Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

A Florida appellate court recently addressed the appeal of a defendant power company after a jury verdict awarded a plaintiff non-economic and punitive damages. The power company alleged that the plaintiff failed to establish the requirements necessary for punitive damages claims.

The case stemmed from the tragic electrocution of a 15-year-old who was climbing bamboo stalks next to a power line. The teenager was electrocuted after the bamboo line bent over into the power line. His mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the power line, alleging that it was directly responsible for maintaining and upholding the safety protocols that the power line requires. She claimed that the power company prioritized their own financial interests while knowingly failing to secure against the life and safety of the public. In addition to compensatory damages, the woman pursued punitive damages based on direct corporate liability.

Punitive damages are unique in that they are designed solely to punish and deter defendants from engaging in similar conduct. Florida injury victims who pursue punitive damages against a defendant must meet certain evidentiary requirements before they can claim these types of damages. In cases where a plaintiff pursues a direct liability theory against a business or entity, they must be able to overcome additional evidentiary standards.

Recently, an appeals court issued an opinion in a Florida nursing home abuse lawsuit. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a nursing home, alleging that the home neglected his father, leading to the father’s death. The nursing home filed a motion to dismiss the claim and compel arbitration based on an agreement the parties signed before the plaintiff’s father admittance.

Arbitration agreements are designed to provide parties with an alternative to filing a lawsuit when a dispute arises. Although arbitration is designed to cut legal costs, it also is a means to force plaintiffs to accept terms that may not be in their favor. There are generally two types of arbitration, binding and non-binding. If a party signs a contract for binding arbitration, the decision is binding and cannot be appealed. However, non-binding arbitration allows the parties to either accept the decision or file a lawsuit.

Generally, both parties must agree to arbitrate before undertaking any contractual relationship. However, in many situations, a nursing home adds the provision to their contract, and the other party may not adequately understand the agreement or have the opportunity to dispute it. For example, if a family needs to get their loved one member into a Florida nursing home, they may sign the contract and agreement to arbitrate because they want to ensure that their loved one is admitted as soon as possible.

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.

When someone is killed due to the negligence of another person or entity, the Florida wrongful death statute allows for the surviving loved ones of the deceased to pursue a claim for compensation against the at-fault parties. Under Florida Statutes section 768.18, these claims are generally brought for the benefit of the spouse, parent, or child of the deceased, but can be brought on behalf of other family members in certain situations.

One issue that frequently comes up in wrongful death cases is whether the survivors’ claim against the at-fault party is derivative of their deceased loved one’s claim. This is a fairly complex topic, and courts across the country have wrestled with this question for years, often coming to different results. Indeed, in a recent federal appellate opinion, the court certified a question to state supreme court, asking that court to answer whether wrongful death claims are derivative.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s mother was taken by ambulance to the defendant nursing home. Before she was admitted, the plaintiff signed a pre-admission form, containing, among other things, an agreement to arbitrate all claims. At the time, the plaintiff’s mother had executed a power of attorney document in favor of the plaintiff. Later, the plaintiff’s mother died while in the care of the defendant nursing home, and the plaintiff filed a wrongful death case against the facility.

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Recently, the Supreme Court of Florida issued a written opinion in a case rejecting a lower court’s decision to impose what appeared to be a bright-line rule regarding the available amount of damages a Florida wrongful death plaintiff is able to obtain. In so doing, the state’s high court held that the lower court failed to give the proper deference to the jury’s verdict as well as the trial court’s decision not to grant the defendant’s post-verdict motion to reduce the amount of damages awarded by the jury.

The Case

The case was brought by a woman whose mother died from lung cancer and was filed against a cigarette manufacturer. The jury determined that the plaintiff’s mother was addicted to cigarettes and that this addiction was the legal cause of her death. The jury heard evidence that the plaintiff was very close with her mother, and returned an award in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $4.5 million.

In a post-trial motion, the defendant claimed that the damages awarded by the jury were excessive, and requested that the trial judge either reduce the damages to a reasonable amount or grant a new trial. The court denied the defendant’s motion after considering the evidence in this case and looking at jury verdicts in similar cases, noting that “nothing in the record … suggest[s] that the verdict was the product of passion and prejudice.” The defendant appealed.

