Personal injury law is arguably one of the largest and oldest bodies of law in the United States, but despite the fact that most non-lawyers understand certain elements of this area of law, there are also several misconceptions about the various types of cases that comprise personal injury law as a whole and the laws that govern them. As such, it’s important for you, as an accident victim, to understand the various laws that govern personal injury cases in Florida, because accidents that fall under the this body of law occur every day.
Types of Personal Injury Cases in Florida
There are multiple types of legal claims that fall under the umbrella of personal injury law. As a general matter, personal injury law encompases events and accidents where a person has been injured due to the negligent or wrongful act(s) of another person. As you can imagine, this broad definition can apply in many scenarios, but some of the most common types of personal injury cases include:
- Auto Negligence
- Premises Liability
- Medical Malpractice
- Wrongful Death
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are 102 fatalities and 6,693 people injured per day in the U.S. due to car accidents, and while the number of car crashes that occur nationwide might not surprise you, the number of car accidents that occur in the state of Florida will. According to Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 402,385 car crashes that occurred statewide in 2017 involving almost 700 thousand drivers. This means that there are 1,098 car crashes that occur per day in Florida. As such, cases arising out of a car crash are the most common type of personal injury claim in our state by a large margin.
According to the Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator, there were 26,842 auto negligence cases that reached a disposition in circuit courts statewide during the 2017-18 fiscal year, but what is astounding is, there were more auto negligence cases that reached a disposition than every other type of case that falls under the purview of personal injury law combined. Moreover, auto negligence claims are unique in the fact that a car accident claim can evolve into multiple different types of personal injury claims that are brought simultaneously. For example, if you were involved in an accident where the at-fault driver hit you due to faulty safety equipment, the argument could be made that you can bring simultaneous claims against the driver who caused the accident and the manufacturer of the equipment that failed, because the manufacturer could be found to be at least partially responsible for your car crash under certain provisions of Florida’s product liability laws. So, car accidents are both common and legally complex in some cases. As such, there are a few provisions of the personal injury laws that govern civil auto negligence claims in Florida that you should be aware of.
Car Accident Laws in Florida
What is Considered Negligence in Florida
Car accident claims and the majority of personal injury claims in general are initiated based on an accusation of negligence. The Florida Supreme Court has defined general negligence as the failure to use reasonable care, which is the care that a reasonably careful person would use under like circumstances. However, it is possible for someone to commit a negligent act that does not rise to the level of legal liability. As such, your personal injury attorney will have to prove four specific elements in court in order to prove that an at-fault driver was both negligent and liable for your car accident. These essential elements of proof are as follows:
- The at-fault driver owed you a duty of care
- The at-fault driver breached their duty of care
- The at-fault driver’s breach of their duty of care caused your accident and as a result, injuries.
- You sustained legally recognized damages
What is a Duty of Care?
As citizens, we all have an obligation to act in a manner that doesn’t harm other people. This obligation is referred to as a duty of care. Like many legal standards, there are different types of duties of care with varying degrees of legal obligations associated with each one, and as drivers in Florida, we all have a duty to exercise reasonable care when we are driving on public roads or highways. As such, an at-fault driver’s duty of care is already established from a legal perspective, because the driver was operating their vehicle on a public road or highway.
With respect to the second element of proof, the Florida Supreme Court’s definition of negligence establishes the “reasonable care” standard which simply means that a judge or a jury must ask and answer the question, “Would a reasonably careful person have acted in the same manner as the defendant in a similar situation given the circumstances of the accident?” If the answer to this question is no, the defendant committed a negligent act, which by proxy, means that the defendant breached the duty of care they owed you as another driver on the road. However, you and your attorney will still have to prove that the at-fault driver’s breach of their duty of care is what caused your accident to occur. This can be accomplished by presenting physical evidence, such as photos or videos of the accident, or eye-witness testimony that demonstrates the link between the at-fault driver’s negligence and your accident.
Damages in Negligence Claims
The fourth element you must prove in an auto negligence claim is that you sustained legally recognized damages. There are two categories of damages you can seek compensation for in an auto negligence case: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Punitive damages are only awarded in cases where the at-fault driver’s actions rise to the level of gross negligence or intentional misconduct pursuant to Fl.Stat.§768.72. Moreover, the purpose behind awarding punitive damages to a plaintiff in a personal injury case is to punish a defendant and deter them from repeating their actions in the future as opposed to compensating you for your injuries. As such, punitive damages are only awarded in the most egregious cases of negligence.
