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In a recent Florida District Court of Appeal opinion, the court considered whether a defendant was civilly liable for a death that occurred on its property. The case is unique because it involved allegations that the deceased accident victim was involved in criminal activity shortly before she died.

The plaintiff in the case filed a claim against the defendant lodge after her mother was fatally shot in a parking lot owned and operated by the lodge. Following a brawl between some individuals who were part of the decedent’s group and some members of the shooter’s group inside the lodge, the two groups were removed to the parking lot, where a second fight began. Evidence showed that the decedent participated in the parking lot fight and struck a pregnant female who was part of the shooter’s group. After the fight in the parking lot ended, the shooter’s group left the parking lot, and the decedent’s group got into their vehicle, which was parked in the defendant’s parking lot. Before the decedent’s group could pull out of the parking lot, the shooter’s group returned to the lot and opened fire on their vehicle. The decedent was fatally shot while sitting in the front seat.

At the lower court, the defendant argued that they should not be held liable for the decedent’s death because the decedent knowingly struck a pregnant female on their property, committing a crime. Because Florida law prohibits an accident victim from recovering for their injuries if they were hurt while engaging in a crime, the defendant argued that they were not responsible for the decedent’s death. The trial court disagreed and argued that the defense did not apply because the decedent was not engaged in a felony when she was shot.

Individuals who wish to pursue damages after suffering injuries because of a defective product must be able to establish that the product was defectively designed, manufactured, or lacked appropriate instructions and warnings. Under Florida law, consumers may proceed under a negligence or strict liability theory. Although claims may involve both theories, strict liability governs Florida product liability lawsuits in most cases. Strict liability theory provides that a seller, distributor, manufacturer, or any other entity involved in distributing a product, may be liable to anyone who suffers injuries because of the product. Under this theory, defendants may still be liable, even if they engaged in all possible steps to ensure that the defect did not occur.

Product liability claimants must be able to prove that the product was defective or unreasonably dangerous, the product injured the plaintiff, and the product’s inherent design or defect was the direct cause of the claimant’s injuries. The crux of product liability cases rest in whether a plaintiff can present enough compelling evidence to show that the product was defective or unreasonably dangerous to a reasonable, ordinary consumer. Evidence of a defective product may be the product itself. However, in some cases, the product may no longer exist. This may occur if it was a consumable product, such as a prescription medication or supplement, or if the consumer did not own the product. In either case, expert witnesses provide plaintiffs with critical assistance in explaining complex subjects to juries.

Expert witnesses can effectively communicate complex technical and scientific concepts to juries. These witnesses can testify on an injury victim’s behalf and convey convoluted theories in a clear and manageable way to the trier of fact. Some common expert witnesses are medical experts, engineers, rehabilitation specialists, and economists. Expert witness testimony is often the most compelling portion of a plaintiff’s case.

Under and Uninsured Motorist (UIM) coverage protects individuals if they are involved in an accident with someone who does not have adequate amounts of insurance coverage. In Florida, many insurance companies allow customers to purchase “full coverage” insurance. Despite the name, full coverage insurance does not typically cover UIM coverage; instead, it refers to Florida’s minimum requirements. Moreover, Florida law does not require drivers to purchase bodily injury insurance coverage, which leads to a significant number of motorists operating their vehicles with insufficient insurance. UIM coverage works to protect drivers from having to pay substantial out of pocket costs after an accident.

The law requires Florida insurance companies to provide a UIM coverage option to policyholders. Customers who wish to reject the coverage must provide a waiver in writing. However, in many cases, insurance brokers do not express the necessity of the coverage and are quick to allow a policyholder to proceed with a waiver. As such, many people end up opting out of the coverage without understanding the significant financial repercussions they may encounter.

For example, recently, an appellate court in Florida issued an opinion stemming from a class-action lawsuit against Geico General Insurance Company. The plaintiffs in the class were comprised of Geico policyholders who rejected UIM coverage. The policyholders argued that Geico violated Florida’s UIM rejection coverage process. In Florida, the rejection must be in writing and fully advise the policyholder of the ramifications of opting out of the coverage. Further, policyholders may reject stacked coverage by signing the appropriate form. Here, before 2013, Geico’s online signature process required policyholders to click through screens to get to the electronic signature page. From 2013-2016 the insurance company required customers to view the form two times before signing; however, the form did not comply with state requirements. Finally, in 2016, Geico began displaying the form but did not require policyholders to click any links. In this case, the policyholders all waived UIM coverage during different periods and manner. The court held that the parties did not meet a class-action lawsuit’s requirements because they failed to establish commonality and typicality.

