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In Florida, like many other states, the legal doctrine known as res ipsa loquitur exists as a claim that can be brought against defendants in civil tort related cases. Typically, the claim is advanced when a party argues that the court can infer negligence from the accident or injury that occurred even in the absence of direct evidence. In other words, res ipsa loquitur is typically brought when the nature of how an accident or injury came about is so obviously negligent that the court does not require additional direct evidence on how a defendant behaved to assign liability.

In a recent Florida district court of appeal opinion, the court considered whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied to a personal injury case. An attorney brought a premises liability case on behalf of his client, who was being held at a local county jail when she was injured by an interior gate that closed on her unexpectedly. At trial, the defendant argued that the officer who controlled the gate and the jail did not act negligently, but instead a sensor was tripped, or there was a malfunction, which caused the accident. However, the attorney presented testimony from jail staff explaining that the jail gates operated manually and were controlled by an officer, but did not present evidence explaining whether a malfunction could cause the gate to close unexpectedly. The jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff with a res ipsa loquitur instruction, and the defendant appealed.

On appeal, the court sided with the defendant and reversed and remanded the case for further consideration. Because the plaintiff failed to prove that negligence by the defendant was the probable cause of her injuries, the court could not apply res ipsa loquitur to the present case. Although the plaintiff offered some evidence on how the gate was intended to operate, the lack of expert testimony on how the gate actually worked at the time of the incident or whether a malfunction could have caused an accident absent negligence meant that the plaintiff failed to meet the burden of proof necessary for the court to apply res ipsa loquitur.

When it comes to civil claims, every state has slightly different laws addressing these lawsuits. In many personal injury claims, when the at-fault party does something negligently and causes injury to another party, the injured party can often seek damages through a Florida personal injury lawsuit.

Florida, like several other states, uses comparative negligence laws to determine liability. Under general comparative negligence laws, both parties in a lawsuit could potentially be at fault if they each contributed to the injuries or damages that are in dispute. Under Florida law, courts apply pure comparative negligence laws. These laws are a bit more flexible and can allow even at-fault parties to claim some amount of compensation.

To illustrate Florida’s pure comparative negligence standard, consider this example: a man is speeding and crashes into another car on the road, and the other driver suffers significant injuries. The driver who was hit, however, was distracted while driving because he was checking his phone. If the injured party decides to bring a personal injury claim to recover damages from his injuries following the collision, the court may argue that the injured party was also partially responsible for their injuries. This may affect how much the plaintiff is able to collect from the defendant since the accident may not have occurred if he was not on his phone. If a plaintiff is found to be partially at fault for his injuries in the accident, his damages will be reduced. If the plaintiff shared responsibility for causing the collision, this would diminish any economic and non-economic damages proportionate to their level of fault. The plaintiff, however, will not be completely barred from recovering compensation.

Although waivers and terms of conditions are extremely long, people worry about signing their rights away if they do not read the waiver in its entirety. This is especially true in the context of insurance. Insurance companies may try to hide a waiver of coverage behind hyperlinks or in small font. However, when this is the case, customers in Florida can hold their insurance companies accountable and file a claim based on the ineffective waiver of coverage. An ineffective waiver of coverage claim argues that the insurance company failed to advise their clients about their coverage, as well as the coverage they were waiving by signing the form.

In a recent Florida appellate court case, the court was tasked with deciding whether an insurance company effectively informed customers they were waiving their right to uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. All of the plaintiffs rejected or lowered UM coverage through the insurance company’s online signature process; however, the process was hidden and made it nearly impossible to know what they were signing away. Because of this, the plaintiffs sued the insurance company, alleging the insurance company’s coverage rejection process failed to comply with Florida law and did not properly advise policyholders of UM coverage options.

Florida law requires insurance companies give customers the opportunity to purchase UM coverage that is at least equal to the amount of bodily injury coverage. If the customer wishes to lower their UM coverage limit or reject the coverage altogether, they must sign a form indicating they are rejecting UM coverage. This is called an M9 form. The heading of the form must state in bold and size twelve font: “You are electing not to purchase certain valuable coverage which protects you and your family or you are purchasing uninsured motorist limits less than your bodily injury liability limits when you sign this form. Please read carefully.”

Arbitration is becoming increasingly popular. Many companies often prefer arbitration hearings to air out and resolve disputes over addressing claims in court through litigation because of the lower cost, greater convenience, and comparatively speedier process that arbitration offers. Arbitrations, however, often lack transparency and provide limited recourse after a final decision has been made because appeals are typically unavailable. Thus, some plaintiffs often prefer to battle it out in the courts over an arbitration hearing.

