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Inside a Parking GarageMany negligent security cases involve a property owner’s liability for failing to adequately secure property from foreseeable third-party criminal activity that causes harm to a resident or other visitor. However, the Sun Sentinel recently reported on the 1.5 million-dollar settlement of a case that presented a more novel theory of negligence in the area of apartment security, which involved the failure of a property management company to adequately screen residents, one of whom eventually murdered another.

This case arose from the tragic shooting of a former Marine in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Plantation, Florida on July 17, 2012. The former Marine was a resident of the apartment complex, and the murderer, as noted above, also resided at the complex. Witnesses at the time of the murder said they were unaware of any preexisting grievance between the two residents. However, the murderer had been a resident at a different apartment complex in Plantation, managed by the same property management company that managed the apartment complex where the murder occurred. The murderer had been evicted from the first property for causing disturbances and making death threats against other tenants. Information regarding the murderer’s eviction was part of a background investigation performed by the management company, but this background check was never reviewed before the decision to permit the murderer to rent an apartment was made. Following the murder, the Marine’s widow brought a wrongful death suit against the property management company, arguing that the management company failed to exercise reasonable care in its evaluation of prospective tenants and that this breach of reasonable care led to the death of her husband.

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https://www.southfloridainjuryattorneysblog.com/files/2014/11/Screen-Shot-2014-11-12-at-4.27.50-PM.pngA key issue that arises in negligence litigation generally and medical negligence cases in particular is properly defining and asserting the applicable duty of care. Since the existence of a legally cognizable duty of care is essential for every claim of negligence, successfully proving that a defendant’s conduct was negligent depends on properly fitting that conduct within the borders of a recognized duty of care. This requirement is at the heart of the Second District Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Granicz v. Chirillo, in which the court addressed whether a physician could be held liable for medical negligence following the suicide of a patient.

As noted above, the Granicz litigation arose from a patient’s suicide on October 9, 2008. Prior to her suicide, the patient had been receiving treatment for depression from her primary care physician, the defendant in this case. Prior to 2005, the patient had been taking Prozac, but the physician switched her medication to Effexor at the time he began treating the patient in 2005. At some time in June or July of 2008, the patient stopped taking her medication because of side effects. On October 8, 2008, the patient called the office of the physician and spoke with a medical assistant. The patient told the medical assistant that she hadn’t been feeling right since June or July and had ceased taking her Effexor. In addition, the patient informed the medical assistant that she was under mental strain, been prone to crying, suffering from gastrointestinal problems, and having sleeping issues that resulted in increased reliance on sleeping medication. The medical assistant recorded this information in a note for the physician. The physician reviewed the note shortly thereafter and decided to change her medication to Lexapro and refer her to a gastroenterologist. Afterward, an employee from the physician’s office called the patient and told her she could pick up samples of Lexapro as well as a prescription for the drug from the office, which the patient did later that day. However, an appointment with the physician was never scheduled, and the physician never spoke with the patient directly. On the following day, the patient’s husband found the patient hanging in the garage of their home.

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thermometer and pillsA common legal issue that arises in the context of imprisonment or other forms of detention is liability for failing to provide or negligently providing medical care to those detained. Irrespective of the location of medical malpractice, however, common evidentiary standards required for medical malpractice actions apply. These issues are at the core of the Southern District of Florida’s recent decision in Segundo v. United States, which involves claims alleging negligence on the part of the medical staff leading to the cardiac death of a detainee at Krome Detention Center in South Florida.

The detainee had been transferred to Krome Detention Center in 2010, and his Transfer Summary noted his severe, preexisting diabetes. At the time of booking, the detainee underwent a medical evaluation that corroborated this prior medical history of diabetes. Following admission, the detainee continued to take oral diabetic medications, and his blood glucose level was checked twice a day. The admission medical evaluation also included a screening EKG, the results of which came back normal and did not indicate any acute or chronic myocardial ischemic changes or other findings associated with coronary artery disease. From the time of his arrival until the day before his death, the detainee did not complain of chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, or other symptoms associated with cardiac dysfunction.

