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In a simple dispute between two parties, one imagines that they go through one trial, the jury or judge considers the issues, and a decision is rendered. Not all cases, however, are this simple. When different types of damages determinations are involved, for example, court procedures can change in the course of a lawsuit. In a recent Florida district court of appeal decision, the court had to consider such an issue. The plaintiff was stopped at a red light when he was rear-ended by the defendant. Following the collision, the plaintiff sued the defendant for compensatory damages. The plaintiff also sued for punitive damages because the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the accident. Before trial, the parties agreed that if the plaintiff was awarded compensatory damages, then he would also be entitled to punitive damages. During the trial, the plaintiff introduced evidence of the defendant’s intoxication, which was irrelevant to the determination of compensatory damages. The jury awarded the plaintiff significant compensatory and punitive damages following trial.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the lower court should not have allowed the plaintiff to introduce evidence of intoxication during the trial, and the court agreed and sided with the defendant. According to the court, when considering compensatory damages during the trial, the jury was not supposed to factor in whether or not the defendant was intoxicated because the parties had agreed prior to trial that punitive damages would be available only if the plaintiff received compensatory damages first. Thus, the evidence of intoxication unduly influenced the jury to take it into consideration when awarding compensatory damages and resulted in a larger award.

In Florida, bifurcation, or a judge’s ability to divide a trial into two parts to render a decision on two separate legal issues, is proper when compensatory and punitive damages are both considered in a case. For example, in a case such as this one, punitive damages were only available because the defendant was intoxicated, but the plaintiff would only be eligible for them if he was awarded compensatory damages first. The defendant claimed the introduction of the evidence unfairly influenced the jury’s ability to fairly determine compensatory damages and should have been reserved for a separate trial phase.

Florida’s sunny and year-round temperate weather makes the state a popular hub for motorcyclists. The state has many residents and out-of-state visitors who pursue their passion for riding motorcycles; in fact, the state holds some of the country’s largest biking events. Despite the prevalence of bikers, many are not aware of their rights and remedies if they suffer injuries in a Florida motorcycle accident. Moreover, the law protects motorcycle passenger victims as well.

Many motorcyclists face undue biases when attempting to recover damages from a negligent motorist or through an insurance claim. However, under Florida Statutes section 316.208, motorcyclists maintain the same duties and rights as any other motorist. However, it is essential to note that the law distinguishes bikers and moped drivers.

Motorcyclists must abide by the applicable rules and regulations regarding their vehicle’s operation. First, the law requires motorcyclists to wear a helmet and ensure that their vehicle has specific safety equipment. Some of the required safety equipment includes, stop lamps, turn signals, headlights, and level handlebars. Additionally, motorcycle operators must obey protective gear requirements. Under these safety rules, bikers must maintain an active and valid motorcycle license, wear helmets if they are under 21-years-old, and wear approved eye protection.

When a plaintiff files a lawsuit in Florida, often the dispute can be resolved before the case ever makes it to trial. Although there are various points where the issue may be resolved before going to trial, a motion for summary judgment is one of the most common ways to get a court to enter a judgment in your favor, avoiding the need to battle it out with the other party through an expensive and stressful trial.

In a recent Supreme Court of Florida decision, the court examined the role of video evidence in light of a summary judgment motion. Following a fatal rear-end car accident, the estate of the deceased sued the other party. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants after video evidence from the vehicle’s forward-facing dashboard camera contradicted the estate of the deceased’s version of events. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s summary judgment ruling, claiming that the lower court had improperly weighed the video evidence in light of all of the facts of the case.

On appeal before the Florida Supreme Court, the court affirmed the appellate court’s decision to reverse summary judgment. Because the appellate court understood that summary judgment should not be granted in instances where evidence or the record raises even the slightest doubt that a dispute could be had over issues in the case, the Florida Supreme Court felt the appellate court considered the issue properly.

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.

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