There are three basic types of civil liability (legal responsibility) in Florida personal injury cases:
Intentional torts are those that involve actions like assault and battery – some kind of intentional action that caused physical harm to someone else. Strict liability most typically arises in product liability cases, and involves a legal responsibility – even though there was no actual negligence or intent to do harm. Rather, it is simply by the design/ production/ distribution of a defective product that caused harm that a defendant can be liable.
By far, most personal injury claims and lawsuits involve a claim of negligence. This is usually what is alleged in cases involving car accidents, slip-and-falls and medical malpractice. Negligence is an unintentional act or inaction (by someone who had a duty or obligation to conform to a certain standard of conduct) that resulted in injury to another person.
To prove negligence, there are four basic elements that must be proven by the plaintiff (who bears the burden of proof in civil liability cases). Those elements are:
- Breach of duty.
To break it down a bit farther, plaintiff (person making the accusation) must first establish that defendant (accused wrongdoer) owed plaintiff a duty that required defendant to act a certain way in order to protect placing others at an unreasonable risk of harm (see the 2003 Florida Supreme Court case of Clay Elec. Co-Op. Inc. v. Johnson). From there, plaintiff has to prove defendant failed to conform to the standard of conduct when they had that duty. Then, plaintiff needs to show there is a reasonably close causal connection between the misconduct and the injury to plaintiff. A cause-in-fact can be proven when there is a connection between defendant’s actions and plaintiff’s loss. There is also proximate cause, which is the direct cause for one’s injury (not necessarily the closest act in time, but the most significant act). Finally, plaintiff must show he/ she has suffered some form of actual harm or injury.
It’s important to point out that negligent misconduct in and of itself will not be enough to bring about a cause of action or compel a court to hold a defendant civilly liable. One must prove all four of these elements to recover damages.
But what if defendant isn’t the only one negligent? What if there are multiple defendants or what if plaintiff shares some of the responsibility? F.S. 768.81 is the provision that addresses this. The statute holds that negligence can be apportioned to be more than one defendant and could potentially be shared by the plaintiff. Each party is responsible for his or her own negligence, and a plaintiff’s comparative fault will proportionately reduce his or her damages.
So for instance, if plaintiff is 30 percent at-fault and defendant is 70 percent at fault and damages are $100,000, defendant will only be responsible to cover $70,000 in damages to plaintiff. The good news is that Florida is a pure comparative fault state, which means plaintiffs are not barred from recovering damages no matter how much they are at-fault. So a plaintiff who is 99 percent liable can recover 1 percent of damages. Many other states prohibit plaintiffs from obtaining any damages if they are 50 percent or more to blame. Still, our experienced personal injury attorneys in Fort Myers aim to diminish any finding of comparative fault that could negatively impact your overall damage award.
Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.
Clay Elec. Co-Op. Inc. v. Johnson, Dec. 18, 2013, Florida Supreme Court
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Naples DUI Death, Injuries Results in Criminal Conviction, Sept. 8, 2017, Florida Personal Injury Attorney Blog