Articles Posted in Florida Personal Injury Caselaw

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Many people often underestimate the complexity of Florida personal injury lawsuits. Even the most straightforward civil lawsuits require plaintiffs to abide by strict procedural and substantive laws. The failure to meet the demanding standards may result in a dismissal and waiver of recovery. As such, injury victims should contact a skilled attorney to preserve their rights and fully understand their potential remedies.

Some of the most critical procedural requirements occur before or at the onset of a civil trial. The first step to a Florida personal injury lawsuit is the pleadings stage. Pleadings are filings that assert the plaintiff’s allegations, causes of actions, and the defendant’s responses to the allegations. This stage includes the complaint, answer, responsive motions, counterclaims, cross claims and third-party claims, and amendments. The term “pleadings” is more technical and narrow than it may appear. The scope is particularly relevant during certain litigation stages, such as the motions to dismiss. During this stage, the parties may not present, and the court cannot consider, evidence outside of the pleadings.

After pleadings, courts will often move to pretrial conference scheduling. This stage aims to simplify the trial by scheduling case management conferences between the parties to discuss experts, amendments, and other litigation issues. Discovery, discovery methods, protective orders, and sanctions occur at this stage.

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Summary judgment is a procedural tool that either party in a civil lawsuit can use to dismiss specific issues from a lawsuit. Florida’s summary judgment rules have undergone some drastic changes in the last few months, and plaintiffs must understand how the procedural tool functions in court settings. In most cases, lawsuits proceed to trial because the plaintiff and defendant disagree about the facts of a case. However, in some situations, critical facts of a case may not be under dispute. In these cases, a party may ask the court to decide the lawsuit’s outcome without a trial. This is only applicable when there are no material facts under dispute, and in light of the undisputed facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment under the law.

Under Florida laws, a plaintiff cannot file a summary judgment motion within the first 20 days after filing a complaint. However, the defendant can file a summary judgment motion at any time. The motion must specifically detail the grounds upon which it is based and identify all evidence that the moving party relies upon. The movant must file and appropriately serve the other party with the motion at least 20 days before the scheduled hearing date. Both parties can use depositions, interrogatories, and expert affidavits to support or oppose a summary judgment motion.

After the judge receives the motion and response, they will preside over the hearing and listen to the attorneys present their arguments. These hearings do not involve any other oral testimony. Summary judgment is a useful tool for plaintiffs; however, when the other party moves for summary judgment, a plaintiff may risk having their case dismissed. An experienced attorney can help plaintiffs understand the best course of action in cases involving summary judgment.

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Premises liability is a form of negligence that imputes liability on a landowner or occupier for injuries that occur on their property. Premises liability claims can arise from various situations such as slip and falls, pool accidents, dog bites, and other home-related accidents. The law generally categorizes a landowner’s liability based on the classification of the visitor. The three main types of visitors under Florida premises liability law are invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Licensees are those that enter the property owner’s land for the owner’s convenience and with their permission. These visitors typically include social guests like friends or family. Landowners must ensure that their property is reasonably safe, fix unsafe conditions, and warn social guests of known dangers. Trespassers are those that enter a landowner’s property without consent or knowledge. Landowners have limited duties in these cases and must exercise reasonable care for trespassers that he knows are on the property.

Invitees are those that enter an owner’s land with the intent to transact business with the landowner’s express or implied invitation. The law provides that landowners owe these parties the highest duty of care. Landowners must ensure that their property is in a safe condition, and if it is not, they must repair defects or notify invitees of the known hazards on the property. The law further delineates the group into business invitees and public invitees. Business invitees are those that enter the land for a direct or indirect business dealing with the owner. Whereas, public invitees, are those who enter the property for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public.

There are many nuances to Florida’s premises liability laws that may drastically change a property owner’s liability. For instance, independent contractors do not fall squarely within any of the classifications. Generally, property owners are not liable for injuries that an independent contractor sustains on their land while performing their job duties. However, a recent Florida court addressed an exception to this general rule. In that case, an independent contractor filed a lawsuit against a property owner for injuries he sustained after being electrocuted while trimming trees on the property. The plaintiff conceded that he saw the electric lines, but did not know if they were high voltage lines.