In contrast, compensatory damages are awarded to compensate you for your injuries and the effect your injuries will have on your life. Compensatory damages are the most common type of damages awarded in a personal injury case, and they can be divided into two categories, economic and non-economic. Economic damages are awarded to compensate you for things such as medical bills, lost wages, and future medical care whereas non-economic damages are awarded to compensate you for things such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life. Moreover, both punitive and compensatory damages can be awarded in all personal injury claims, not just auto negligence cases.
Premises Liability Laws in Florida
In Florida, landowners owe individuals who come on their premises a certain duty of care to ensure that their property is safe and free of hazards. When a landowner fails to fulfill their legal obligation and this failure causes you to sustain injuries, the landowner can be held liable for negligence. This type of personal injury case is known as a premises liability claim, and there are multiple types of premises liability cases that can be initiated under Florida law including:
- General Premises Liability
- Slip and Fall
- Dog Bite
The elements of you must prove in order to demonstrate that a landowner committed an act of negligence are the same as an auto negligence claim, but the main difference between the two is that a land owner’s duty of care can vary significantly based on the type of visitor you are classified as at the time of the accident. The various types of visitors under Florida’s premises liability laws are as follows:
- Invitees (highest duty of care by a landowner)
- Licensee (second highest duty of care by a landowner)
- Trespasser (lowest duty of care by a landowner)
As such, it’s important for you to always discuss your claim with a personal injury attorney who can determine which class of visitor you were categorized as at the time of the accident, because in some cases, such as those involving a trespasser, a landowner can owe a very low duty of care thereby minimizing, if not eliminating, the degree to which a landowner is liable for a premises liability accident.
Medical Malpractice Laws in Florida
Every year thousands of Americans are injured due to medical malpractice in the state of Florida, and unfortunately, you, like many people, may be unaware of what actually constitutes medical malpractice from a legal perspective. For starters, doctors aren’t the only type of medical provider who can commit malpractice in our state. Other healthcare professionals and facilities such as nurses, physician’s assistants, hospitals, and ambulatory surgical centers can commit malpractice as well according to Fl.Stat.§766.102(1).
Moreover, this same statute also states that in order for you to bring a medical malpractice claim against a doctor or medical facility, you will have to prove that the medical provider’s actions were a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care for that health care provider.
Meaning that the level of care exercised by the doctor or medical facility in your case did not meet the normal standard of care for similar medical professionals in the same situation. Moreover, medical malpractice cases are unique in that they are governed by a two-year statute of limitations and a four-year statute of repose under Fl.Stat.§95.11(4)(b), which some legal agencies, including the Florida Bar, have speculated is a legal mechanism to curtail frivolous malpractice claims. As such, it’s important for you to immediately consult with a medical malpractice attorney if you or a family member have been injured due to medical malpractice in Florida.
Wrongful Death Laws in Florida
Almost every type of personal injury claim can evolve into a wrongful death claim under certain circumstances. Wrongful death claims are initiated based on the death of a family member that was caused by the negligent actions of another person, whereas almost every other type of personal injury claim is initiated based on a person being injured by the negligent actions of another person. As such, every personal injury claim can turn into a wrongful death claim if your family member dies due to the injuries sustained in an accident.
However, wrongful death claims still have their own unique set of rules that specifically dictate which family members or individuals can initiate a wrongful death claim and the types of damages each plaintiff can seek in a wrongful death case. Pursuant to Fl.Stat.§768.21, only the following individuals may initiate a wrongful death claim in Florida:
- The personal representative to the deceased’s estate
- The deceased’s spouse
- The deceased’s children
- The deceased’s parents
Moreover, wrongful death claims have a shorter statute of limitations than personal injury claims. Personal injury claims, in general, have a four-year statute of limitations in Florida unless otherwise indicated by statute, but wrongful death claims have a two-year statute of limitations that begins on the date of your family member’s death. Since wrongful death claims can be both complicated and complex, you should always contact a personal injury attorney who can assist you or your family with initiating any type of wrongful death action.
Connect with a Personal Injury Attorney in Fort Lauderdale
Personal injury law is complex and confusing in many ways, which is why you should always speak with a personal injury attorney if you or a family member have been involved in any type of accident. Unfortunately, some people make the mistake of waiting to file their personal injury claim, which in some cases can have a devastating impact on the overall value of their case. 1800-Injured is a medical and lawyer referral service that connects accident victims with personal injury attorneys in the Ft. Lauderdale area. If you or a family member have been injured in an accident, don’t wait until it’s too late to file your claim. Call 1800-Injured today to be connected with a personal injury attorney in your area.