Articles Posted in Third-Party Liability

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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The recovery period following a serious Florida car accident is different for everyone, but it is not an easy time for anyone. Aside from the physical trauma and emotional disturbance caused by the accident, there are the mounting medical bills, the time away from work, and the headache of dealing with insurance companies. Given these issues, it is understandable and expected that most victims of a Florida car accident are quite vulnerable for some time after the accident.

Sadly, insurance companies and savvy defense attorneys often use this time of vulnerability to approach and pressure accident victims into discussing – and potentially settling – their case. It is common to see Florida accident victims sign away the rights to pursue their case for just pennies on the dollar.

Even when the settlement agreement is a fair one, Florida car accident victims should consult with a knowledgeable attorney about the agreement’s fine print. Some settlement agreements contain unexpected language or are phrased in very broad terms that could cause problems for the accident victim if they choose to pursue a claim against other parties. A case that arose recently serves as a warning and excellent example of why it is essential to carefully read and negotiate the terms of a settlement agreement.

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Florida premises liability lawsuits often hinge on the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendants. This is because any duty that a landowner may owe to a plaintiff depends on the relationship between the parties and the reason why the plaintiff is on the defendant’s property. A recent appellate decision from nearby Georgia illustrates how a plaintiff’s inability to prove that a certain relationship exists between herself and the defendants may be fatal to her claim.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff rented a condo in the defendant’s condominium complex from the condo’s owner. However, the plaintiff did not enter into a formal written lease with the owner of the condo. Instead, the two had an oral agreement.

While the plaintiff was living in the condo, she was bothered by the fact that the staircase leading up to her unit was poorly lit and did not have a handrail. She informed the condominium association that she believed the condition of the stairs was dangerous and requested that the association take action to make the stairs safer. However, the association did nothing.

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In many South Florida auto accident cases, there are actually several parties who can potentially be held responsible for a victim’s injuries. For example, if an employee causes an accident while on the job, both the employee as well as the employer can often be named in a subsequent personal injury lawsuit. The legal doctrine that allows this type of claim against a third party is called vicarious liability.As a general rule, under the theory of vicarious liability, when a driver causes an accident while using another person’s car, both the driver as well as the vehicle’s owner may be held liable to the accident victim for any injuries. This general rule stands true to the extent that the person driving the car had permission to use the vehicle, and their use of the vehicle did not exceed the permission given by the car’s owner. A recent Florida appellate court case involving an accident that was caused by a driver who took a car without the permission of the owner illustrates the outer bounds of vicarious liability.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was riding his motorcycle when he was struck by another motorist. The car that struck the plaintiff was owned by a rental car agency and was rented to a woman who was not involved in the accident. There was contradicting evidence regarding how the driver obtained the keys to the car. The driver lived with the woman who rented the car, and he claimed that he took the keys off the kitchen counter. However, the woman claimed that she kept the keys in her locked room and never gave the driver permission to use the vehicle.

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In a recent case, a state appellate court considered whether a company could be held liable after an employee caused an accident in a company car while driving drunk. According to the facts as laid out in the court’s opinion, the employee received permission to use a company car on a weekend to move a mattress into a new home, even though this was a violation of company policy. The employee drank several alcoholic drinks on the day he borrowed the car and then collided with the plaintiff’s car.The plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the employee and also brought a claim against the company for negligent entrustment. A trial court first heard the case and granted summary judgment to the company on the negligent entrustment claim. It concluded the employer did not know the employee had a pattern of reckless driving, since the employer only knew the employee had one prior DUI conviction and was not aware he had additional DUI convictions.

The plaintiff appealed the decision. He argued summary judgment was improper because the court should have considered whether the company had a duty to investigate the employee’s driving background more thoroughly. The appeals court agreed. It noted that when the company hired the employee, he listed a 1990 conviction for possession of cocaine, but he omitted multiple prior DUI convictions. However, the employee said he told the company about his history of drugs and alcohol, and he also told the company his license was reinstated in 2010 after it was suspended for a DUI conviction. The company did a background investigation of the employee before hiring him. The investigation showed a clean driving history, but it only showed infractions for the previous three years, and his federal criminal history did not show any convictions.

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