According to the Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator, there were 164,253 civil cases that reached a disposition, which is a legal term for a conclusion, throughout the state of Florida during the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Of the cases that reached a disposition, 1,123 were medical malpractice claims, 1,472 were product liability claims, 633 were nursing home negligence cases, 7,658 were either commercial or residential premises liability claims, and 26,842 were auto negligence suits. All of these cases are different, involve unique fact patterns, and arose out of unique events, but the one thing that all of these disputes have in common is, they all fall under the umbrella of personal injury law.
Personal injury law encomposes many unique sub-categories of civil law that are centered around damages a person has sustained as a result of the negligent or wrongful actions of another party. As such, personal injury lawyers in Florida practice in a wide variety of cases, but if you have been injured as a result of another person’s negligence there are a few aspects of Florida’s personal injury laws that you should keep in mind as you enter the litigation phase of your claim.
Personal Injury Laws in Florida
The term negligence is used a lot in our society, but very few non-lawyers understand what it means to commit a negligent act. As members of society, we owe the people around us a duty of care to act in a manner that doesn’t injure other people. When an individual breaches their duty of care, they have committed an act of negligence, but not all negligent acts will rise to a level that warrants initiating a lawsuit. You have to actually suffer damages as a result of the negligent act in order to have standing to bring a civil claim against the negligent party.
Moreover, there are different types of duties of care and different types of negligence that vary based on the severity of the negligent behavior a party engaged in. According to the Florida Supreme Court, general negligence is defined as the failure to use reasonable care, which is the care that a reasonably careful person would use under like circumstances. Gross negligence on the other hand is defined by statute ? Fl.Stat.768.72(2)(b) ? as a scenario where a negligent party’s conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct. The level of negligence the at-fault party exhibited in your case is a key component in the type and amount of damages you can ultimately seek in a court of law. As such, you should ask your personal injury lawyer their opinion as to the level of negligence the defendant exhibited in your case.
Types of Personal Injury Claims in Florida
Driving is a part of life, but it is also a very dangerous activity. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 402,385 car crashes that occurred statewide in 2017. These accidents occur for a number of reasons, but many are the result of the negligent actions of a careless driver. In these instances, the at-fault driver has normally committed auto negligence resulting from a failure to obey the traffic laws in our state. Auto negligence can be general, which is the case in many accidents, or it can rise to the level of gross negligence.
For example, if your accident was caused by a drunk driver, it is possible that the drunk driver’s actions rise to the level of gross negligence, because the at-fault driver new or should have known that their level of intoxication could inhibit their ability to operate a motor vehicle to the point where causing an accident was inevitable. The main thing you should focus on after being involved in a car accident, regardless of the circumstances, is trying to gather as much evidence at the accident scene as possible. This evidence will allow your personal injury lawyer to build the strongest case possible. So, make sure you:
- Take pictures of everything including the accident scene, both vehicles, the other driver’s license plate, and the exact location where the accident occurred
- Get the name and contact information for any witnesses that saw the accident occur
- Call the police and ask them to complete an accident report
- Get the other driver’s insurance information
Premises Liability Accidents
In Florida, land owners owe most individuals who come onto their property a certain duty of care to ensure that their property is safe and free of hazards, and when a property owner fails to do so and their failure causes you to sustain injuries as a result, the property owner can be held liable for negligence. This area of personal injury law is known as premises liability, and it can take many different forms. Common types of premises liability cases include:
- Dog Bites
- Slip and Fall
- Accidental Drowning
The important thing to keep in mind, however, is the degree to which a property owner owes you a duty of care. The legal responsibility bestowed on a property owner is highly dependent on which class of visitors you fall under at the time of the accident. Under Florida law, there are broad classes of visitors in the context of a premises liability case.
Invitees: This class of visitors can be separated into two groups, Business Invitees and Public Invitees. Business Invitees have been defined by the Florida Supreme Court as a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the owner of the land, whereas Public Invitees are defined as a person who is invited to enter or remain on land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public. Out of the three categories of visitors, landowners owners owe the highest duty of care to invitees.
Licensees: Licensees are visitors that come on a land owner’s property for the property owner’s convenience. This category includes social guests, family members, etc., and licensees are owed the second highest duty of car by a landowner.
Trespassers: Trespassers are owed the lowest duty of care by a landowner. In fact, there are many cases where a property owner doesn’t owe duty of care to trespassers at all pursuant to Fl.Stat.768.075.
Slip and Fall Accidents
The class of visitor you fall under at the time of your premises liability accident matters regardless of the type of accident you are involved in, but there are certain laws that apply to specific types of premises liability claims, which is why hiring a personal injury attorney in Florida is so important. Fl.Stat.768.0755 specifically dictates the burden of proof a plaintiff must meet in order to prevail in a slip and fall claim involving a business. Under this statute, you are required to prove that the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to remedy it. In order to prove constructive knowledge under Fl.Stat.768.0755, which is necessary in many cases, you will have to demonstrate one or both of the following elements:
- The dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that, in the exercise of ordinary care, the business establishment should have known of the condition.
- The condition occurred with regularity and was therefore foreseeable.