In a recent Florida appeals decision, the court considered a motion to compel arbitration between two parties. The case involved a plaintiff who was a resident of the defendant nursing home. The plaintiff alleged that the nursing home failed to provide necessary care and shelter when Hurricane Irma hit. The plaintiff argued that the nursing home negligently allowed for its residents to stay in high heat conditions for days, failed to evacuate residents when conditions became dangerous and life-threatening, and lacked a proper plan to evacuate in the case of an emergency. The defendant moved to compel arbitration under a clause in a contract between the parties. The plaintiff objected, claiming that her tort claims were not covered by the arbitration clause. The lower court ruled in favor of the defendants by granting the motion to compel arbitration, and the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s holding and sided with the defendants. The plaintiff’s claims, the court reasoned, were related to and arose from the contract between the parties. In addition, the plaintiff’s entire relationship with the defendant was based on that contract, meaning that the plaintiff’s claims involving the defendant’s failure to provide services and protect her should be resolved through the arbitration clause within that same agreement.

When someone is injured in a car accident, they often have many thoughts racing through their head: could they have avoided the accident? Is there anything different they could have done? Who was at fault? Defendants will often try and use this thinking to convince a jury that the plaintiff was also at fault for the incident and, therefore, should be found negligent. This is called comparative fault. The comparative fault principle applies when the plaintiff’s actions contributed to their injuries. When it applies, comparative negligence reduces the defendant’s overall liability. However, many people are surprised to learn that this principle can also be applied in wrongful death cases.

According to a recent news report,  a 10-year-old girl was killed in a car crash on Interstate 75 in Sumter County. The driver of the vehicle reduced his speed for traffic – which had slowed down ahead of him – and the vehicle was struck in the rear. The force of the crash pushed the car into the center median, where it hit a guardrail and the car overturned. The driver suffered minor injuries, and the child died at the scene. The report indicates neither the child nor the driver was wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident.

In tragic accidents like the one above, potential defendants will likely claim comparative fault as a part of their defense, to lessen their own liability. In a wrongful death case, the jury is tasked with determining if the deceased was partially responsible for their own death; and, if so, which percentage of comparative fault is attributable to them. If the deceased is found to be partially responsible for the accident, their family’s recovery of damages will be reduced by the percentage the deceased is found liable. For instance, if the jury determines the deceased was 20% at fault for the accident that caused their death, their loved ones will only receive 80% of the awarded damages.

Many people may feel helpless if they were injured and the government is partially responsible. However, while there are statutes limiting the lawsuits that can be brought against the government, plaintiffs can sue the government if they caused the accident. That said, in Florida, there is a government liability cap. This means a plaintiff cannot typically receive more than $200,000 in damages when the government is a defendant. However, when more than one person has been injured, is the damages cap $200,000 for each defendant or the entire accident? In a recent Florida Supreme Court case, the court was tasked with answering this question. Ultimately, the court concluded that the government liability cap was for the entire event, not an individual damages cap for each victim.

Before a mass shooting, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) was contacted to investigate a husband’s abusive behavior. DCF ultimately concluded that the wife and children were not at significant risk of harm and closed the case file. Several months later, the husband fatally shot his estranged wife and her four children and wounding a fifth child. The estate representative for one of the deceased children filed a lawsuit against DCF, alleging they were liable for the child’s wrongful death. Additionally, the father of the injured child, and the personal representative of the estates for the other three deceased children, filed a separate lawsuit against DCF.

The plaintiffs separately argued that DCF failed to protect the children from an unreasonable risk of harm by not following up and truly investigating the domestic violence matter. DCF argued because of Florida’s limited waiver of sovereign immunity, limiting the damages when the defendant is the government, the most the plaintiffs could recover was $200,000. Florida Statute § 768.28(5) states that damages paid by the state or its agencies for all claims “arising out of the same incident or occurrence” may not exceed $200,000. The plaintiffs argued that the shooting of each individual victim should be viewed as a separate “incident or occurrence,” meaning $200,000 in damages could be given for each deceased child. However, the court determined that the “same incident or occurrence” was referring to the event as a whole, and not the individual action against each individual victim. Therefore, the claims stemming from the shooting arose from the “same incident or occurrence” and is subject to the $200,000 cap for damages paid by the state government.

Cruises are a time for relaxation and fun. However, cruises can often turn into a nightmare when someone is injured onboard the ship. When this occurs, an injured party can bring a Florida premises liability lawsuit against the cruise company alleging that the company is responsible for the dangerous condition that caused their injury. In a recent case, a Florida court was tasked with deciding whether a cruise ship could be held liable for a plaintiff’s injuries on the ship. Ultimately, the court concluded that the cruise ship was responsible because the employees knew about the dangerous condition that led to the plaintiff’s injuries.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was on the fourth day of a Caribbean cruise when she sustained significant injuries to her shoulder. As she returned from the buffet line, the plaintiff was forced to take a step toward the food station where she tripped over a cleaning bucket. She spent the remainder of the cruise bed-ridden and still suffered from constant pain months after the accident. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the cruise line, claiming it did not keep its ship safe for guests. Ultimately, the court decided that the defendant could be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries under a premises liability theory.

