Articles Posted in Negligence

Although we expect all products to be “safe,” there are certain products for which our expectation of safety is  heightened. Indeed, given the vulnerability of children, products intended for use by juveniles are expected to be designed in a manner that accounts for both youthful impetuousness and relative physical fragility. Nevertheless, not all products meet reasonable expectations. For instance, in a recent decision, Bogatov v. City of Hallandale Beach, the Fourth District Court of Appeal was tasked with determining whether liability could be imposed on the manufacturer of an allegedly defective jungle gym.

Bogatov started with a fall at the playground of a Hallandale Beach park. The plaintiff in this case is the father of a two-year-old who was at the playground with his nanny when he fell. The child sustained serious injuries as a result of the fall, and local law enforcement investigated the incident. During the investigation, the nanny, who was the only eyewitness to the fall, told law enforcement that the child was on the jungle gym at the time of the fall. Following this string of events, the father filed suit against the city of Hallandale Beach, alleging that the city’s negligence in maintaining the playground resulted in the child’s injury. The complaint was later amended to add the jungle gym’s manufacturer, which the plaintiff alleged was negligent in the design and construction of the jungle gym, in particular by failing to place grasping handles on the jungle gym.

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In a recent decision from Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal, Manfre v. Shinkle, the court examined whether a jury correctly found that the defendant, a local sheriff, was liable for injuries arising from a motor vehicle accident. Although the accident at issue occurred at night on an unlit, rural road, the lack of light only played a marginal role. Instead, the crash was principally caused by the plaintiff’s collision with a dead horse, which the plaintiff claimed was in her path because of a local deputy’s negligent investigation of a report of roaming animals.

The accident at the heart of Manfre occurred shortly before sunrise on a dark road in rural Flagler County. The plaintiff was traveling at about 45 miles per hour when her vehicle struck a dead horse and flipped. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered a variety of physical injuries. About an hour and a half before this accident, the county’s Sheriff’s Office received a call that reported two horses were roaming on the side of the road where the accident occurred. A deputy responded to the scene, where he saw the horses returning to the pasture. Evidence presented at trial indicated that the horses may have been spooked by the sheriff’s headlights. Satisfied that the horses’ return to the pasture settled the issue, the deputy cleared the call and left the scene without either ensuring that the horses were now safely enclosed or contacting the property owner. Following the deputy’s departure, at least one of the horses returned to the road, where it was struck by a vehicle and killed. It was the dead horse with which the plaintiff’s vehicle collided.

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It’s a subject we have mentioned on several occasions, but it’s one that bears repeating. Even a single error can be damaging to a case, or lead to wasteful and duplicative effort for all involved. Indeed, as the defendants in a recent case before Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal, Soto v. McCulley Marine Servs., Inc., now know, litigants should endeavor to get things right the first time because even if an error works in your favor, it may ultimately just lead to wasted effort.

McCulley began with a drowning that occurred on Independence Day 2009. In 2009, Manatee County had a program to create artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. The program involved considerable amounts of concrete debris on other materials. Accordingly, the county set up a staging area at the southeastern end of Anna Maria Island, adjacent to Coquina Beach and Bayside Park. The area is popular for visitors, especially those who enjoy water sports. The defendants in this case were enlisted by the county to help build the reef.  In 2009, Independence Day fell on a Saturday, and the defendants did not wish to work over the holiday weekend. Accordingly, the captain of a tugboat involved in the project moored the tugboat and its barge adjacent to a dock in the staging area. On Independence Day, the decedent was operating a jet ski near the tugboat and barge. During his journey, the jet ski stalled.  The tidal currents were particularly strong, and the decedent became separated from the jet ski. His friends came to assist him, but the decedent drowned. His body was found under the tugboat.

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Under Florida law, a plaintiff has four years to bring a suit for negligence. See Fla. Stat. § 95.11. Although the waters surrounding our state play host to a number of accidents, many potential litigants are surprised to learn that the Florida legal rules, including the aforementioned statute of limitations, are often not those that govern disputes that arise on the seas. Instead, maritime law controls many of these cases, and potential litigants should be aware of the implications that these differing legal rules may have for their lawsuits. For instance, these differences were at the heart of a recent decision from Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, Lupola v. Lupola, which concerned the differing statutes of limitations for negligence under maritime and Florida law.

