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Federal Appeals Court Affirms Crash Case Dismissal, Florida Courts Might Have Different Outcome

The lawsuit brought by the widow of a fatally injured motorcyclist was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on the grounds that she failed to establish the defendant’s owed a duty to her husband.
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Had the case been in Florida, our Fort Myers motorcycle crash attorneys know the outcome may have been different. That’s because Nebraska, where this crash occurred, does not recognize the theory of foreseeability in determining duty of care. Florida does.

The doctrine of foreseeability weighs whether the person or entity alleged to have caused injury should have reasonably foreseen the consequences that would result from the conduct in question. In the case of Packard v. Falls City Area Jaycees, there may have been enough evidence to support the notion that the defendants could have reasonably foreseen harm and failed to act to prevent it.

According to court records, the crash occurred in August 2011. At the time, the defendant, a non-profit organization, was hosting its annual Demolition Derby Tractor Pull at a nearby park. The property is owned by another entity and leased by a third. (All three were later named defendants in the case.)

The day of the event, it is undisputed that the defendants were aware traffic would be heavier than usual because in addition to the event, there was flooding nearby and a bridge closure. Previously at this event, the local police or county helped with traffic control. On this particular day, no one was aiding motorists or warning of danger at the nearby intersection.

The at-fault driver was on his way to the event. He approached the intersection, entered the motorcyclist’s lane and the struck the motorcyclist, fatally injuring him.

The plaintiff’s widow sued for negligence and wrongful death. The case against the at-fault driver was dismissed after she reached a settlement with his insurer. However, her claim against the non-profit and owners of the property continued.

The trial court noted that in order to recover damages, the plaintiff needed to show there was a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty and causation resulting from that breach that proximately resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.

In holding third parties responsible for the conduct of other individuals, the courts have held some special relationship must exist between the defendant and the plaintiff. Foreseeability of harm, however, was not considered, pursuant to a previous ruling made by the state supreme court.

The plaintiff in this case did not argue there was a special relationship between the defendants and her husband. Rather, she contends the defendants had a responsibility to the public to control the traffic around the intersection.

The trial court disagreed, and the federal appellate court affirmed. The court noted case law (the 1989 Indiana decision in Holiday Ramnbler Corp. v. Gessinger) indicating responsibility for traffic control on public roads typically rests solely with the government. However, there have been cases in which an occupier of property adjacent to a public highway may owe a duty of care to the public to exercise reasonable care to prevent injury caused by unreasonable risks caused by the land occupier.

The problem is the plaintiff failed to indicate there were any unreasonable or dangerous circumstances posed by the defendants. The ruling didn’t give a private property owner the duty to control, direct or regulate traffic on a public street. Rather, it holds property owners need to correct dangerous conditions on their own property.

Without the factor of foreseeability (on which injured parties in Florida might rely), the court indicated the plaintiff failed to prove her claim.

Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:
Packard v. Falls City Area Jaycees, July 17, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
More Blog Entries:
FL 3rd DCA Rules No Vicarious Liability in Tribe Case, July 17, 2014, Fort Myers Car Accident Attorney Blog