Florida law defines premises liability as a land or property owner’s liability for conditions or activities on their premises. The law imputes liability for injuries that a visitor suffers while on the landowners’ property. Liability is based upon the relationship between the visitor and the landowner. Generally, courts classify a visitor as either a trespasser, licensee, or invitee. Trespassers are those that are on the land without the knowledge or permission of the landowner. Whereas, licensees enter for the mutual convenience of both the visitor and the property owner, such as family and friends. Although duty and liability vary based upon the status, the law surrounding invitees have the most nuances. Invitees are usually either public invitees or business visitors. Public invitees enter the land as a member of the public for which the land is designed. Public invitees are those that enter places such as public parks, airports, or museums. In comparison, a business visitor enters a property or land for direct or indirect business dealings with the landowner, such as those that enter a shopping center, or a guest at an amusement park or hotel.

Independent contractors are a unique class of visitors that do not fall precisely within any of the classifications. Typically, landowners are not responsible for injuries that an independent contractor or their employees experience while engaging in their work. This rule applies even if the work is inherently dangerous, as long as the work is incidental to their job duties or disclosed. However, exceptions exist when the landowner actively participates or exercises direct control over the independent contractor’s work, or the owner creates a dangerous condition.

For instance, a Florida appellate court recently issued an opinion stemming from a premises liability lawsuit against a homeowner. In that case, the property owner hired the plaintiff to perform tree trimming services on his land. While trimming the trees, the plaintiff was electrocuted by an electric line. The victim admitted that he was aware of the electric line but did not know how dangerous it was. In coming to their decision, the court first explained that independent contractors are business invitees and, therefore, property owners are not generally liable for their work-related injuries. Moreover, in addressing an owner’s duty, the court described the open and obvious doctrine. Under this doctrine, the law entitles the owner to assume that the invitee will perceive any obvious dangers. In this case, regardless of the degree of dangerousness, the plaintiff attributed to the power line, it is clear that most electric lines are dangerous. Therefore, the electric line was not a latent danger, and the homeowner is not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Defective commercial vehicles are a serious hazard to the health and public safety of all Floridians. Although Florida trucking accidents often involve the negligence of a trucking company or its drivers, design defects and faulty parts frequently play a significant role in a trucking accident. The sheer size and mechanical complexity of these vehicles require the safe interplay of various systems. Even seemingly minor defects can cause these large vehicles to become massive safety hazards.

The majority of truck accidents involving defective parts include faulty brakes, defective steering systems, tire failures, defective hydraulics and fuel systems, and inadequate safety and cargo restraints. For instance, recently, a state court heard a case arising from a tractor trailer’s malfunctioning dump gate. In that case, the truck driver was traveling on a highway when the trailer unexpectedly released its dump gate. The uncommanded action resulted in the trailer spilling massive amounts of gravel and sand onto the highway on more than one occasion. One of the incidents resulted in several collisions, damaging cars and injuring several motorists and passengers.

Injury victims and their loved ones may file a claim against various entities. The manufacturer, designer, distributor, retailer, or any other party responsible for putting a defective truck on the road may be liable. In the case above, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against both the trucking company and the defective valve manufacturer that caused the dump gate to spontaneously open. Following a settlement with the plaintiffs, the company sought contribution from the manufacturer. The company filed cross-claims against the manufacturer alleging unreasonably dangerous and defective design of the valve. The manufacturer sought to dismiss the claims, arguing that the company discarded relevant evidence. The court ultimately found that the company acted negligently in discarding the evidence, but not willfully.

Under Florida law, employers with four or more employees must purchase workers’ compensation insurance. Additionally, construction businesses must provide this insurance for every employee. This coverage is essential to both business owners and employees, because it covers various expenses related to workplace injuries. The insurance is designed to cover injuries that an employee suffered on-the-job. It typically covers medical expenses, recovery costs, missed wages, and funeral and burial costs. Employers may obtain private or state insurance or self-insure their employees. Employees do not share in the cost of the insurance premium. However, in exchange for the coverage, in most cases, the law prevents Florida employees from suing their employers to cover expenses from their workplace injuries.

Fault is not a consideration in workers’ compensation claims; however, employers must still keep their workplaces safe. In some situations, employers do not meet this burden, and as a result, their workers may suffer exposure to dangerous conditions. In many cases, workers’ compensation does not adequately cover the extent of the employee’s damages. For instance, although the insurance covers medical bills and lost wages, it does not compensate for pain and suffering. The bar on recovery can cause serious financial hardship to employees.

There are certain exceptions to workers’ compensation laws that may allow victims to recover additional damages. Employees may file a lawsuit against employers who did not carry workers’ compensation insurance or failed to process a claim in a timely manner. Further, employees may file lawsuits for workplace injuries against negligent third parties. For example, if an employee is driving a company vehicle for work and suffers injuries in a car accident, the employee may file a lawsuit against the negligent driver. Further, employees can file a lawsuit if an employer denies a workers’ compensation claim in bad faith.

