Florida Supreme Court Reviews Tomahawk Case

In a recent Florida Supreme Court case, the Court reviewed an appellate opinion previously covered on this blog. In the case a man (Dennis Dorsey) brought a personal injury lawsuit for injuries after a bar fight against the man he was with at a neighborhood bar (Robert Reider). The fight arose while Dorsey, Reider and Reider’s friend Noordhoek were drunk over the legal limit. Reider said he wanted to fight everyone and Dorsey told him off before walking out of the bar.

Rider and Noordhoek followed him and trapped him between a truck and an adjacent car. Noordhoek took a tomahawk used for work out of Reider’s car. When Dorsey tried to escape, Noordhoek hit him in the head with the tomahawk. Then Noordhoek and Rider fled.

Dorsey sued for his personal injuries. Reider moved for directed verdict, but was denied. The jury returned a verdict for Dorsey. Reider appealed.

As previously reported on this blog, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed and held that Reider did not owe a duty of care to Dorsey because Noordhoek was the one who attacked him. Even though Reider’s trapping of Dorsey kept him from escaping, the court found that there was no evidence Reider colluded with Noordhoek.

The Florida Supreme Court explained that a duty of care arises four ways: (1) from statutes or administrative regulations; (2) judicial interpretations of legislation or regulation; (3) other judicial precedent; or (4) from the general facts of the case.

If duty arises from the fourth possibility, the facts of the case, foreseeability is the critical determinant of whether a duty will be found. The relevant question is a whether a defendant (in this case Reider) could have foreseen he was creating a broader zone of risk that posed a threat of harm to someone else (Dorsey).

Every person who creates a risk through his actions is required to exercise reasonable foresight when it is possible somebody else will be hurt as a result. The Court explained that this is the core of the duty element of any negligence-based cause of action. It further explained that the court couldn’t find lack of a duty if a foreseeable zone of risk was more likely than not created by a defendant. The Court explained that establishing duty is different than establishing proximate cause. The latter requires a plaintiff to show that a dangerous activity foreseeably caused the specific harm suffered by the person or people claiming injury.

The Court concluded that the intermediate appellate court erred in finding that Reider had no legal duty. Reider had blocked Dorsey from escaping an escalating situation, which created a foreseeable zone of risk of harm. Usually nobody has a legal duty to prevent someone else’s misconduct. However, there is an exception where a defendant is in actual or constructive control of an instrumentality or the premises or he tortfeasor. The Court explained that the intermediate appellate court had made the wrong inquiry and reached the wrong result.

In this case Reider had not locked his truck door and prevented Dorsey from escape. Reider had not merely “provided access” to the tomahawk. Rather, he was in a position to take control of his tomahawk to prevent the injury. Also, he had left a dangerous tool in an unlocked truck and prevented someone from escaping injury by taking control of the premises. The lower court’s judgment was reinstated.

If you have been hurt due to another person or entity’s negligence, contact the experienced Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585. We work hard to recover compensation from all possible sources for our clients.

More Blogs

Injuries Arising From Bar Brawls in Florida, December 10, 2013
Amending a Medical Negligence Complaint in Florida, December 20, 2013
Is There Liability for Freak Accidents in Florida? December 24, 2013

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