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Earlier this month, a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University collapsed, killing six and injuring nine others. While the cause of the collapse is still under official investigation, there were reports that one of the lead engineers noticed cracks in the bridge before it was even complete and reported the cracks to administration. However, nothing was done.According to one news report, one of the several people who were injured in the bridge collapse has recently filed a Florida personal injury lawsuit against several of the parties involved in the construction of the bridge, including the firm that designed it and the construction company charged with installing the bridge. Evidently, the recently filed case was brought by a man who was riding his bike near the bridge when it collapsed.

The lawsuit claims that as the bridge collapsed, a motorist swerved to avoid either the falling bridge or another motorist and struck the man while he was on his bicycle. As a result of the collision, the man sustained serious injuries.

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When someone is killed due to the negligence of another party, the survivors of the deceased may be entitled to financial compensation for their loss through a Florida wrongful death lawsuit. In order to succeed in a wrongful death lawsuit, a plaintiff must establish that their loved one’s death was a result of a negligent act or omission of the defendant.One issue that frequently comes up in wrongful death lawsuits, especially those arising in the context of nursing home abuse or neglect, is whether an arbitration agreement between the deceased and the defendant can be enforced against a survivor of the deceased when they file a wrongful death lawsuit. The short answer, in Florida, is “yes.”

A recent case in another state clearly illustrates the issue of derivativeness and its importance.

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Establishing the breach of a duty is one of the most contested issues in South Florida premises liability lawsuits. Essentially, in order to establish this element, a plaintiff must point to some negligent act or omission of the defendant that violated a duty owed to the plaintiff.Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury lawsuit filed by the father of a young boy who drowned while swimming in a pool at a condominium complex. The appellate court was tasked with determining if the trial court was proper to grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the plaintiff’s failure to establish that the defendant was negligent. After reviewing each of the plaintiff’s claims, the court determined that the condo association was not negligent in any way and affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s son was swimming in a pool that was located inside a condominium complex operated by the defendant condo association. The boy was accompanied by several family members, none of whom lived in the condo complex. While the boy’s aunt did live in the complex, she was not present while the group was using the pool.

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Assumption of the risk is a common defense used by many defendants in Florida personal injury cases. When it applies, the doctrine prevents a plaintiff from pursuing a claim against a defendant if the plaintiff was engaging in a dangerous activity for which the risks were known. For example, a football player may be prevented from suing another player based on injuries received on the field because the injured player likely knew the risks involved with playing football but continued to play nonetheless.In Florida, strict assumption of the risk is very limited. In fact, pursuant to a recent case decided earlier this year, the doctrine only applies when there is an express contract not to sue or in the context of contact sports. That being said, the doctrine of assumption of the risk can still work against a Florida personal injury plaintiff because a jury can take a plaintiff’s assumption of the risks involved in an activity into account when determining the relative fault of each party.

A recent case illustrates how courts apply the assumption of the risk doctrine. While Florida’s law is different from that applied in the case, the case is still instructive to Florida personal injury plaintiffs because the division of fault between the plaintiff and the defendant is an issue for the jury to determine.

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After a 38-year-old man was shot and killed, his mother and his five-year-old son filed survival and wrongful death claims against the shooter. The man was killed in August 2009, and on June 9, 2015, the man’s mother and the man’s then five-year-old son filed a complaint against the shooter. They alleged wrongful death based on negligence, a survival action based on negligence, wrongful death based on gross negligence, a survival action based on gross negligence, wrongful death based on battery, a survival action based on battery, and fraudulent conveyance.The defendant moved to dismiss the case, and the court granted the motion to dismiss as to the wrongful death claims because the court said they were filed too late. The plaintiff appealed the decision, and in a recent decision, a state court of appeals reinstated the claims.

Under that state’s laws, a wrongful death claim had to be filed within three years of the date of death. However, the state provided exceptions under certain circumstances. One statute provided that a wrongful death claim filed by a minor plaintiff was tolled during the period of minority. Another statute stated that if a plaintiff did not know about a claim due to an adverse party’s fraud, the time period for the claim began to run when the party discovered or should have discovered the fraud through ordinary diligence.

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