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shutterstock_336234668-300x200At some point in life, every person surely has received the age-old advice to read a contract before signing it. However, what if you are awoken from a comatose state only to realize that a contingency fee contract with a law firm was executed on your behalf?

On April 4th, 2018, the Fourth District Court of Appeal decided the case of William O’Malley v. The Freeman Law Firm, which serves as a cautionary tale to lawyers who work on contingency fee agreements. In this case, the appellant, William O’Malley, was involved in a horrendous car wreck that left him in a coma for months. During this period, his mother sought representation on his behalf and signed a personal injury contingency fee contract as the personal representative of the Estate of William O’ Malley. Problem: the mother was never actually appointed as personal representative! Moreover, Mr. O’Malley had not executed a power of attorney in favor of his mother, nor had he been declared legally incompetent by a court, which could have led to an appointment of a legal guardian.

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shutterstock_391643938-300x200If you have lost a loved one due the negligence of another person, the last thing you need is to be bombarded with questions about the status of your relationship with the deceased. Last month, the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Florida clarified this issue in a written opinion in Domino’s Pizza v. Wiederhold, discussing when a plaintiff qualifies as a “surviving spouse” for a wrongful death lawsuit.

The court explored the tragic case of an engaged couple that married after a disastrously life-altering car accident. The plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle with her then-fiancée, who was forced to swerve into a median when a vehicle owned by a Domino’s franchisee suddenly pulled out in front of them. The car overturned a few times before coming to final rest in a ditch. The accident immediately left the man a quadriplegic, while the woman was unharmed. A month after the accident the man sued Domino’s, the franchisee owner, and the driver of the franchisee’s vehicle. The couple subsequently moved forward with their commitment and married before the man died a year later due to accident-related injuries. After her husband passed away, the woman was substituted as the plaintiff and filed an amended complaint to include a claim for wrongful death damages.

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shutterstock_245572129-300x200In my experience as a trial lawyer, it is often times difficult for the parties of a lawsuit to understand the restrictive nature of the rules of evidence. There are narrow guidelines by which attorneys must conduct themselves when arguing to a jury. If a lawyer steps out-of-bounds during trial, his client’s favorable verdict might be overturned by an appellate court.

Such was the case in TT of Indian River v. Fortson, a recent appellate decision issued by Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal. In TT of Indian River, the plaintiff in a personal injury automobile accident case received a favorable jury verdict. However, due to some remarks made by her trial attorney, that verdict was overturned.

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shutterstock_144026209-200x300Summer break has ended here in Florida and schools are back in session. Consequently, there are an abundance of inexperienced teenaged drivers on the road. Many of these teenaged drivers are under 18 and driving their parents’ car. In 2015, there were 42,874 teenaged driver car crashes in Florida according to the Department of Highway Safety. At The Grife Law Firm, we have a wealth of experience representing people who have been seriously injured due to young, reckless drivers. Frequently, we are asked: Who can I hold responsible for the damages caused by a reckless teenaged driver?

Pursuant to Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine, the owner of a vehicle is liable for damages caused by the negligence of permissive users. This doctrine was first recognized in the landmark 1920 case of Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Anderson, wherein the Supreme Court of Florida held that, “[O]ne who authorizes and permits an instrumentality that is peculiarly dangerous in its operation to be used by another on the public highway, is liable in damages for injuries to third persons caused by the negligent operation of such instrumentality…” The rationale is that a motor vehicle is a potentially deadly piece of machinery that can cause serious harm, so the owner must bear some responsibility for damages caused by it. The hope is that the dangerous instrumentality doctrine will encourage vehicle owners to entrust only safe drivers to operate their cars. For purposes of our discussion, if a teenager drives in a reckless fashion and causes a car wreck, the owner of the at-fault vehicle will be held legally responsible for personal injury damages such as medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

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Florida has a very complshutterstock_92427613-300x192ex medical malpractice statutory scheme that an injured victim must follow in order to bring a case. Codified under chapter 766, the medical malpractice statutes require great skill to navigate. Amongst a host of other requirements, an injury victim must send relevant data to an expert medical professional in the same or similar specialty as the health care provider who you are going to bring suit against. That expert must then issue an affidavit verifying the negligence. The expert affidavit, along with several other documents, must then be served on the defendant doctor as part of a Notice of Intent to Initiate Medical Malpractice Litigation. All of the above must be accomplished within the two-year Statute of Limitations that Florida law affords victims of medical malpractice.

The recent case of Bay County Board of Commissioners v. Seeley provides us with a nice look at just how complex medical malpractice litigation can be. In Seeley, the plaintiff was injured when she fell off a stretcher while being wheeled by paramedics from her home to the awaiting ambulance. At first, she filed a lawsuit without complying with the medical malpractice pre-suit screening process because she did not believe her case was for medical negligence. That lawsuit was dismissed as the trial court determined her allegations were in fact medical malpractice in nature and thus she had to comply with the requirements of chapter 766.

