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Plaintiffs in Negligence Cases Must Establish the Duty of Care – Downs v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

oceanWhen you’ve been injured due to someone else’s carelessness, you can typically file a negligence lawsuit to seek financial compensation for your injuries. Negligence is the failure to take reasonable care in one’s actions or omissions that causes harm or injury to another. Put another way, negligence is the failure to do something properly that results in damage to someone else. Under Florida law, a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within four years from the date of the accident.

In order to establish negligence a plaintiff must prove the following elements: 1) the defendant owed plaintiff a duty of care; 2) the defendant breached the duty of care owed to plaintiff; 3) the defendant’s breach caused the accident; and 4) the plaintiff suffered harm or injury as a result. Generally, a duty of care arises when one person undertakes an activity that could potentially harm another. For example, a duty of care exists from one driver to another. The duty of care refers to the obligation of an individual to act in a way that a reasonably prudent person would act in the same or similar circumstances.

In Downs v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that a plaintiff suing a defendant under the theory of negligence must demonstrate the defendant owed that person a duty of care and that the defendant’s breach was the direct cause of plaintiff’s injuries.

The facts of the case are as follows. The plaintiff was injured in an accident when he dove into shallow ocean water on Miami Beach. He sustained multiple serious injuries including a fractured vertebra which rendered him a quadriplegic. Plaintiff then sued the Corps of Engineers who were working on a joint project with Miami Dade County. The Corps had also hired Construction Aggregates to do parts of the project such as remove all rocks larger than two inches in diameter from the shallow water on the beach.

A district court ruled that the Corps and Miami Dade were each 15 percent liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. The city of Miami was deemed to be 20 percent liable, while the plaintiff himself was rendered 50 percent liable.

The 11th Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision, reasoning that the plaintiff had failed to establish that the Corps owed him a duty of care and also that the Corps’ breach directly caused his injuries. This element needed to be established under Florida law for the plaintiff to be able to recover any damages stemming from the accident. The plaintiff presented no evidence regarding the duty of care among engineers and what another engineer would have done in the same or similar circumstances.

Additionally, the plaintiff presented no evidence that the defendant’s breach was the direct cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. In fact, there is nothing to suggest that the plaintiff’s injuries would have been avoided if the rock had not been in the water. An expert at the trial noted that even if “you take the rock away, the same neck injury would occur” due to the nature of the accident and the shallow ocean floor where it happened.

Negligence cases are often complicated and present a variety of different issues. This is why having an experienced attorney on your side can make all the difference. Robert Dixon is an experienced and highly reputable Miami injury lawyer who will zealously fight for your rights and help you get the compensation you deserve. Our firm proudly represents clients throughout Florida.

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Social Media and Your Personal Injury Case – Root v. Balfour Beatty Construction, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, July 21, 2014

Understanding the Basics of “Catastrophic Injuries” Under Florida Law, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, July 7, 2014

Understanding the Pure Comparative Negligence Law in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, June 23, 2014