However, the day before his death, Krome medical staff evaluated the detainee for a sore throat, runny nose, and cough. The day after, the detainee stated he felt ill but was nonetheless communicative and able to move. While staff was taking the detainee to the Urgent Care Center at the Krome compound, he suffered an arrhythmia and died. A autopsy report found the detainee’s cause of death to be severe atheroscleros in the left anterior descending coronary artery. Given the normal EKG just days before the death, no evidence in the record suggested that medical staff at Krome should have predicted the subsequent cardiac death. Following the detainee’s death, the personal representative for his estate brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the United States under the Federal Torts Claims Act, alleging negligence on the part of Krome’s officers, agents, and employees.

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file0001307995910-2Although the average course on civics or government thoroughly reviews the provisions of the United States Constitution, many overlook the importance of state constitutions as sources of important rights. While certain state constitutional provisions – for instance, the Florida Constitution’s analog to the Fourth Amendment – are interpreted co-extensively with their federal counterparts, some do provide particularized protections that should not be overlooked. In a recent case, Ampuero-Martinez v. Cedars Healthcare Group, the Supreme Court of Florida raised one such provision: Article X § 25(a) of the Florida Constitution.

Art. X § 25(a) of the Florida Constitution, titled “Patients’ right to know about adverse medical incidents,” provides Floridians with the right to “have access to any records made or received in the course of business by a health care facility or provider relating to any adverse medical incident.” Ampuero-Martinez arose from a discovery dispute in a medical malpractice case involving the death of the plaintiff’s father at a medical facility in Miami-Dade County. The plaintiff sought medical records from the facility where her father’s death occurred, and the defendant medical facility objected to the production request. The trial court overruled this objection, but the defendant filed an immediate appeal to the Third District Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court in part, holding that the trial court failed to properly limit discovery pursuant to § 381.028(7)(a) of the Florida Statutes.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Ampuero-Martinez is quite short for good reason. Three years prior to the Third District Court of Appeal decision, the Supreme Court of Florida had definitively held that § 381.028(7)(a) unconstitutionally contravened the constitutional protection afforded by Art. X § 25(a). See Florida Hosp. Waterman, Inc. v. Buster, 984 So.2d 478 (Fla. 2007). Consequently, the Supreme Court quashed the Third District’s decision and remanded the case to the trial court for reconsideration in accordance with the standards set forth in Buster. In Buster, the court held that several provisions of § 381.028, legislation that had been enacted by the Florida Legislature to “implement” and otherwise give force and effect to Art. X § 25(a), contravened the broad rights provided by the then newly-enacted constitutional provision. Specifically, the court noted the following conflicts:

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photo_1832_20060728As the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s opinion in Marina Dodge, Inc. v. Quinn demonstrates, sometimes the hardest part of a lawsuit is getting the opposing party in court. In Quinn, the Court of Appeals found that the courts of Florida could not exercise personal jurisdiction over two New York auto-retailer corporations that had been sued following a motor vehicle accident in Broward County, Florida.

As noted above, Quinn followed a 2007 motor vehicle accident that led to the serious injury of one of the drivers. The injured driver, the plaintiff in this case, purchased the vehicle involved in the crash in New York four years earlier, when she was still a resident there. Sometime after this transaction but before the accident, the driver relocated to South Florida, where she now resides. After the crash, the seriously injured driver sued the other driver involved in the accident as well as Marina Dodge, Inc. and Webster Auto Brokers, Inc., two New York auto retailing corporations, in the Broward County Circuit Court. With respect to the auto retailers’ liability, the plaintiff argued that the vehicle she purchased in New York was defective and that the defective condition led to the accident and thus her injuries. The corporations both moved to have the claims against them dismissed, arguing that the courts of Florida could not exercise jurisdiction over them. The trial court, however, denied both motions, stating that the corporations had “continuous contact that took place over years with various entities sufficient to permit jurisdiction to lie in the State of Florida.”