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In an exciting win for Florida personal injury plaintiffs and their physicians, the state’s Supreme Court issued a recent landmark decision in the case of Worley v. Central Florida Young Men’s Christian Ass’n, Inc. The main issues in Worley were the permissibility of discovery as to who referred a plaintiff to her treating physicians and the financial relationship between those treating physicians and the plaintiff’s attorney. These hotly contested issues permeate many personal injury cases. In a very cogent opinion, the Supreme Court resolved these long-standing conflicts in favor of Florida personal injury plaintiffs by fully restoring the attorney-client privilege and making treating physician financial discovery off-limits.

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shutterstock_233095072-300x201As the holidays approach, many of us will be attending parties at restaurants and having parties at our homes. At most of these parties, alcoholic beverages will be served. So, what are the legal ramifications for a restaurant or homeowner if someone leaves their property intoxicated and causes serious injuries to themselves or others? Florida’s Dram Shop law, codified as Fla. Stat. § 768.125, provides only very limited scenarios under which a business or homeowner can be held liable for the tortious acts of an intoxicated person such as a drunk driver.

Under Florida’s Dram Shop law, there are only two scenarios where a business or homeowner can be successfully sued for the actions of an intoxicated person. Those scenarios are: (1) the willful and unlawful selling or furnishing of alcoholic beverages to a person not of legal drinking age; and (2) knowingly serving a person alcohol who is “habitually addicted to the use of alcoholic beverages.” Under any other circumstances, according to §768.125, a person or business who provides alcoholic beverages to someone of legal drinking age “shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage” caused by or resulting from that intoxicated person.

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shutterstock_287333165The increasing popularity of ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft have given rise to a burgeoning area of law and personal injury claims. Many of us rely on these companies to get us home safely, but sometimes Uber and Lyft drivers can cause automotive crashes. Other times, another driver negligently causes a collision with an Uber or Lyft vehicle. Regardless of fault, there are certain insurance and legal issues that you should be aware of if you are involved in a ride-sharing automotive crash.

Uber and Lyft both market that they have secured high-limit insurance policies for the protection of their passengers. Currently, these two companies advertise that they have $1 million in liability and uninsured motorist coverage per incident (see our website on why you need Uninsured Motorist coverage for your personal automobile policy). This means if you are in a ride-sharing vehicle and that drivers causes a crash, you and all other injured parties have up to $1 million combined in liability coverage for your damages. Likewise, if an uninsured or underinsured driver crashes into your Uber or Lyft vehicle, you (and the other injured persons) will be covered up to $1 million combined from the ride-sharing company.

While $1 million might sound like a lot coverage, what happens if an Uber or Lyft driver causes a crash where there are a multitude of injured people whose aggregate claims are above $1 million? A negligent ride-sharing driver can severely injure or kill passengers in his or her vehicle and other drivers and their passengers. If this tragic event occurs, the injured parties will certainly want to make a claim directly against the ride-sharing company to collect more than the $1 million in insurance coverage. Under the agency law, the ride-sharing companies will likely argue that their drivers are independent contractors and not employees. That would mean under agency law that Uber or Lyft might not be held responsible for the damages.

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shutterstock_119719069If you have been injured in a fall accident due to a dangerous condition, taking photographs of the accident scene is a very useful step in your pursuit of justice. Due to the chaotic nature of slip and falls, the details surrounding the accident may not be immediately apparent to an injured party. Sometimes the incident happens so quickly and it is so unexpected that the person may not be certain as to what caused them to fall. A recent decision from a Florida appeals court reinforces that even if an injured party cannot testify with certainty as to what caused them to fall, pictures of the accident scene that show a dangerous condition will get the case to a jury that can produce a prevailing outcome.

In Christakis v. Tivoli Terrace, LLC, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal addressed the issue of directing a verdict in a premises liability personal injury case wherein the injured Plaintiff was not certain as to what exactly caused her fall but had strong photographic evidence. In Christakis, the Plaintiff alleged that she fell and injured herself to a dangerous condition – the Defendant’s steps. The photographic evidence in this case showed that the Defendant’s steps were damaged and in disrepair; the Plaintiff also called an expert to testify that the steps were dangerous. Despite a jury verdict in favor of the Plaintiff, the trial court entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of the Defendant due to the fact that the Plaintiff did not testify with certainty that the damaged step caused her to fall.

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shutterstock_45805501 (2)Drunk driving is a very serious crime that causes horrific car crashes.  Often times the drunken driver reaches egregious speeds and does not keep a proper lookout, which causes very heavy impact collisions. Having represented injury victims in Florida for over a decade, I have represented many people who were injured due to drunk and intoxicated drivers.  Often times, victims of drunk drivers and their loved ones feel particularly traumatized knowing that someone acted with such reckless indifference towards their safety – that the accident “did not have to happen”.

Florida law recognizes the extremely reckless nature of crashes caused by drunk drivers and offers punitive damages to their victims. Punitive damages, as prescribed by Fla. Stat. §768.72, are a special kind of damages that are not available in most cases.  They are designed to punish those who cause injury as a result of a, “conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.”  Florida law ensures that drunk drivers are included in
that category.

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