Recently, a Florida appellate court issued an opinion in response to a defendant’s motion for certiorari review. The record indicates that the defendant drove under the influence of alcohol and marijuana and ran his car into the plaintiff and seven other pedestrians. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, and while the civil case was pending, the defendant pleaded guilty in a related criminal case. After the defendant pled guilty, the plaintiff moved to amend his complaint to add a claim for punitive damages.

The lower court held a hearing to determine whether the plaintiff met the evidentiary burden necessary for punitive damages claims. The defendant’s attorney contended that the law requires the court to find clear, convincing evidence that the plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages. The defendant’s attorney conceded that the relevant statute does not discuss the burden, but rather the court’s gatekeeping function. Moreover, they argued that the plaintiff must make a “reasonable showing” that there is a “reasonable basis” for the damages.

Under Florida Statutes Section 768.72(1), punitive damages will not be permitted unless the claimant proffers a reasonable showing for a basis for the claim. The issue is whether the statute requires the trial court to make an “express or affirmative” finding of a basis for punitive damages.

Property owners owe guests a duty to ensure that their property is reasonably safe. The extent of the duty a landowner owes to a guest, however, will depend on the reason for the guest’s visit. Under Florida slip and fall law, invitees are owed the greatest duty, while trespassers are owed the lowest duty. Licensees occupy a middle ground.

Florida law distinguishes between public invitees and business invitees. A public invitee is a guest who is present on property that is generally open to the public for non-business reasons. A visitor at a public park is an example of a public invitee. A business invitee, on the other hand, is someone who is present on another’s property for some business purpose. A common example of a business invitee is a customer at a grocery store. Business invitees and public invitees are both owed the same duty by landowners. However, a public invitee may need to deal with sovereign immunity issues when pursuing a claim for compensation. Of course, to successfully bring a Florida premises liability lawsuit, the injured party must be able to show that the landowner owed them a duty, and that the landowner violated that duty.

In a recent Florida court of appeals decision, a plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased against a Florida hotel and resort following a golf cart accident that resulted in the individual’s death. The defendant hotel provided a complimentary golf cart service to transport guests around its property and on its grounds. The golf cart was not allowed to travel on roads beyond the hotel grounds, but it could drop passengers off who could then cross a highway on foot.

In the aftermath of a Florida personal injury related accident, filing a claim for compensation is crucial, especially if you have been severely injured. However, the evidence of injury must be clear, as well as the full extent of the damage suffered by the accident victim. For example, if a plaintiff in a case is unable to prove the extent of their injuries and convince the jury of the damage, they may be prevented from receiving full compensation for their damages related to the pain and suffering they experienced.

In a recent Florida appellate court opinion, the plaintiff’s car was struck by the defendant at a low speed while the two vehicles were exiting the highway. The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendant, claiming that the accident caused her to suffer a permanent back injury. The jury found that the defendant had indeed caused the plaintiff’s injury, but that the plaintiff did not suffer a permanent injury and thus should not receive pain and suffering damages. The plaintiff moved for a new trial, claiming that there were several instances of trial court error during the proceedings.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in allowing the defendant to introduce evidence of a referral relationship between the plaintiff’s former attorney and her chiropractor as a violation of attorney-client privilege. During opening statements, the defendant’s counsel suggested that the plaintiff’s former attorney referred her to her chiropractor, which contradicted the plaintiff’s previous assertion that she had been referred by an emergency room doctor.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that Florida is experiencing record-breaking new daily coronavirus cases. Despite reluctance from residents and some state officials, many local government entities are imposing restrictions on social gatherings and closing down beaches during high-traffic weekends, such as the Fourth of July. However, many of the new cases are tied to Florida nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

A recent news report indicates that most outbreak clusters occur in nursing homes, prisons, and food processing plants. This is likely the result of the inability to adequately social distance at these facilities. Additionally, although many clusters occur at prisons and food plants, the deadliest cases have been in nursing homes, where the residents are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

Florida nursing homes should prevent, quickly diagnose, and treat coronavirus outbreaks at their facilities. The CDC advises these entities to keep COVID-19 out of their facilities by limiting visitors, educating healthcare personnel, and ensuring adherence to infection prevention and control practices. Additionally, Florida nursing homes and long-term care facilities should identify infections as soon as possible by conducting regular screens of their staff and residents. Consistently engaging in these prevention, education, and treatment practices will help slow the rate of outbreaks.

