Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Accident

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.

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.

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.

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.

Recently, an appellate court addressed an appeal in a Florida car accident case hinging on issues regarding the presumption of negligence in rear-end accidents. The plaintiff appealed a trial court’s ruling in favor of the defendant, who the plaintiff claimed rear-ended her vehicle. The accident allegedly occurred when the plaintiff was approaching an intersection, and the car in front of her suddenly stopped. The plaintiff and the defendant simultaneously applied their brakes; however, the plaintiff was able to avoid hitting the car in front of her, but the defendant slammed into the plaintiff. After the plaintiff’s case was dismissed by the trial court, the plaintiff appealed, arguing that the defendant did not provide enough evidence to rebut the presumption of negligence.

Under Florida law, rear-end accidents create a rebuttable presumption that the rear driver was negligent. Generally, the only way in which a rear driver can rebut this presumption is if they provide evidence that shows that the presumption is “not as presumed” or misplaced. If the rear driver can rebut the presumption, the jury will then make the typical comparative fault determination. Rear drivers will often claim that the lead driver engaged in some behavior that made it impossible for the rear driver to avoid an accident.

Typically, Florida courts permit rear drivers to rebut the presumption under only four circumstances. Defendants can rebut the presumption if 1.) their vehicle suffers a mechanical failure, 2.) the lead driver suddenly stopped, 3.) the lead driver suddenly changed lanes, or 4.) the lead driver made an illegal stop. However, an abrupt or sudden halt by itself is not enough to rebut the presumption. Courts explain that drivers have a duty to remain alert and to keep a safe following distance at all times, especially at common stopping locations, such as intersections.

Recently, an appellate court addressed whether a Florida plaintiff may recover uninsured motorist benefits after she suffered injuries at a mobile gym. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant ran a mobile gym out of his truck and trained the plaintiff for several years. To power the machines and equipment, the defendant plugged the mobile gym’s generator into an outlet at the woman’s home. This arrangement worked well until the woman suffered permanent injuries during one of her sessions. The woman settled negligence claims with the mobile gym owner and her personal trainer. However, she also filed an uninsured/underinsured motorist claim (UIM) with her insurance company. The insurance company claimed that its UIM policy does not apply to motor vehicles such as a mobile gym. Ultimately, the trial court found in the insurance company’s favor, and the woman appealed the ruling.

Car insurance coverage is an integral part of car ownership, and can protect motorists from disastrous financial burdens if they are involved in an accident. However, the Insurance Research Council estimates that over 12% of drivers do not have car insurance coverage. When a driver is involved in a Florida car accident with a UIM driver, they may face challenges in trying to recover for their damages. To address this inherent unfairness, many car insurance companies offer their policyholders UIM coverage. This protects drivers from high out-of-pocket costs if they are a victim of a hit-and-run or an accident with a negligent UIM.

When a Florida driver files a UIM claim with their insurance company, the company effectively steps into the shoes of the negligent driver. In many instances, the policy holder’s relationship with their insurance provider becomes adversarial, and claimants need to fight for their benefits.

A Florida appellate court recently issued a written decision in which it examined the summary judgment standard in a negligence case arising out of a traffic accident. According to the court’s opinion, the accident occurred at an intersection when a driver of a sports utility vehicle (SUV) was heading south on the road, while the plaintiff, on a motorcycle, was driving north. The driver of the SUV was making a left turn when the plaintiff, still heading north, crashed into the right front fender of the SUV. The plaintiff, who testified that he was unable to stop in time to avoid the crash, was seriously injured.

The driver of the SUV stated that he did not see the motorcycle coming because his view of oncoming traffic was obstructed by newly planted palm trees at the median. The city, which was the defendant in this case, was responsible for the palm trees, which had wooden supports at their base, allegedly blocking the driver’s view. The motorcyclist sued the city for negligent design and placement of the palm trees, because they obstructed driver’s views of oncoming traffic when making a turn.

In response, the city claimed that it did not know, nor should it have known, that the planting of the palm trees with the wooden supports created a dangerous condition. Under Florida law, if the city was correct, the suit could not move forward. The city filed a motion for summary judgment to end the lawsuit, which was granted by the trial court. The plaintiff then appealed.

Recently a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida personal injury case requiring the court to decide whether an accident victim could still recover for their injuries when they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the accident occurred. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff appealed a trial court decision that found him unable to recover any damages after being injured in a motor vehicle accident because he was under the influence of an alcoholic beverage at the time. As required by law, the trial jury apportioned liability amongst the plaintiff and defendant. They assigned 55 percent negligence to the plaintiff and 45 percent negligence to the defendant.

Generally, Florida is considered a “pure comparative” negligence state. In pure comparative negligence states, plaintiffs can recover compensation from another party, unless the plaintiff is the only one to blame for the accident. In theory, this means that a plaintiff can recover compensation for their injuries even if they are 99 percent at fault. However, their proportionate level of fault reduces the total damage award. The “drug and alcohol” defense, contained in Florida Statutes section 768.36, is an exception to this general rule.

In such cases, the court can preclude the plaintiff’s recovery if the defendant can establish that the plaintiff was more than 50 percent at fault for the accident and their injury occurred when they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol or their blood or breath alcohol level was .08 or higher. Most importantly, the jury must also find that the influence of the alcoholic beverage or drug caused the plaintiff to be more than 50 percent at fault for their injuries. Each of these requirements must be met for the defense to apply.

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