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The Implication of Voluntary Intoxication in Florida Third-Party Personal Injury Claims

The First District Court of Appeal in the State of Florida recently reviewed a trial court’s order denying a manufacturer a directed verdict in a Florida wrongful death claim. According to the court’s opinion, the company manufactured products containing a synthetic marijuana product, commonly known as “spice.” A warning was contained in  the product that indicated it was unsafe for consumption by humans. A man purchased the product voluntarily consumed it, subsequently became impaired, and then drove his car into another vehicle. The man was sentenced to prison for his criminal conduct. The decedent’s representatives filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer, arguing that the company was liable for their family member’s death.

At trial, the company filed a directed verdict motion and argued that they were not proximately liable for the death because the man’s intoxication was the sole cause of the decedent’s death. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, attributing 65% of the fault to the company and 35% fault to the intoxicated driver. The company appealed the ruling arguing, again, that the impaired man’s criminal conduct was the sole proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Proximate cause is a legal theory that imputes liability on a party when their actions set forth a sequence of events that led to an injury. Under Florida law, questions regarding proximate cause are left to the fact-finder; however, in some situations, a judge may address the issue where evidence suggests there is no more than one inference. Moreover, the Florida Supreme Court has found that when an actor’s behavior creates a dangerous situation, the law does not permit a jury to find a proximate cause where an unforeseeable, intervening act is responsible for the injuries. In some cases, plaintiffs may argue that third parties that create a dangerous situation could reasonably foresee that their negligence could set a chain of events in a motion that may result in injuries. However, Florida does not allow a jury to consider proximate cause in cases where the person responsible for the injuries is voluntarily impaired or purposely misuses a product.

In this case, the company successfully argued that they could not be liable because the driver improperly and voluntarily consumed the product. Therefore, the driver’s conduct was the sole proximate cause of the accident. The company did not deny any claims that it provided inadequate warnings or negligently manufactured the product. In this case, the court found that the trial court erred in denying the company’s directed verdict. However, this finding does not absolve the intoxicated driver of liability.

Have You Suffered Serious Injuries Because of the Negligence of Another?

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries in a Florida car accident, contact the experienced injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman, Frank & Estrada, P.A. The attorneys at our law firm possess a comprehensive and detailed understanding of complex Florida injury laws. Our team works together to provide our clients with top-notch representation in hopes of maximizing our client’s allowable recovery. Our clients routinely recover compensation for their medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Contact our office at 877-448-8585 to schedule a free initial consultation with a dedicated Florida injury attorney at our law firm.

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