When someone is injured in a Florida car accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist, many auto insurance policies will include uninsured motorist (UM) coverage benefits. In Florida, insurance stacking is often used to provide more expansive coverage for the insured. By stacking car insurance policies, the insured can obtain greater protection by combining UM coverage within the same policy or across different policies. For example, in a stackable policy, if someone has $50,000 in UM coverage on one car and $50,000 on a different vehicle, they may be able to stack the coverage limit to $100,000, even if the coverage is based on two separate policies. In unstacked insurance coverage, there is no aggregating of benefits, so the insured’s UM coverage limit is what is listed on the policy. Generally, Florida law allows for insurance stacking. However, there are limitations to this practice.

In a recent state appellate court decision, the plaintiffs were injured in a car accident caused by an uninsured motorist. The vehicle the plaintiffs were driving was not insured in their names, but under a separate non-stacking commercial policy issued by the defendant insurance company. Having several personal auto insurance policies of their own with stackable UM coverage, the plaintiffs attempted to combine them to maximize their benefits from the accident. However, the plaintiffs also wanted to receive a settlement from the commercial policy in addition to the benefits they had received from their personal aggregated coverage. In response, the defendant claimed that under their non-stacking policy, plaintiffs could not recover additional benefits from them if they had already elected to recover a UM settlement from their own stackable policies.

On appeal, the court upheld the trial court’s decision to deny the plaintiffs additional payment. Based on the commercial policy in question, the plaintiffs were injured in a vehicle that was not owned or insured by them, and thus, were only allowed to receive UM benefits under a single policy. Since the plaintiffs chose to receive their benefits from a policy other than the commercial policy covering the car they were injured in, the defendant did not have to pay any additional benefits to the plaintiffs. Additionally, based on Florida law and other contractual provisions governing the commercial policy, the plaintiffs could either collect non-stacked benefits from the defendant or receive their benefits from their personal stacked policies, but not both.

In a recent appellate case, a plaintiff appealed a trial court’s final judgment order entered against him in favor of defendants in the Florida slip and fall claim. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against a plasma-donation center (the Center) after slipping and falling in the defendant’s bathroom. Evidently, while the plaintiff was at the Center, he went to use the bathroom, as he pushed the door open and took a few steps onto the floor, he fell. He told the receptionist about his fall and asked her to call emergency responders. The defendants created an incident report which described the man’s fall and indicated that the Center’s supervisor checked the bathroom floor and did not see any liquid.

During a deposition, the man testified that he does not remember seeing a wet floor until after he fell but that he remembers slipping and falling forward, as if someone pushed him. When he was on the floor, he saw something that resembled a cup of water and a couple of muddy footprints. The medical supervisor testified that he did not remember how much time elapsed between the incident and inspection, and the Center did not have a schedule for inspecting the bathrooms.

The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s contention of seeing wet footprints was not enough to overcome the motion. In response, the plaintiff argued that his testimony regarding the appearance of the substance in combination with the defendant’s Centers testimony concerning the lack of inspections created a genuine issue of material fact.

Recently, a Florida appeals court issued an opinion in a lawsuit brought by an injured cyclist against Pinellas County. Historically, sovereign immunity protects governmental entities and officials from lawsuits stemming from the performance of their official government duties. However, in the interest of fairness, the federal government (as well as most states) provides waivers to this immunity. Florida permits individuals to sue the government in certain situations, but does not allow plaintiffs to recover punitive damages or compensation over $200,000.

In the case above, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the county for injuries he suffered when he lost control of his bike and fell into a ditch in an intersection maintained by the county. The plaintiff testified that he was heading west, approaching the intersection when he noticed a car stopped in the northbound lane. He wanted to proceed south but was not sure what the driver was going to do, so he remained on the shoulder of the road. However, the car struck him, and he blacked out.

The plaintiff claimed that the county was responsible for his damages because they negligently maintained the roadway and failed to warn motorists, pedestrians, and bikers of the road’s dangerous condition. The plaintiff contended that the intersection’s shoulder lacked clear zones and slopes for bikers. The lower court let the case against the government proceed, but in response, the county claimed that they were not responsible because the plaintiff could not prove that they were the cause of the accident or his injuries. The court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment, but the plaintiff appealed, arguing that there were genuine issues of material fact that remain unresolved.