Despite the trial court’s certainty on the question of jurisdiction, the Court of Appeal reversed in a unanimous decision. Generally, there are two ways for a plaintiff to show that a court has personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant. First, one can show that the court had specific jurisdiction. For specific jurisdiction to exist, one must first show that the state’s long-arm-statute covers the acts at issue in the suit. If that prong is met, one must then show that there exist sufficient “minimum contacts” between the out-of-state defendant and the state where jurisdiction is sought. For there to be sufficient “minimum contacts,” one must generally demonstrate that the defendant “deliberately [engaged] in significant activities within a State or has created “continuing obligations” between himself and residents of the [state]” such that “he manifestly has availed himself of the privilege of conducting business there.”Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475-76 (U.S. 1985) (internal quotations marks and citations omitted). Alternatively, one can show that general jurisdiction exists. Since the Florida long-arm-statute provision for general jurisdiction is read coextensively with the constitutional requirement for general jurisdiction, see Caiazzo v. Am. Royal Arts Corp., 73 So.3d 245, 250 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011) (pdf downloadable link), one must just show that the defendant engaged in “continuous, substantial, and systematic” contact with the state.
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file00016079529In 2010, the Florida Legislature made sweeping changes to Florida law regarding slip and fall liability for business owners. In that year, the legislature enacted § 768.0755 of the Florida Statutes, which formally requires that a plaintiff in a “slip and fall” case prove that the business where he or she was injured had “knowledge” of the dangerous condition that caused the fall. Since proving knowledge of a dangerous condition is now a formal statutory requirement for establishing slip and fall liability, it is important to understand how a plaintiff would go about making such a showing.

Typically, there are two ways a plaintiff can prove that a business had knowledge or “notice” of the dangerous condition. First, he or she can prove that the business had actual notice by proving an employee had been warned or otherwise informed about the condition. However, this is a difficult avenue to pursue, since an injured plaintiff does not generally have full access to the information necessary to determine which, if any, employees had been warned about a dangerous condition. In addition, employees, even if they can be identified, will generally not be forthcoming with that information. The second and more common method of establishing knowledge of a dangerous condition is known as “constructive notice.” To show “constructive notice,” a plaintiff uses circumstantial evidence related to the nature and duration of the dangerous condition that tends to show that employees who engage in reasonable inspection would have known of the dangerous condition.

In a recent decision from the Southern District of Florida, the court examined the sort of evidence that would be sufficient for showing constructive notice of a dangerous condition. In Garcia v. Target, the court determined whether a plaintiff had provided sufficient evidence to overcome a motion for summary judgment and thus let a jury determine whether there was constructive notice of a dangerous condition. In Garcia, a customer slipped and fell on a wet surface while she was leaving a Target located in Davie, Florida. Target argued that the plaintiff had failed to proffer evidence sufficient to satisfy her burden of proving constructive notice of the wet surface, in part because it had not been raining the day the plaintiff fell and the plaintiff acknowledged she had not seen the dangerous condition prior to slipping nor knew how long it had been there prior to falling.

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IMAG0562On Tuesday, April 22, the Florida House of Representatives unanimously voted in favor of enacting the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, legislation that stiffens penalties for hit-and-run drivers. This follows the March 26 unanimous vote of the Florida Senate in favor of the Act, which will now go to the Governor’s desk for approval and signature. The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act is the product of an unfortunate death of a cyclist who was hit while riding on the Rickenbacker Causeway in February 2012.

