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Court Addresses Foreseeable Zone of Risk in Florida Wrongful Death Lawsuit

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.

Under Florida law, plaintiffs in a negligence lawsuit must prove the existence of a legal duty, a breach of the duty, causation, and damages. Determinations regarding whether a duty exists hinge on whether the defendant’s conduct foreseeably creates a broader “zone of risk,” that creates a threat of harm to others. Generally, Florida recognizes duties from statutes, case law, judicial precedents, and general facts of a case.

In this case, the plaintiffs argued that the defendant was liable based on the unique circumstances of the situation. Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that the defendant created a foreseeable risk to the general public. They contended that the defendant was aware of the risk presented by the shooter because it knew of his disturbing behavior, and it should have known the dangers of assisting him in obtaining a Class G firearm license. The court reasoned that the defendants were not liable because, generally, a person or entity has no legal duty to prevent the misconduct of a third party. Although, some exceptions exist, the defendant did not fall into these exceptions. Ultimately, the court found in favor of the defendants and dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims.

Have You Been Injured as the Result of Another’s Negligence?

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries due to the negligence of another person or business, contact the injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank. The attorneys at our law firm have an extensive and comprehensive understanding of complex Florida premises liability laws, and put that knowledge into each of our client’s cases. To learn more, contact our office at 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney at our firm.

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