Recently, an appellate court issued an opinion addressing whether Florida’s 1970 Pollutant Discharge Prevention and Control Act allows a plaintiff’s cause of action for personal injuries. The plaintiff worked for a Florida tow truck company and suffered injuries when he arrived at the scene of an accident between a truck transporting batteries and another vehicle. The plaintiff alleged that he suffered serious injuries after coming into contact with battery acid leaking from the truck. He filed a lawsuit against the trucking company claiming that they were strictly liable for his injuries under the 1970 and 1983 pollution acts. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him over $5million in damages; however, the district court reversed reasoning that the 1970 statute precluded his claim to personal injury damages.

Pollutants often pose significant threats of danger to Florida residents and the environment. In response to growing concerns regarding exposure to these pollutants, the legislature enacted Florida’s 1970 Pollutant Discharge Prevention and Control Act (1970 Act) and the 1983 Water Quality Assurance Act (1983 Act), which regulates the discharge and removal of certain pollutants. Legislature designed the acts to ensure that these entities are diligent in their handling of these potentially dangerous materials.

The 1970 act provides that the discharge of pollutants upon lands adjoining the coast, tidal flats, and coastal water is prohibited. The 1983 law expanded upon the 1970 act and provided injury victims with a cause of action for harms resulting from pollution of ground and surface waters. The 1970 act defines damages as the destruction to or loss of any real or personal property, except human beings. Unlike the 1970 law, the 1983 act does not provide any definition of damages within its statute. However, the 1983 act provides that injury victims may be able to recover “all damages” resulting from the discharge or other conditions of pollution. The amended 1970 act states that it applies to actions taken by both private and governmental entities when injuries result from the storage, transportation, and disposal of these products.

When someone is injured in a Florida accident, the state’s law allows them to file a civil suit against the responsible party. If successful, plaintiffs may be able to recover monetary compensation to cover lost wages, pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, loss of consortium, and even funeral and burial expenses. This compensation is called compensatory damages. In some cases, plaintiffs can also file for what is called punitive damages. In contrast to compensatory, Florida punitive damages focus on punishing the defendant, rather than making the plaintiff whole.

Punitive damages are only available in a small percentage of cases, where the conduct of the defendant was particularly egregious. But when they are awarded, they can be set as high as $500,000. Thus, when they are sued, it is in the defendant’s best interest to ensure that the plaintiff does not seek punitive damages. Generally, Florida has two situations in which plaintiffs can receive punitive damages—when the plaintiff can prove either intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Intentional misconduct occurs when someone knows that their conduct was dangerous and could injure someone but did it anyway. Gross negligence occurs when someone, indifferent to the life and safety of others, acts extremely recklessly or carelessly.

Plaintiffs may sometimes want to amend their complaint to seek punitive damages after it has already been filed. Section 768.72(1) of the Florida Statutes does allow plaintiffs to do just that in cases where “there is a reasonable showing by evidence in the record or proffered by the claimant which would provide a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages.” Whether or not a trial court grants this amendment is very important to a case; the Florida Supreme Court held 25 years ago that appellate courts cannot review a lower court’s decision to allow an amendment to a suit to include punitive damages so long as the judge follows proper procedures.

When people picture filing a lawsuit in court, they often imagine attorneys arguing in front of a judge along with heated debates and objections. While this is sometimes true, what many Florida personal injury plaintiffs do not realize is that many cases are actually decided before they even get to trial, through a process called “summary judgment.”

After a plaintiff files an initial complaint and the evidence has been collected, both parties can file a motion for summary judgment, asking the judge to go ahead and decide that they won the case. Summary judgment is appropriate in cases where there is no dispute of material fact, so both parties agree on what happened and the law entitles one of them to a victory. For instance, if both parties agree that the defendant driver ran a red light and caused an accident, then the suit can be settled before trial.

While the above example sounds relatively simple, typically lawsuits are more complicated. For example, a state court of appeals recently reversed a wrongly decided grant of summary judgment for a defendant in a personal injury claim. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was driving to Tampa when he got a flat tire and visited a mechanic. At the mechanic’s, he paid an employee $20 to service the tire, although he never got any confirmation paperwork. However, when he was driving back to Miami, his tire blew out, causing him to crash into the median. As a result of this crash, he suffered serious injuries, and, as a result, is now a paraplegic.

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