The incident at issue in this case occurred in July 2010. The plaintiff and her husband were on a raft that was being pulled by a boat operated by her father-in -law. At one point during the trip, the raft went airborne and then hit the water with enough force to eject the plaintiff and her husband from the raft. Both the plaintiff and her husband were injured and received medical treatment the same day. A little less than four years later, the plaintiff filed suit against her father-in-law and the manufacturer of the raft, BRP US, Inc., alleging negligence against the former and products liability against the latter. Following discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that since the incident occurred on a waterway, it was subject to the statute of limitations for negligence under maritime law, which is set at three years rather than four years, as under Florida law. See 46 U.S.C. § 30106 (“Except as otherwise provided by law, a civil action for damages for personal injury or death arising out of a maritime tort must be brought within [three] years after the cause of action arose.”) The plaintiff conceded that maritime law applied but argued that her claim was subject to equitable tolling because her husband’s domineering attitude prevented her from seeking legal advice for some time after the accident. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion, finding that the plaintiff had not shown the grounds for equitable tolling, and therefore the action was time-barred. The plaintiff then appealed to the First District.

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Under the common law, collateral source evidence was generally inadmissible for both determinations of liability and damages. Finding that this rule promoted double recovery in certain instances, the Florida legislature abrogated this rule in the 1980s and adopted the current set-off rule, which requires a trial court, with certain exceptions, to reduce a damages award by “the total of all amounts which have been paid for the benefit of the claimant, or which are otherwise available to the claimant, from all collateral sources.”  Fla. Stat. § 768.76 (1). Although the collateral source rule was abrogated with respect to damages, Florida courts have found the impact of the rule limited with respect to the evidence admissible to a jury for making a determination of liability. However, the Florida Supreme Court articulated one major expectation to the common law collateral source rule in Fla. Physician’s Ins. Reciprocal v. Stanley, 452 So. 2d 514 (Fla. 1984). In Stanley, the court held that “evidence of free or low cost services from governmental or [charities] available to anyone with specific disabilities is admissible on the issue of future damages.” Given the uniqueness of this rule, Florida courts have after struggled with its application and, in many cases, limited it to the particular facts. For example, the Supreme Court of Florida was once again called upon to grapple with the scope of Stanley in Joerg v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co.

The facts underlying Joerg are quite unfortunate. The plaintiff in this case was a developmentally disabled adult who was struck by a car while riding his bicycle in November 2007. The plaintiff had lived with his parents for his entire life and had never been employed. Following this accident, the plaintiff brought a negligence suit against the driver of the other vehicle and his personal uninsured motorist insurer, State Farm Mutual. Prior to trial, the plaintiff filed a motion to limit introduction of evidence about collateral sources, including benefits under Medicare and Medicaid. The trial court ultimately ruled that the insurer could introduce evidence of “future medical bills for specific treatments that are available . . . to all citizens regardless of wealth or status” but that evidence of future Medicare and Medicaid payments could not be introduced. The insurer appealed, and the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court ruling, except finding that the future Medicare payments should not have been excluded under the collateral source rule. An appeal to the Florida Supreme Court followed.

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In a recent decision, Peterson v. Flare Fittings, Inc., Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal examined the liability of various parties for an injury that occurred at a paintball tournament. Although the plaintiff in this case was a competitor in the competition, the injury at issue had nothing to do with flying paint.

The injury at issue in this case occurred on November 8, 2006. On that day, the plaintiff arrived at a Disney-owned facility that was serving as the venue for a paintball event being hosted by Paintball Sports Promotions, LLC. In addition to a paintball tournament, the event hosted a trade show for the advertising and sale of paintball-related goods. Although the plaintiff arrived on November 8, he was not set to compete until the 10th. While venturing through the vendor area on the 8th, the plaintiff alleges that he was struck in the head by a balloon, which he described as 10 feet in diameter and attached to a tree beside a tent that was being operated by either Flare Fittings, Inc. or Crossfire Paintball, Inc. The plaintiff acknowledged that he did not know what caused the balloon, which had been flying about 70 to 100 feet above the ground, to fall, but he claimed that the impact of the balloon knocked him down, dazed him, and left him in pain. The incident was reported to a manager at Disney, and the plaintiff alleges that the manager told him that Disney would cover his medical costs. The plaintiff sought treatment the same day. After his x-ray came back negative, the plaintiff left the hospital with prescriptions.

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Many South Floridians understand that pools come with risks. Indeed, pool owners are  very aware of the dangers associated with falls and drowning. Notwithstanding the importance of these commonplace risks, the pool-related injury at issue in a recent product liability decision from Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal, Dominguez v. Hayward Indus., Inc., was certainly not of a kind anyone would anticipate.

