Articles Posted in Personal Injury Law

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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_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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shutterstock_78346864Under Florida Statute §768.79 and Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.442, parties in civil lawsuits are entitled to make Proposals for Settlements to the opposition. A Proposal for Settlement involves making a formal offer in writing to the other side to settle a case for a certain dollar amount. If the offeree does not accept the settlement offer within 30 days and the case proceeds to a trial and jury verdict, he or she can be liable for the attorneys’ fees and costs of the prevailing party offeror. The topic of Proposals for Settlement has led to a plethora of appellate decisions regarding their enforceability. This is largely due to the fact that there is no standard form issued by either the Florida Supreme Court of the legislature. This means the parties have to draft their own Proposals for Settlement and the courts have to determine on a case-by-case basis whether they are enforceable as written.

One recent appellate decision on a Proposal for Settlement, Miley v. Nash, provided guidance to practitioners on drafting these documents. In Miley, Martha Nash sued the Defendants for personal injuries that stemmed from an automobile accident. Her husband, Garfield Nash, brought a claim for loss of consortium. The Nash’s alleged that Kyle Miley, while driving a vehicle owned by Glenn Miley, negligently caused the subject car crash.

Prior to trial, the Defendant, Kyle Miley, made a Proposal for Settlement to the Plaintiff, Martha Nash, in the amount of $58,590. The Proposal read that it was, “an attempt to resolve all claims and causes of action resulting from the incident or accident giving rise to this lawsuit brought by Plaintiff Martha Nash against Defendant Kyle Mylie.” The proposal required that Marsha Nash dismiss both Defendants but was completely silent as to Garfield Nash and the loss of consortium claim.

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