Florida’s attorney-client privilege is one of the oldest recognized privileges in American judicial history. The privilege protects and preserves the confidentiality of communications between attorneys and their clients. The rule provides clients with the right to refuse to divulge and prevent another person from disclosing confidential communications between the client and attorney. Although there are significant policy justifications for the privilege, at its foundation, the rule is designed to promote and encourage the free and open sharing of information between clients and their attorneys. This allows clients to provide their attorneys with accurate and complete information, allowing them to provide more precise and well-reasoned advice and representation.

The attorney-client privilege is an evidentiary rule, as it prevents lawyers from testifying about their clients’ statements. In addition to the privilege, attorneys owe their clients a duty of confidentiality. This prevents attorneys from discussing information related to their clients’ cases in any other context. They must protect all information regarding their client’s case, regardless of the information’s origin. Both of these protections have certain exceptions that may be relevant if a client dies, in cases where the client is actively engaged in fraud, or if the disclosure is necessary to prevent certain death or substantial harm.

Throughout history, courts have heard and addressed various claims involving attorney-client privilege. One recent Florida decision in Worley v. Central Florida Young Men’s Christian Assn., held that the attorney-client privilege protects a law firm’s referral of a client to a treating physician. In that case, a woman fell and suffered injuries in a YMCA parking lot. During pretrial proceedings, the defendants asked her to disclose whether her attorney referred her to her treating doctors. The trial court compelled her to produce the information; however, on appeal, the Florida Supreme Court held that attorney-client privilege protects a party from disclosing information of that nature.

Florida consumers rightfully expect vehicle manufacturers and dealerships to maintain integrity in their dealings and ensure that vehicles are free from defects. However, despite due diligence, in some cases, motorists end up with a defective car. These vehicles are commonly referred to as “lemons.” Fortunately, federal and state laws protect consumers in these situations.

Florida’s “Motor Vehicle Warranty Enforcement Act,” or “Lemon Law,” protects customers who purchase new or nearly new vehicles. In some instances, the law protects consumers who lease vehicles or purchase a defective recreational vehicle. The law applies to vehicles purchased for personal, family, or household use. It extends to anyone to whom the vehicle is transferred for the same purposes during the statutory period. The statutory period is generally 24 months following delivery to the consumer. The law covers “nonconformities” to the vehicle, which substantially impairs the vehicle’s use, value, or safety. However, the law does not apply when the consumer’s negligence, abuse, or unauthorized alteration caused the defect.

Under the law, manufacturers that cannot adequately repair a defect, must repurchase or replace a vehicle. The law permits the manufacturer a reasonable number of attempts to repair the vehicle before mandating repurchase or repair. Generally, a manufacturer will have to repurchase after they unsuccessfully resolved the problems three or more times or if the car is in a repair shop for more than 30 days.

Every driver knows that to maximize safety while operating a vehicle, you must look both ways and double-check before pulling out of a driveway or parking spot from a stationary position. When the roadway you’re pulling into is especially busy, it can be even more dangerous. Thus, in these situations, drivers must execute the highest degree of care to avoid a Florida car accident.

Sometimes, however, when operating a larger vehicle like a tow truck, it can be hard to see every angle and vantage point while backing up. Larger vehicles often need significantly more space to pull into a busy roadway or execute large turns when pulling out of spaces than regular pedestrian vehicles, so the dangers are elevated further. Unfortunately, accidents involving tow trucks and pulling out of stationary positions into a busy road can make for a deadly combination when it also involves drivers who are not fully present or paying attention to their surroundings.

According to a recent news report, a 15-year-old girl tragically died in a crash after a tow truck collided with the car she was riding in. According to Florida Highway Patrol troopers, the girl was riding as a passenger in a convertible when the tow truck reversed from a driveway into the street, and the convertible hit its flatbed. Based on reports from local authorities, the girl died at the scene, but neither driver was injured.

A Florida appellate court recently issued an opinion addressing whether a plaintiff could hold a university teaching hospital liable for medical malpractice. The main issue turned on whether sovereign immunity protects the university teaching hospital involved in the case.

In 2004, the university and healthcare system agreed to an affiliation contract that provided that the woman’s treating doctor was a university faculty member and employee. The agreement included an agreement between the doctor and the healthcare system, where the doctor would treat the system’s indigent patients. In 2011, the Florida lawmakers amended 768.28, Florida Statutes, thereby replacing the 2004 affiliation agreement. The amendment covered all patients’ care and provided that all university employees and faculty were acting as an agent of the healthcare system.

The record indicates that the woman received treatment for an illness with several doctors employed by a teaching hospital where the university provides healthcare services. She alleged that her doctors’ failure to prescribed appropriate medication resulted in her disabilities. The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against several parties, including the healthcare system, the university, and her treating physician. In response to the medical malpractice lawsuit, the university contended that they were entitled to immunity under Florida’s sovereign immunity statutes.

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