Because the plaintiff was injured on property that was not her own, the cruise line had a legal obligation to keep the premises safe. This means that it must protect the guests from any unforeseeable harm. In bringing a premises liability lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant knew or should have known that a particular hazard existed. In cases where the defendant is the owner, or is the company itself, the knowledge of a dangerous condition can also be attributed to an employee and their actions. This is because owners assume liability for the actions of their employees while they are on the job.

While car insurance is required for every Florida driver, in reality, a frighteningly large number of Florida drivers are uninsured. This can cause significant problems when they get into accidents. In fact, other drivers’ lack of insurance is one of the reasons that all Florida drivers are encouraged to purchase Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance (UIM).

If a Florida driver is seriously injured in an accident caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver, they may be unable to recover fully for their injuries and the resulting medical bills, forcing them to pay out of pocket for an accident they did not cause. UIM protects drivers by providing coverage for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, helping to make sure that a Florida car accident victim does not go bankrupt solely because they were hit by an uninsured motorist.

Despite its importance, UIM benefits can sometimes be difficult to actually obtain, since insurance companies may attempt to find ways to avoid paying the amount that they owe their clients. For example, take a recent Florida case where an injured driver had to take her insurance company, USAA, to court to try and recover UIM damages she believed she was owed. The plaintiff had suffered injuries to her left knee while attending the U.S. Naval Academy, and had even needed knee surgery in the past. She presented evidence to the jury, however, that her left knee was further injured in the car accident she was involved in, which was caused by an uninsured motorist. USAA attempted to escape liability by arguing that the plaintiff’s knee was already injured before the car accident and that she was not entitled to compensation from her insurance.

Recently, a state appellate court issued its opinion in a Florida premises liability lawsuit arising out of fatal injuries a hotel guest suffered after being hit by a car. The record indicates that the injury victim was staying at the hotel when he got into a hotel golf cart and asked a hotel employee to drop him off at a trading post near the hotel. Besides a shuttle service to transport guests across a major highway, the hotel provided guests with a golf cart service for transportation throughout the resort. Hotel protocol provided that golf carts could not be used on public roads, except across a smaller portion of the highway for pick up and drop off on the east side of a major highway. In this case, the hotel employee drove the plaintiff across the smaller highway, and dropped him off at the east entrance to the major highway. As the plaintiff was stepping out of the golf cart, a car struck him.

After filing a negligence lawsuit against the hotel, the plaintiff died, and his case was amended to include a wrongful death claim. The plaintiff’s representative argued that the resort was negligent; however, the defendant claimed that their conduct did not create a foreseeable risk of harm. Further, the defendant argued that they did not breach their duty to the plaintiff, and the danger of stepping out onto a busy highway was open and obvious. The primary issue on appeal was whether the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim.

In Florida, questions concerning whether a defendant owes a duty of care is a question of law. To address this threshold issue, courts will analyze whether the defendant created a “foreseeable zone of risk,” thereby establishing a duty of care to the plaintiff. Generally, Florida negligence law recognizes that in cases where a defendant argues that the danger was within a foreseeable risk zone, they must still establish that they mitigated the risk or took steps to protect others from harm.

When a person is injured on another’s property, it can often be very painful and life-altering. In many of these cases, the property owner knew about the dangerous condition and did nothing to correct it or warn visitors of the hazard. Despite this, injury victims will often assume the accident is their fault and take no further action. However, Florida law allows those injured in these situations to hold the property owner liable by filing a premises liability lawsuit.

In a recent case, a Florida state appellate court was tasked with determining whether a property owner was negligent after the plaintiff was injured on the owner’s elevator. Evidently, the plaintiff injured his back and neck as he left his doctor’s office, stepping into the elevator, and not noticing the floor of the elevator was eighteen to twenty-four inches below the landing. The plaintiff brought a premises liability lawsuit, alleging the property owner was liable for his injuries. Ultimately, the court concluded that the record was insufficient to warrant a dismissal in the case, reversing the decision of the trial judge. Thus, the plaintiff’s case will be able to be heard by a jury.

In Florida, a property owner has a duty to maintain their property, like an elevator, in a safe condition. However, the duty to keep property safe is twofold because an owner must use reasonable care: (1) to learn of the existence of any dangerous conditions on the premises; (2) to protect people from dangerous conditions they have knowledge of. This means that if a property owner fails to take reasonable steps to learn of a dangerous condition, they could still be found negligent. Additionally, in most cases, a property owner’s duty to maintain their property in a safe condition cannot be delegated to others.

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