In Manfre v. Shinkle, Kathleen Shinkle was injured when her automobile crashed after striking a dead horse lying on the roadway. The collision with the horse caused her vehicle to flip over and land on its roof. Shinkle sustained serious injuries.
An estimated hour and a half before Shinkle’s accident, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office had been called to report that two horses were roaming the side of the road. When the deputy arrived on the scene, the horses were scared by the lights on the deputy’s car and returned to the pasture. The deputy did not try to get in touch with the property owner.
Some time later, one of the horses came back onto the road from the pasture. At this time, the horse was hit and killed by a motorist. This is the background story regarding how the dead horse came to be on the street.
Shinkle filed a negligence claim against the Sheriff, alleging that the deputy violated the duty of care owed to individuals on county roads by failing to alert the property owner to make sure that the horses would not return to the road. The trial court denied the Sheriff’s motion for summary judgment and directed verdict, both rooted in the argument that the Sheriff did not owe Shinkle a duty of care.
The Fifth DCA held that the Sheriff did not owe a duty of care to Shinkle either by common law or by statute. Under the common law public duty doctrine, courts have consistently maintained that the duties to enforce laws and protect citizens are owed to the public at large, not to specific injured persons as in this case. Put another way, since the Sheriff owes duties to enforce the law and protect citizens as a whole, the Sheriff does not owe a duty to a person who is hurt by the Sheriff’s failure to enforce the law or generally protect the public.
Shinkle also argued that the Sheriff owed her a duty under Florida Statutes section 588.13(13), which states that the Sheriff has a duty to address the problem of livestock “running at large or straying” because it could pose a threat to public safety. Again, the court concluded that the Sheriff owed a duty to address this problem to the public, rather than to Shinkle herself.
Next, the court addressed Shinkle’s claim that a special duty of care was owed to her. A special duty arises when law enforcement officers become directly involved in a situation that places individuals within a “zone of risk” through one of the following: i) creating or allowing hazards to exist; ii) taking individuals into police custody; iii) detaining them; or iv) otherwise exposing them to danger. Here, the deputy’s actions did not create a foreseeable zone of risk because he did not have control over the circumstances or Shinkle. In fact, the deputy never had any contact with Shinkle because her wreck took place some time after he had been on the scene.
As a result, the appeals court reversed and remanded the judgment.
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