaintiff could pursue a respondeat superior claim as well as a negligent entrustment claim against an employer based on an employee’s negligent conduct. The case is important to Florida car accident victims because it elucidates the differences between two common claims that are often believed to be identical but are, in fact, different.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was riding a motorcycle when he was struck by a truck that made an improper left turn in front of the plaintiff. The plaintiff died as a result of the collision. The truck driver was later found to have been under the influence of a prescription narcotic that was banned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

The plaintiff filed a multi-claim wrongful death case against the truck driver’s employer. The plaintiff claimed that the employer was liable for the truck driver’s negligence under the theory of vicarious liability. In addition, the plaintiff contended that the employer was liable under the doctrine of negligent entrustment.

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When a plaintiff files a Florida personal injury case, in many instances the defendant will file a motion for summary judgment claiming that the plaintiff’s case is insufficient as a matter of law. Essentially, in a summary judgment motion, the defendant argues that there are no disputed factual issues in the case and that when the court applies the law, the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Thus, to survive a defense motion for summary judgment, a Florida personal injury plaintiff must be able to establish a disputed issue of fact. In a recent personal injury case, the court discussed the plaintiff’s burden to present evidence creating an issue of fact, as opposed to merely calling into question the credibility of a witness’ testimony.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident. The motorist who struck the plaintiff’s car (“the supervisor”) was on the phone at the time of the accident, speaking to a woman whom she supervises at work (“the employee”). The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the supervisor’s employer, arguing that the employer was vicariously liable for the negligent acts of the supervisor.

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