Dog Attacks in Florida
Pet owners have a responsibility to ensure that there animals don’t injure others. As such, Fl.Stat.767.04 clearly indicates that a dog owner can be held liable for damages caused by their animal to another animal or human so long as you are:
- Lawfully in a public place
- Lawfully in a private place
- Lawfully on the pet owner’s property
Moreover, as this statute indicates, the dog’s owner can be held liable for injuries proximately caused by their dog regardless of the degree to which the owner had knowledge of the dog’s level of viciousness. The liability of the owner, however, is not unlimited. Meaning, the same statute that imposes liability on the owner of a dog for damages caused by the animal also imposes limits on that liability. So, here are a couple of things you should discuss with your personal injury attorney if you are ever bitten by a dog in Florida.
Comparative Negligence: Fl.Stat.767.04 states that any negligence on the part of the dog bite victim that is the proximate cause of the dog bite occuring will reduce the dog owner’s liability by the percentage of fault a dog bite victim is assigned for causing an accident, which, in practical terms, means that if you are partially responsible for causing a dog attack to occur, any compensatory damages you are awarded will be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to you by a jury at trial.
Bad Dog Signs: Fl.Stat.767.04 also indicates that a dog owner can not be held liable for a dog attack on their own property if the pet owner has a sign containing the words “Bad Dog” that is easy to read and displayed in a prominent place on their property. This rule, however, doesn’t apply when a dog bite victim is under six years of age or when damages incurred by a dog bite victim are the proximate cause of the pet owner’s negligence or omission.
Medical Malpractice Claims in Florida
According to a recent study conducted by John Hopkins Medical School, over 250,000 Americans are killed every year due to medical errors. Common medical errors in the U.S. include giving patients the wrong medications, misdiagnosing patients, and errors made during surgical procedures. It’s important for you to remember that there are multiple individuals who can commit malpractice including physician’s assistants, doctors, and nurses. This is due to the way Florida’s medical malpractice statute is worded.
Fl.Stat.766.102(1) states that in any action for recovery of damages due to personal injury or death of a person where a healthcare provider as defined Fl.Stat.766.202(4) has been accused of committing medical malpractice, which the statute defines a medical negligence, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the healthcare provider’s actions represented a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care for that health care provider. Fl.Stat.766.202(4) gives an extremely broad definition of “health care provider” that includes doctors, nurses, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, and more.
Moreover, Fl.Stat.766.102(1) establishes the major legal question that you and your personal injury attorney will have to answer which is, did your physician or medical provider breach their standard of care? The answer to this question is not always clear, and answering this question objectively often requires the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney. As such, if you or one of your loved ones have been injured or killed due to medical malpractice, you should always consult with a personal injury attorney immediately.
Wrongful Death Claims in Florida
Any personal injury claim can evolve into a wrongful death claim when the accident victim passes away due to the injuries they sustained as a result of another person’s negligence. However, it’s important for you to understand that although a person’s death is a factor considered when determining the degree to which a party was negligent, it does not define a person’s degree of negligence. For example, it is possible for a case of simple negligence to result in death. The fact that someone passed away does not by itself increase the severity of the negligence to gross negligence. Moreover, there are specific rules that apply to wrongful death claims in the state of Florida.
1. Only Certain Family Members can Initiate a Wrongful Death Claim
Fl.Stat.768.21 indicates which family members or individuals are entitled to bring a wrongful death claim in the state of Florida. As you may know, when a loved one passes away, they leave an estate, which consists of every possession they own, to their loved one either by a legal mechanism such as a will or by law. One person, who does not have to be a family member, that can bring a wrongful death claim is the deceased’s personal representative that is in charge of executing the deceased estate such the executor of a will.
The second category of people that can bring a wrongful death claim consists of the deceased’s family including their spouse, children, and parents. Moreover, each type of family member that brings a wrongful death action is entitled to specific types of damages that are outlined in Fl.Stat.768.21. Wrongful death claims can be extremely complicated, which is why you should always consult with a personal injury lawyer in Florida prior to initiating any type of wrongful death action.
2. Wrongful Death Claims have a Shorter Statute of Limitations
Personal injury claims have a four year statute of limitations in Florida, but Fl.Stat.95.11(4) establishes a two year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims. This time period for the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims begins on the date of death. As such, it’s important for you or your family members to immediately start evaluating your legal options if your loved one has been killed as a result of another person’s negligence.
Product Liability Claims in Florida
When you purchase a product, you naturally have an expectation that the product is designed to function in a safe manor. Unfortunately, some companies sell products that are defective and as a result, unsafe. These defects can cause you to sustain injuries even when the product is being used as intended. As such, Florida law allows you to seek compensation from the manufacturer of a defective product when the defect in their product is responsible for causing your injuries. The different types of product defects include:
- Manufacturing Defects – Defects in the way a product is manufactured or assembled
- Design Defect – Defects in the product’s design including the design of safety features
- Failure to Warn – This type of product liability action involves a seller or manufacturers failure to warn you of the dangerous nature of a product when the product is used as intended.
You should always consult with a personal injury attorney in Florida if you have been injured due to a defective product in our state, because the evidence needed to prevail in a court of law is different in each type of product liability claim. Moreover, as with all other areas of personal injury law, product liability claims have their own unique set of rules and guidelines that you must abide by in order to properly bring a claim against a product manufacturer.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney in Florida Today
If you or a loved one has been injured due to another person’s negligence, it can place a physical, financial, and emotional strain on your family, but the first step to obtaining the compensation you deserve for your injuries is contacting a personal injury attorney in Florida who can explain your legal rights and the legal remedies available to you under Florida law. 1-800-Injured is a medical and lawyer referral service that connects accident victims with personal injury attorneys in Florida. Don’t wait until it’s too late to file your claim. Call 1-800-Injured today to speak with a personal injury attorney near you.