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Recently, a Florida appellate court issued an opinion in a plaintiff’s appeal stemming from a premises liability lawsuit. The case arose after a customer spilled laundry detergent near a checkout counter at a Dollar General. A store manager and employee were working at the register when the spill occurred. The manager went to get cleaning supplies and left the employee to assist customers in checking out. About a minute later, the plaintiff entered the store and slipped on the detergent, sustaining serious injuries.

The plaintiff argued that the defendant was negligent because they did not safely maintain their premises or warn him of potential hazards. The defendant moved for summary judgment claiming that it did not breach its duty because there was not enough time between the spill and fall to remedy the hazard.

Under Florida law, courts reviewing summary judgment motions must draw all inferences in favor of the plaintiff against whom the order is sought. Courts can only grant these motions when there are no disputes regarding any genuine issues of material fact. In instances where a defendant moves for summary judgment, the defendant must show that it did not breach any duty to the plaintiff. In Florida, business owners owe a duty to maintain their premises in a safe condition and warn customers of any dangers it knew about, or should have known about.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida wrongful death lawsuit against a hospitality company. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

According to the court’s opinion, the resort provided guests with a shuttle service to take them to various locations within two miles of the lodge, including across U.S. Highway 1. Additionally, it provided guests with a golf cart service to take guests around the property; however, the golf carts were prohibited from traveling on public roads. There was an exception that allowed the golf cart to cross Old Highway 1 to pick up and drop off guests on the east side of U.S. Highway 1.

The case involved a guest at the hotel lodge who got into a golf cart and asked a staff member for a ride. The staff member agreed, but did not know the man’s destination. However, while they were in the cart, the man asked the staff member to take him to the trading post on U.S Highway 1. Following the hotel’s policy, the staff member drove the guest across Old Highway 1, about twenty feet from U.S. Highway 1. As the guest was exiting the golf cart, a vehicle hit him. He died shortly after filing a negligence lawsuit against the vehicle driver and lodge. The executor of the man’s estate amended the complaint to assert a wrongful death claim against the defendants.

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Recently, an appellate court issued an opinion in an appeal stemming from a woman’s claim for uninsured/underinsured(UM) coverage against her insurance company. The woman suffered injuries in a car accident and subsequently filed a negligence claim against the at-fault driver, the owner of the vehicle, as well as a UM claim against her insurance provider. After settling the claims with the driver and car owner, the case proceeded against her insurance provider. The trial court granted the woman’s motion for a directed verdict. The insurance company appealed, arguing that a directed verdict was inappropriate and the case should proceed to a jury trial.

The woman argued that she suffered several injuries due to the accident, but the specific issue in the appeal revolves around injuries to her left knee. The evidence indicates that the woman suffered injuries to her knee while attending the Naval Academy and again while walking. About two months before the accident, the woman underwent surgery for a torn meniscus. She reported that her knee was improving until the car accident. The woman sought treatment from numerous doctors until she found one that would treat her under a letter of protection.

A letter of protection is an agreement between a patient who does not have insurance and a health-care provider. This document provides that the medical provider agrees to a deferred payment while the client is involved in a court case. In most cases, the patient is still responsible for the provider’s bill, regardless of the outcome of their lawsuit.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida slip and fall case involving a woman who fell while at a grocery store. The case required the court to determine if the woman presented sufficient evidence to show that the store had constructive knowledge of the hazard that caused her fall. Ultimately, the court found that the plaintiff could not succeed in her claim because the evidence did not suggest that the danger was present for a sufficient period of time to impute constructive knowledge of the hazard to the store.

Florida slip and fall cases are based on the legal theory of negligence. Thus, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant knew or should have known about the hazard. If a defendant is entirely unaware of a hazard, courts will generally not find that the defendant was negligent in failing to address the risk. There are two ways to prove a defendant’s knowledge of the hazard. The first is by showing that the defendant had actual knowledge of the hazard. This may be demonstrated by submitting a previous customer complaint about a hazard.

