Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a plaintiff could pursue a respondeat superior claim as well as a negligent entrustment claim against an employer based on an employee’s negligent conduct. The case is important to Florida car accident victims because it elucidates the differences between two common claims that are often believed to be identical but are, in fact, different.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was riding a motorcycle when he was struck by a truck that made an improper left turn in front of the plaintiff. The plaintiff died as a result of the collision. The truck driver was later found to have been under the influence of a prescription narcotic that was banned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

The plaintiff filed a multi-claim wrongful death case against the truck driver’s employer. The plaintiff claimed that the employer was liable for the truck driver’s negligence under the theory of vicarious liability. In addition, the plaintiff contended that the employer was liable under the doctrine of negligent entrustment.

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In Florida, when a dog attacks someone who is on public property or if they are bitten while on private property (with the owner’s permission), they can pursue a claim for compensation from the animal’s owner for any injuries they sustained. The state’s dog bite statute governs these Florida dog bite cases.

Under Florida Statutes section 767.04, an owner is strictly liable for any injuries caused by their animal. This means that the dog bite victim will not need to establish that the owner was negligent in any way to recover. The mere fact that a dog bit someone is sufficient to establish liability. Thus, Florida law is somewhat unique in that an owner is liable “regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness.”

This is an important distinction between Florida’s dog bite statute and similar statutes in other states. For example, many states employ the “one bite rule,” which essentially provides the owner of a dog with immunity from liability the first time their dog attacks or bites someone else. The rationale behind this rule is that the owner of an animal cannot be held liable for injuries caused by a dog that they had no way of knowing would attack a human and has never done so in the past.

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When a plaintiff files a Florida personal injury case, in many instances the defendant will file a motion for summary judgment claiming that the plaintiff’s case is insufficient as a matter of law. Essentially, in a summary judgment motion, the defendant argues that there are no disputed factual issues in the case and that when the court applies the law, the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Thus, to survive a defense motion for summary judgment, a Florida personal injury plaintiff must be able to establish a disputed issue of fact. In a recent personal injury case, the court discussed the plaintiff’s burden to present evidence creating an issue of fact, as opposed to merely calling into question the credibility of a witness’ testimony.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident. The motorist who struck the plaintiff’s car (“the supervisor”) was on the phone at the time of the accident, speaking to a woman whom she supervises at work (“the employee”). The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the supervisor’s employer, arguing that the employer was vicariously liable for the negligent acts of the supervisor.

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In a recent appellate decision, the Florida Supreme Court held that construction loaders are considered dangerous instrumentalities as a matter of law. As a result of the court’s opinion, Florida personal injury victims who have been injured by these dangerous machines can pursue a claim for compensation against the owners of construction loaders regardless of whether the owner was negligent.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was seriously injured when he was working as an independent contractor for a hauling company. The hauling company had hired the plaintiff to help several employees clear a vacant lot that was full of vegetation and debris.

Evidently, the hauling company leased a large construction loader to help its employees and the plaintiff clear the lot. Apparently, while the lot was being cleared, an employee of the hauling company dropped a stump onto the plaintiff’s hand, requiring the plaintiff’s finger be amputated.

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Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a fatal drunk driving accident that occurred during the South-By-Southwest Music Festival (SXSW). The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff’s lawsuit against the event planners should proceed toward trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s case against the event planners should be dismissed because the defendants did not control the area where the accident occurred.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the SXSW festival is a city-wide event with various venues across the city participating in festival activities. Thus, the event planners routinely applied for special use permits from the city to close certain city blocks. Specifically, the use permit that was obtained by the event planners stated that all “traffic controls must be provided in accordance with the approved traffic control plan.

One early morning during the festival, police attempted to pull over a motorist for a minor traffic infraction. However, the driver fled police and drove through a series of barriers and directly into a crowd of people. The plaintiffs were the surviving loved ones of a man who was killed by the drunk driver.

