Articles Tagged with catastrophic injury

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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_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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med mal blogIn Woodson v. Go, Florida’ Fifth District Court of Appeal (“Fifth DCA”) held that even in complex medical malpractice cases, the trial court has broad discretion to place limitations on expert witnesses. The holding represents a self-proclaimed rescission from Lake v. Clark, a 1988 Fifth DCA decision that overturned a trial court’s exclusion of a doctor’s expert witness testimony on standard of care.

The Woodson case involved a Plaintiff who claimed medical malpractice for negligent placement of a cardiac cauterization and failure to timely detect the resulting occlusion. To further his case, the plaintiff sought to call two interventional cardiologists as expert witnesses. The trial court allowed this, but limited one expert to liability only and the other only to causation. The Defendants all denied liability and maintained that they properly met the standard of care. At trial, the Defendants were victorious on liability which prompted the Plaintiff to appeal the final judgment based on the limitation of expert witnesses.

In upholding the verdict for the Defendants, the Fifth DCA held, “…we see no reason to permit litigants in medical malpractice cases to have an almost unfettered right to present cumulative expert witness testimony.” Applying an abuse of discretion standard, the appellate court noted black-letter Florida law that gives trial courts broad discretion in placing limitations on expert witnesses. See Lion Plumbing Supply, Inc. v. Suarez, 844 So. 2d 768, 770 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003); Elder v. Farulla, 768 So. 2d 1155 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000). The court also referenced Fla. Stat 90.612(1)(b), Fla. Stat. 90.403 and Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.200(b)(4), all of which give the trial court the duty and power to limit cumulative testimony, including that of experts, for the purposes of an expedient trial.

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In a landmark decision, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal (“Fourth DCA”) in North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan held that caps on non-economic damages in personal injury medical malpractice cases violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution.

shutterstock_184358357The Plaintiff,  Susan Kalitan, suffered serious injury due to medical negligence when she went in for a carpal tunnel surgery that required anesthesia. The Defendant/anesthesiologist punctured a hole in her esophagus while performing intubation. When Ms. Kalitan awoke after surgery, she complained of excruciating pain in her chest and back but the anesthesiologist failed to detect the problem. She was released from the hospital, but the next day Ms. Kalitan’s neighbor found her at home unresponsive. She was rushed back to the hospital for life-saving surgery. Ms. Kalitan spent several weeks in a drug-induced coma before having additional surgeries and intensive therapy to begin eating again and regain mobility. She presently suffers from pain in the upper half of her body and serious mental disorders as a result of this traumatic incident and loss of independence due to physical limitations.

At trial, the jury awarded Ms. Kalitan $4 million in non-economic damages, but that figure was reduced by the trial court post-verdict to $2 million under the non-economic damages caps found in Fla. Stat. 766.118. The trial court denied the Plaintiff’s arguments that the caps were unconstitutional violations of the Equal Protection Clause, her right to access the courts and her right to trial by jury.

Ms. Kalitan appealed the reduction of her jury-awarded damages to the Fourth DCA where she was victorious. Judge Forst delivered the opinion for the appellate court, wherein he carefully followed the Florida Supreme Court’s rationale in Estate of McCall v. United States, 134 So. 3d 894 (Fla. 2014). In Estate of McCall, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that caps on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases violated Florida’s Equal Protection Clause as, “the greater the number of survivors and the more devastating their losses are, the less likely they are to be fully compensated for those loses”, particularly in comparison to cases where there was only one survivor.

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