In many Florida personal injury cases, more than one party is to blame. Even a plaintiff may share the blame in causing an accident. In these cases, Florida law applies the doctrine of comparative negligence. Under the doctrine of comparative negligence, liability is apportioned depending on the percentage that each party is at fault, as determined by the fact finder (a judge or a jury). That means that if a jury finds that a party is 60 percent at fault and another is 40 percent at fault, each party will be liable for the plaintiff’s damages according to their respective percentage of fault.
This is true also for the plaintiff. Under the doctrine of pure comparative of negligence, and under Florida Statute 768.81(2), even if a plaintiff is found to be mostly at fault, the plaintiff can still recover compensation from other at-fault parties. That is, if a plaintiff is found partially at fault, a plaintiff’s recovery will not be barred entirely, but the compensation owed to the plaintiff will be reduced according to the plaintiff’s percentage of fault.
A defendant may also try to blame an accident on a non-party—a person or an entity that is not a party to the lawsuit. In that case, to allocate fault to a non-party, a defendant may plead the fault of the non-party, and must identify the non-party or describe the non-party as precisely as possible. A defendant must generally identify a non-party at fault by motion or in the initial responsive pleading in the lawsuit when the defendant asserts its defenses. At trial, the defendant must then prove that the non-party was at fault in causing the plaintiff’s injuries by a preponderance of the evidence. A fact finder must then apportion the negligence of the defendant and the negligence of the plaintiff and any other non-parties, ultimately calculating the defendant’s liability. Importantly, when a defendant can shift fault to a non-party, a plaintiff will not typically be able to file another complaint against that party. Thus, it is critical to investigate all potentially liable parties and name them from the outset.