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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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The recovery period following a serious Florida car accident is different for everyone, but it is not an easy time for anyone. Aside from the physical trauma and emotional disturbance caused by the accident, there are the mounting medical bills, the time away from work, and the headache of dealing with insurance companies. Given these issues, it is understandable and expected that most victims of a Florida car accident are quite vulnerable for some time after the accident.

Sadly, insurance companies and savvy defense attorneys often use this time of vulnerability to approach and pressure accident victims into discussing – and potentially settling – their case. It is common to see Florida accident victims sign away the rights to pursue their case for just pennies on the dollar.

Even when the settlement agreement is a fair one, Florida car accident victims should consult with a knowledgeable attorney about the agreement’s fine print. Some settlement agreements contain unexpected language or are phrased in very broad terms that could cause problems for the accident victim if they choose to pursue a claim against other parties. A case that arose recently serves as a warning and excellent example of why it is essential to carefully read and negotiate the terms of a settlement agreement.

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Recently, an appellate court in another state released an opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a police officer, plus the city entity that employed him, could be liable for injuries arising out of a car accident allegedly caused by the officer. In the end, the court determined that because the officer’s actions did not rise to the level of “reckless disregard,” the defendants were entitled to immunity.

The case presents an interesting issue for those who have been injured in a Florida car accident that was caused by a police officer or other government employer. For starters, Florida law does not provide government immunity as it is applied in this case. However, the Florida Tort Claims Act (FTCA) provides for a relatively low total recovery amount unless the plaintiff can establish the actions of the government employee exhibited a “willful disregard for human rights or safety.”

The Facts

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the defendant law enforcement officer received an emergency call and was en route to the scene when he was involved in an accident with the plaintiff. Both the plaintiff and the officer provided very different versions of what occurred, with the plaintiff claiming that the officer inexplicably struck her rear bumper. The plaintiff brought a personal injury claim against the police officer and the city entity that employed the officer.

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In Florida, landowners are required to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition for those whom they invite onto their land. As a general rule, a landowner must take care to either remedy all known hazards on their property or at least warn visitors of the presence of the hazard.

Importantly, a Florida slip-and-fall injury victim does not need to prove that the landowner had actual knowledge of a hazard in order to be successful. It is sufficient to establish that the landowner “should have known” about the hazard, given the surrounding circumstances. This is helpful to many Florida premises liability plaintiffs because landowners may not readily admit that they were aware of a hazard on their property.

Another wrinkle in Florida premises liability law is the state’s recreational use statute. Under Florida Statutes section 375.251, a landowner who allows their land to be used by the public for recreational purposes does not have a duty to keep the land safe or to warn those who use the land of any hazards. In order for the recreational use state to apply, the defendant cannot charge a fee for the use of their land. Additionally, the statute does not protect a landowner against “willful or malicious” conduct. However, this can be difficult to establish. A recent case illustrates a plaintiff’s attempt to establish a city’s “willful or malicious” conduct.

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Earlier this month, the state’s supreme court issued a very important opinion in a Florida medical malpractice case discussing under what circumstances a plaintiff’s case must be dismissed when she fails to comply with the expert opinion requirement contained in Florida Statutes section 766.102. Importantly, the court held that a plaintiff’s case should not be dismissed for lack of a qualifying expert opinion unless the defense can show that the plaintiff’s failure to comply caused prejudice to the defense.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the personal representative of a woman who died after having a complicated pregnancy that resulted in the stillbirth of her child. Pursuant to section 766.203(2), the plaintiff designated an expert witness, who was a board-certified OB/GYN.

The plaintiff’s selected expert had over 30 years of experience in the field, and had delivered over 14,000 babies. She had also served as chief of the OB-GYN department at a large medical center, and Chief of Staff at a small women’s specialty hospital. In 2005, the expert began law school, and obtained her Juris Doctorate in 2007. However, when asked, the expert stated that she “was engaged in full-time patient care until March 2008.”

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