Dominguez arose from the unexpected explosion of a pool filter, which occurred in November 2012. At the time of the explosion, one plaintiff in this case was near the pool, which had been completed in 1999, and he sustained head injuries. He and his wife brought suit against the manufacturer/distributor of the filter, the company that installed the pool and acted as a distributor of the filter, and the pool contractor. The plaintiff asserted claims for strict product liability and negligence against the first two defendants and negligence claims against all of the defendants. The plaintiffs also asserted a loss of consortium claim. The trial court ultimately granted a final judgment in the defendants’ favor, and the plaintiff then filed this appeal.

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Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Law extends immunity to contractors and subcontractors. As is to be expected, however, in order for such immunity to bar suit in a particular case, the company must fall within the applicable definition of “contractor.” Indeed, many companies may be in relationships that analogize to contract relationships but cannot—despite their best efforts otherwise—have recourse to the Workers’ Compensation Law to immunize themselves for injuries arising from their negligence. The scope of what constitutes a contractor for purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Law was at the heart of a recent decision from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal, Slora v. Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In, Inc.

The plaintiff in this case was employed by U.S. Security Associates, Inc., a company that provided event security to Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In, Inc., a company that operated an air show near Lakeland, Florida. In order to operate this air show, Sun ‘n Fun was required to obtain certain certificates of waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). The FAA granted the waivers, which came with various standard and specialized provisions with which Sun ‘n Fun needed to comply, including provisions for security. Sun n’ Fun contracted with U.S. Security to provide these required security measures, and the plaintiff was assigned to provide security during the air show. The plaintiff was working at a security guard shack at Lakeland Regional Airport when a tornado struck. The winds lifted the shack from the ground and deposited it in a ditch. The plaintiff made a workers’ compensation claim through her employer, which maintains workers’ compensation insurance. The claim was settled.

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In a recent decision, Saunders v. Dickens, 151 So. 3d 434 (Fla. 2014), the Supreme Court of Florida ruled that in a medical negligence action, “a physician cannot insulate himself . . . from liability . . . by presenting a subsequent treating physician who testifies that adequate care by the defendant physician would not have altered the subsequent care.” Prior to the Supreme Court’s repudiation of this type of testimony, trial courts typically permitted experts to opine about this issue, leaving the propriety of numerous medical malpractice decisions in dispute. Indeed, the Fourth District Court of Appeal was recently tasked with addressing this issue in Cantore ex rel. Felix v. West Boca Med. Ctr., Inc., in which the court needed to determine whether a trial court’s admission of a subsequent treating physician’s testimony required a new trial.

Cantore arises from an adverse jury verdict in a medical malpractice case brought by the parents of a minor against West Boca Medical Center and Variety Children’s Hospital (a.k.a. Miami Children’s Hospital). Two years prior to the incidents at the heart of this case, the minor was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, which is a condition characterized by the excessive buildup of cerebral spinal fluid in the cranium. The minor’s case of hydrocephalus was caused by a benign tumor that blocked the outflow of fluid from her cranium. At that time, the minor underwent a procedure to correct the blockage. However, scar tissue began to develop and was uncovered by a CT scan performed about two years later at West Boca, showing that spinal fluid had begun to accumulate again. A doctor at Miami Children’s scheduled the minor for another corrective procedure.

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Although we associate expert testimony with complex cases involving medicine or large explosions, expert testimony can be important in virtually any type of case, as long as the testimony will provide a jury with useful information that they may not possibly understand in the absence of expert guidance. For instance, expert testimony is used in many personal injury cases, and not only for assessing the nature of a plaintiff’s injury. Indeed, experts are also often enlisted to provide testimony regarding the circumstances of one’s injury. This sort of expert testimony was the subject of Holderbaum v. Carnival Corp., a recent decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Holderbaum arose from an injury allegedly sustained abroad a Carnival cruise ship in 2013. The plaintiff claims that as she was about to descend a staircase on the ship, her shoe got stuck in the metal “wear-strip” at the top of the stairs. As a result, she fell down the stairs and suffered an injury to her lower leg and ankle. The plaintiff alleges that the metal strip was raised and that her shoe got caught in this gap between the metal strip and the carpeting. The plaintiff retained an engineer to examine the area where the injury occurred and provide analysis of the circumstances of her fall. The expert provided a report, and Carnival, the defendant, moved to exclude the expert evidence.

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