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Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

The First District Court of Appeal in the State of Florida recently reviewed a trial court’s order denying a manufacturer a directed verdict in a Florida wrongful death claim. According to the court’s opinion, the company manufactured products containing a synthetic marijuana product, commonly known as “spice.” A warning was contained in  the product that indicated it was unsafe for consumption by humans. A man purchased the product voluntarily consumed it, subsequently became impaired, and then drove his car into another vehicle. The man was sentenced to prison for his criminal conduct. The decedent’s representatives filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer, arguing that the company was liable for their family member’s death.

At trial, the company filed a directed verdict motion and argued that they were not proximately liable for the death because the man’s intoxication was the sole cause of the decedent’s death. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, attributing 65% of the fault to the company and 35% fault to the intoxicated driver. The company appealed the ruling arguing, again, that the impaired man’s criminal conduct was the sole proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Proximate cause is a legal theory that imputes liability on a party when their actions set forth a sequence of events that led to an injury. Under Florida law, questions regarding proximate cause are left to the fact-finder; however, in some situations, a judge may address the issue where evidence suggests there is no more than one inference. Moreover, the Florida Supreme Court has found that when an actor’s behavior creates a dangerous situation, the law does not permit a jury to find a proximate cause where an unforeseeable, intervening act is responsible for the injuries. In some cases, plaintiffs may argue that third parties that create a dangerous situation could reasonably foresee that their negligence could set a chain of events in a motion that may result in injuries. However, Florida does not allow a jury to consider proximate cause in cases where the person responsible for the injuries is voluntarily impaired or purposely misuses a product.

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.

Recently, an appellate court issued its opinion in an appeal stemming from the tragic death of a man in a Florida hotel swimming pool. The man’s wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hotel alleging, among other issues, that the hotel was responsible for the death of her husband because they failed to hire professional lifeguards to supervise its swimming pool.

According to the court’s opinion, the man was a guest of the hotel when he entered the swimming pool, which was operated and maintained by the hotel. While the man was swimming, he became submerged and died from drowning. His wife alleged that that the hotel breached their duty to provide and maintain a reasonably safe swimming pool and failed to protect their guests from unreasonable risk of physical harm. During the trial, the court provided the jury with an instruction that Florida law had no legal duty to “post a professional lifeguard at its pool.” The woman appealed the jury instruction and the trial court’s ruling granting the defendant summary judgment.

Under Florida law, negligence occurs when a person or entity fails to exercise reasonable care by engaging in a behavior that a reasonably careful person would not do, or failing to do something that a reasonably prudent person would do under similar circumstances. Generally, trial courts maintain the discretion to determine whether a jury instruction is appropriate, and instructions should not be overturned on appeal, unless there is a showing of prejudicial error.

Recently, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that insurance companies must comply with Florida Statutes section 627.727, which covers uninsured motorist (UM) coverage minimums. The ruling comes after an insurance company appealed a lower court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiff in a dispute over coverage after a Florida motorcycle accident.

Before his death, a man purchased home insurance coverage that included a collector vehicle. The policy included a UM provision that limited benefits to accidents involving the collector vehicle. After the man’s death, his family tried to recover for damages through the UM provision in his home insurance policy. The defendant insurance company denied coverage, citing the UM limitation. The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Florida insurance company, arguing that Florida Statutes section 627.727 prohibits the insurance company from placing restrictions on UM coverage. On appeal, the defendant argued that section 627.727 does not apply to specialty insurance policies, such as the collector vehicle at issue.

Florida Statutes section 627.727 governs “motor vehicle insurance, uninsured and underinsured vehicle coverage, and insolvent insurer protection.” Typically, the statute provides coverage to the policyholder, their spouse, and resident relatives. This coverage applies when a person suffers bodily injury by a negligent motorist, whether they are driving or a passenger in their vehicle, driving or riding in someone else’s car, or suffer injuries as a pedestrian. There are several exceptions to this statute, but there are no exclusions related to a collector or antique vehicle.

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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