Federal Circuit Court Affirms Lower Court Ruling in Fatal Florida Car Accident Case

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in an appeal involving a negligence and vicarious liability claim by the Plaintiffs-Appellees, the estates of four women who died in a car accident, against the Defendant-Appellant, Discount Rock & Sand, Inc. Following the fatal car accident, the women’s estates sued Carlos Manso Blanco, the driver who rear-ended their car, for negligence, and the estates sued Blanco’s employer, Discount Rock & Sand, Inc., for negligently entrusting the company’s truck to Blanco and for vicarious liability for Blanco’s negligent driving. After the estates and Blanco settled, the district court ordered the estates to file a stipulation of dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a), which they did. Based on the stipulation, the district court ordered the dismissal of the claim against Blanco. The remaining claims against Discount Rock went to trial, and the jury found the company liable and awarded nearly $12 million in damages to the estates. Discount Rock then appealed the judgment.

Facts of the Case

In March 2018, four Spanish citizens vacationing in the Florida Keys were killed in an automobile accident. The four women were traveling northbound on U.S. Route 1 (the Overseas Highway) and stopped near mile marker 79 to turn left into a scenic viewing area. Two vehicles, driven by Cheyenne Del Okeyes and Eduardo Ponce, passed the women’s Nissan Rogue sport utility vehicle on the righthand shoulder. But a third vehicle—a truck outfitted with a large tank holding water and sewage and hauling a port-a-potty—slammed into the Nissan. The truck, which was owned by Discount Rock and driven by its employee, Blanco, propelled the Nissan into oncoming traffic, into the path of a recreational vehicle driven by Daniel Pinkerton. All four women died at the scene.

The women’s estates sued Blanco for negligence and Discount Rock for negligent entrustment and for vicarious liability for Blanco’s negligence. The estates sought compensatory and punitive damages. The estates and Blanco settled, while the remaining claims against Discount Rock proceeded to trial. At trial, the jury found Discount Rock liable and awarded nearly $12 million in damages to the estates.

On appeal, Discount Rock argued (1) it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the negligent entrustment claim; (2) the district court erred by instructing the jury that it could presume a rear-ending driver was negligent; and (3) the district court abused its discretion by allowing the estates to show the jury a demonstrative aid depicting the crash. Additionally, after the circuit court issued a jurisdictional question, Discount Rock also moved to dismiss the appeal. Discount Rock argued that the stipulation was ineffective to dismiss the claim against Blanco because rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) requires all parties who appeared in the action to sign the stipulation, but Discount Rock didn’t sign it. Thus, the company argued the claim against Blanco was not dismissed and the district court’s judgment was not final.

The circuit court held that it did indeed have jurisdiction. Although the stipulation did not comply with rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), the district court’s order dismissing the claim against Blanco satisfied rule 41(a)(2)—which allows a district court to dismiss an action by court order at a plaintiff’s request. Additionally, the appellate court fully affirmed the lower court, finding on the merits that, (1) Discount Rock was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the negligent entrustment claim; (2) any error in instructing the jury on the rear-end-collision presumption was harmless; and (3) there was no reversible error in publishing the demonstrative aid.

Have You Lost a Family Member in a Deadly Florida Accident?

If you lost a loved one in a fatal Florida car accident, let the attorneys at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada fight to help you recover the damages you deserve. Expenses and injuries sustained in an accident can quickly become overwhelming, and having an experienced roster of accident attorneys by your side can make a world of difference in the compensation you receive. Our experienced attorneys have successfully represented injury victims at every stage of their claims, ensuring that they obtain the damages that they deserve. With our team, you can have faith that your claim is being pursued properly. If you have questions about your case, call us today at 877-448-8585 and schedule a free and no-obligation initial consultation with a Florida injury lawyer at our office.

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