Articles Posted in Comparative Negligence

It’s often difficult for a driver who rear-ends another vehicle to avoid some form of liability. Indeed, although many other types of car accidents can occasion genuine discussion about apportioning fault between parties or determining whether a particular driver was in fact negligent, accidents involving one car rear-ending another almost invariably lead to liability for the driver who strikes the other in the back. In fact, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently reversed part of a trial verdict that, in its judgment, inappropriately apportioned fault to the driver in a stationary vehicle that was rear-ended by another.

As noted above, this case, Bodiford v. Rollins, arose from a rear-end collision. The plaintiff was waiting to make a left turn at an intersection when the defendant’s car rammed into the back of his vehicle. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result and brought suit against the driver of the other vehicle. The case proceeded to trial, after which the jury awarded the plaintiff more than one million dollars in damages. However, the jury also found the plaintiff to be 13% at fault, and the court reduced the damages award by that percentage. The defendants appealed, asserting various arguments against the jury’s ruling. In addition, the plaintiff cross-appealed, asserting that the jury erred in apportioning any fault to him and that the trial court, therefore, should have granted his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

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Florida is a comparative negligence state, see Section 768.81 Florida Statutes, which means that if a plaintiff’s negligence contributed to his or her injury, recovery can be offset to reflect his or her role in the harm caused. Accordingly, defendants in negligence suits will often argue that certain acts of the plaintiff contributed to the injury. However, to succeed in offsetting liability, the defendant must still prove that the contributory conduct was actually negligent. The Fifth District Court of Appeal recently addressed the dynamics of comparative negligence in its decision in Bongiorno v. Americorp, Inc.

The plaintiff in Bongiorno slipped on what she described as an unusually slippery bathroom floor in the office building where she worked. She brought a negligence suit against the property owner, arguing that negligence in maintaining the floor caused her fall. Among the affirmative defenses asserted by the defendant was comparative negligence. The evidence shows that the plaintiff was wearing four to five inch high heels at the time she fell. The case proceeded to a bench trial, after which the judge concluded both the property owner and the plaintiff were 50 percent liable for the fall. The judge found the plaintiff’s choice to wear heels of that height contributed to her fall. The plaintiff appealed to the Fifth District, arguing that there was insufficient evidence in the record to show that she was negligent for wearing high heels to work.

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In a recent decision, Jones v. Alayon, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal addressed several questions arising from trial in an auto accident negligence case. At trial, the jury found that the decedent was, in part, responsible for his death because the evidence established he had not been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. Among various arguments the decedent’s estate raised on appeal was whether the trial court erred in not directing a verdict in favor of the estate on the defendant’s seatbelt defense because the undisputed evidence showed that the seatbelt was actually inoperable.

Alayon was brought by the daughter of the decedent as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. The defendant in this case was the driver of the vehicle that rear-ended the decedent’s vehicle, which caused it to strike a guardrail and turn over. The decedent was ejected from the vehicle. The decedent died as a result of either ejection from the vehicle or being struck by other oncoming cars. The defendant was a off-duty police officer, who fled after striking the decedent’s vehicle and falsely reported that it had been stolen. At the time of the civil trial, the decedent was incarcerated on charges related to the hit-and-run. The defendant conceded liability but contended that his negligence didn’t result in the decedent’s death. Instead, the defendant argued that the decedent was comparatively negligent because he failed to wear a seatbelt.

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