Constructive knowledge is the other way that a plaintiff can prove the defendant knew about the dangerous condition that caused their fall. Constructive knowledge is essentially a legal fiction that, when present, imputes knowledge of a hazard to a defendant. In Florida, there are two ways to establish constructive knowledge, 1.) by showing the amount of time that the hazard was present or, 2.) by showing that the dangerous condition occurred so often that the defendant should have known of its existence.

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Recently a Florida appellate court issued an opinion regarding an accident arising from shoulder injuries a man suffered when he lost control of his bicycle and fell into a drainage ditch. The man filed a personal injury lawsuit against the county alleging that they had actual or constructive knowledge of the unsafe and dangerous ditch, they failed to warn the public of the hazard, and they negligently maintained the ditch.

The plaintiff presented an expert who testified that the shoulder area of the intersection did not have a recovery slope or clear zones for bicyclists to control their bikes safely. Further, during a deposition, the expert stated that the pavement was hazardous because the pavement was deteriorating and cracked. The county moved to dismiss the case, arguing that they were not liable because the plaintiff did not establish causation. They claimed that the plaintiff could not remember how the accident occurred or how he fell into the ditch.

Florida law provides that the party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate that the case presents no genuine issues of material fact, and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In the context of personal injury cases, the inquiry is not whether the plaintiff has evidence or personal knowledge of facts establishing the at-fault party’s negligence. Further, defendants moving for summary judgment do not meet their burden just by pointing to the plaintiff’s inability to prove exactly what caused their damages. Instead, it is the trier of fact’s job to answer questions regarding causation.

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The Florida District Court of Appeals recently released an opinion addressing whether a property owner breached its non-delegable statutory duty to a person injured on a boat dock. The case arose after a woman suffered injuries on a boat dock outside of her friends’ beach club condominium. The woman filed a lawsuit against the beach club, her friends, and the construction company that was in charge of repairing the dock. She contended that the beach club was liable for breaching its duty to maintain the dock, the construction was responsible for failing to repair the dock, and her friends should have warned her of any hazardous conditions.

In response, the beach club argued the affirmative defense of comparative negligence, alleging that third parties caused the woman’s injuries. However, the plaintiff argued that the beach club was jointly and severally liable for all of her damages, and the defense was inappropriate because the club did not identify the other parties’ negligence.

Florida premises liability law states that property owners must use reasonable care in maintaining their property, and they must warn invitees of concealed or latent dangers that are unknown to the invitee. Moreover, Florida’s Condominium Act provides that condo associations must maintain their common areas in a reasonably safe condition. In this case, the contract between the condo association and owners imposed an additional non-delegable duty, which required the beach club to maintain the dock and other communal areas.

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The state’s high court recently issued an opinion in a case that arose out of a fatal Florida motorcycle accident. In this case, the motorcycle driver’s estate filed a claim with his uninsured motorist (UM) benefits under his home insurance company policy issued on a collector vehicle. The insurance company denied coverage, arguing that the policy contained a provision that limited the UM benefits to accidents involving the collector vehicle. The family appealed the ruling to Florida’s Supreme Court, arguing that the insurance policy did not comply with section 627.727, Florida Statutes, which prohibits insurance companies from placing limitations on UM coverage, such as the one at issue.

The insurance company argued that the Florida statute does not apply to specialty insurance policies. However, the plaintiffs contended that the statute provides that insurers may offer non-stacking coverage if the insurer notifies the policyholder of the limitations and executes an approved form expressly electing non-stacking coverage. Further, although the statute provides certain exceptions to the statutory limit, the law states explicitly that, “no motor vehicle liability insurance policy shall be delivered in this state unless UM vehicle coverage is provided.” Moreover, the statute allows for limited UM coverage if the policyholder did not purchase it.

Here, the court found that nothing in the statute excludes collector or antique vehicles, the limiting language in the collector vehicle policy violates the law, and the plaintiff did not reject the UM coverage, and he instead selected stacking UM coverage. Ultimately, because the insurance policy did not comply with Florida’s statutory requirements regarding UM limitations, the court found in favor of the plaintiff.

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