The hit-and-run driver, who was on probation for cocaine charges and was driving with a suspended license, had been carousing at a bar in Coconut Grove shortly before the 6 AM accident. After he hit the deceased person and another cyclist, the driver did not stop to offer assistance or wait for the authorities. Instead, he continued his journey home, where he concealed the damaged vehicle under a tarp. By the time he eventually surrendered to authorities, 18 hours after the accident, the police were unable to take a timely blood alcohol test. Inability to ascertain the driver’s blood alcohol level helped him avoid manslaughter charges. The driver eventually pled guilty to charges of driving with a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident involving death, and leaving the scene of an accident involving great bodily harm. The driver was sentenced to only one year in prison and only served 264 days of the sentence.

The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act seeks to eliminate the incentive hit-and-run drivers have in leaving the scene of an accident. The new law amends Florida’s Leaving the Scene of an Accident Law, which was enacted in 1971. The law creates a mandatory minimum sentence of three, seven, or 10 years for leaving the scene of an accident, depending on whether a person was injured, seriously injured, or fatally injured. The legislation also increases the mandatory minimum sentence for leaving the scene of an accident while under the influence of alcohol from two years to 10 years and provides for a three-year revocation of the offender’s license. By imposing these mandatory minimums, lawmakers hope that hit-and-run drivers, especially those under the influence of alcohol or drugs, will no longer see any incentive in fleeing.
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wet-floorAlthough many would believe, given the frequency of “slip and fall” accidents, that the law in the area should be well settled, Florida law regarding business owners’ “slip and fall” liability has been in considerable flux for the past decade. On February 26, the Fourth District Court of Appeals injected further confusion into the state of the law when it issued its opinion in Pembroke Lakes Mall Ltd. v. McGruder. In McGruder, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that recent legislation altering the liability of business owners in slip and fall cases should not be applied retroactively to accidents that occurred prior to implementation of the legislation. However, this holding, as the Court in McGruder noted, is in direct conflict with an earlier Third District opinion that held that the legislation should be applied retroactively. Accordingly, the Fourth District certified the question to the Supreme Court of Florida for resolution.

This story of “slip and fall” instability began in 2001, when the Supreme Court of Florida rendered its decision in Owens v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc.. In Owens, the Supreme Court of Florida held that “the existence of a foreign substance on the floor of a business premises that causes a customer to fall and be injured is not a safe condition and the existence of that unsafe condition creates a rebuttable presumption that the business owner did not maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.” Owens v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., 802 So. 2d 315, 331 (Fla. 2001). Thus, “once the plaintiff establishes that he or she fell as a result of a transitory foreign substance, a rebuttable presumption of negligence arises.” Id. In response to this holding, the Florida Legislature in 2002 enacted § 768.0710, which eliminated the burden-shifting scheme adopted in Owens and provided that an injured “slip and fall” plaintiff must prove that the business owner “acted negligently by failing to exercise reasonable care” without the benefit of any presumption. However, actual or constructive knowledge of the transitory substance was still not required. This changed in 2010, when the Florida Legislature repealed § 768.0710 and enacted § 768.0755, aptly titled “Premises Liability for Transitory Foreign Substances in a Business Establishment.” The new statute is fundamentally the same as the former, except that the plaintiff needs to now prove that the business establishment had notice, actual or constructive, of the “dangerous condition.”

In McGruder, the plaintiff was injured in a slip and fall at a mall prior to the enactment of § 768.0755 but filed suit after the implementation of the legislation. Accordingly, the key question is whether § 768.0755 should be applied to the case or if the law outlined in § 768.0710 should apply. With respect to retroactive application of statutes, the courts of Florida apply a two-prong test: 1) did the legislature manifest clear intent for the statute to apply retroactively and 2) absent clear intent, is the statute substantive, procedural, or remedial. Generally, absent clear intent, a substantive statute is not to be applied retroactively, but a procedural or remedial statute should be applied retroactively. Although the Third District had concluded in an earlier decision that the statute was not substantive and, thus, should be applied retroactively, the Fourth District held that requiring notice altered the elements of the claim in such a fashion that the new legislation was substantive and should only be applied prospectively.
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