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As a general rule, Florida landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they invite onto their property. This duty, however, is not without its limits. For example, a landowner will not typically be found liable for injuries that are caused by a hazard that is “open and obvious.” The rationale is that when a hazard is open and obvious, the visitor has equal of the danger as the landowner, and should be able to avoid the hazard.

In a recent Florida slip-and-fall case, however, the court discussed a situation where a landowner may still be liable for a plaintiff’s injuries that were caused by an open and obvious hazard.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff tripped and fell on an uneven section of sidewalk that was within a condominium complex. Evidently, the plaintiff had lived in the complex for 15 years, and regularly passed by the area where she fell. Additionally, the area was marked by management with blue dots to indicate it was an area most in need of repair.

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Recovering after a Florida workplace accident can be tricky for several reasons. For one, as a general rule, an injured employee cannot file a Florida personal injury lawsuit against their employer – even if the employer was negligent – because a workers’ compensation claim is an injured employee’s sole remedy in most cases. And while a workers’ compensation claim allows for an injured worker to receive some benefits without establishing that their employer was negligent or at fault for the accident, the amount and duration of Florida workers’ compensation benefits can be limited.

There are several exceptions to the sole-remedy provision. The two main categories of cases in which the sole-remedy provision does not apply are those cases involving a non-employer third-party’s negligence and cases involving injuries to workers in specific industries in which lawmakers have specifically allowed claims against an employer.

The Florida workers’ compensation sole-remedy provision only applies to an employee’s claim against their employer. Thus, if a third-party’s negligence was the cause of the employee’s injuries, the employee will not be precluded from pursuing a Florida personal injury case against that third-party. For example, if an employee’s injury is the result of a defective product, the employee could pursue a Florida product liability claim against the product’s manufacturer.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida personal injury case involving an accident that occurred on the Daytona International Speedway. The case required the court to determine whether the plaintiff was prevented from pursuing a claim against the Speedway based on a release of liability waiver she had signed before the accident. Ultimately, the court concluded that although the waiver was valid and enforceable, it did not cover the specific claim made by the plaintiff.

The Facts of the Case

The court’s recitation of the facts was brief; however, it appeared from the court’s discussion of the facts that the plaintiff was a pit-crew member for one of the racers. Before the plaintiff was allowed onto the racetrack, the Speedway asked that she sign a document that was a release and waiver of liability. By signing the document, the plaintiff agreed that she was aware of the risks involved with standing on the racetrack, and that she agreed not to sue the Speedway if she was injured. The document explicitly stated that it applied to “all acts of negligence.”

According to the court’s opinion, one day the plaintiff was standing in a restricted access area when she was run over by a tow truck that was backing up into the area. Evidently, the tow truck driver was being directed into the area by two employees of the Speedway.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida car accident case requiring the court to determine whether a residential community could be held liable for an accident victim’s injuries. The court’s opinion largely focused on the question of whether the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries. However, the case also serves as a valuable lesson for Florida injury victims.

Proximate Cause in Florida Injury Cases

To establish a claim of liability against a defendant, a plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of their injury. To be sure, proximate cause is a complex legal concept, but boiled down to its essence proximate cause is a question of whether the plaintiff’s injuries were a natural and foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions. In many Florida car accident cases, proximate cause is not contested because the plaintiff’s injuries are the clear result of the defendant’s conduct. However, the case mentioned above presented a unique situation.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiffs were driving through a residential community when they came across a portion of the road where cars were parked on either side of the street. As the plaintiffs approached the bottleneck, they stopped in the middle of the road to allow an oncoming car to pass through the parked cars. However, as the plaintiffs were stopped, another car rear-ended their vehicle.

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The judge plays an extremely important role in any Florida personal injury case. Among the major duties of the judge during a trial is to make all evidentiary rulings. These may come up in a pre-trial motion in limine or throughout trial when a party attempts to elicit or present certain evidence that the opposing party believes is objectionable and should be excluded.

Florida judges are guided in these decisions by the Florida Rules of Evidence, which are quite complex and cover many of the situations that may come up during a trial. Perhaps the most basic rule is stated in Rule 90.402, which explains that “all relevant evidence is admissible, except as provided by law.” Thus, the party attempting to admit evidence must first establish that it is relevant. If that party can do so, then it is up to the opposing party to explain why the evidence is otherwise excludable.

Some of the reasons why relevant evidence may be excluded are that the evidence is based on hearsay testimony, the evidence has not been properly authenticated, or the evidence relates to a privileged matter. One of the most commonly cited rules to keep out relevant evidence is Rule 90.403, which states that “relevant evidence is inadmissible if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of issues, misleading the jury, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.”

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One of the many roles of judges during a Florida personal injury case is to determine what evidence is admitted at trial as well as which evidence the jury will be permitted to consider during its deliberations. To guide a judge’s decision on these critical issues, lawmakers have enacted the Florida Rules of Evidence.

One of the unique aspects of Florida evidentiary law is the lack of what is known as a dead man’s statute. About half of the states have a dead man’s statute, which prohibits an interested party from testifying about a conversation they had with someone who has since died. The idea behind the rule is that because the deceased person is not present to refute the representations made by the interested party, it is difficult to ensure these statements are false or self-serving.

Instead of a dead man’s statute, Florida lawmakers have included section 90.804(2)(e) to help alleviate some of the concerns the dead man’s statute was meant to address. Under section 90.804(2)(e), written or oral statements that were made by a person who is unavailable due to “death or because of then-existing physical or mental illness or infirmity” can be admitted into evidence. These statements are only admissible, however, if the statement relates to the subject matter of the statement made by an adverse party to the deceased. The phrasing of Florida’s rule is confusing. Simply stated, it allows for the statements of the deceased to come into evidence if an adverse party testifies to conversations with the deceased.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida car accident case discussing circumstantial evidence as well as its limits. The case required the court to explain the rule against stacking inferences based on circumstantial evidence.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was riding as a passenger in a minivan that was being driven by a family member. The minivan was traveling over the Buckman Bridge when, about a mile onto the bridge, the driver of the minivan had to bring the vehicle to a stop because there was a ladder in the road.

Apparently, no one saw how the ladder ended up on the road; however, the plaintiff testified that she saw a motorist who had parked his truck parked on the side of the road and was focused on the ladder as though he was trying to retrieve it. As the minivan was stopped on the bridge, a Coca-Cola service vehicle rear-ended the minivan, injuring the plaintiff. The truck driver was never located.

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One of a judge’s primary roles in a Florida personal injury case is to decide which evidence the jury is allowed to consider. It is very common for one or more parties in a lawsuit to present evidence that the other party considers objectionable. This may be because the evidence is claimed to be irrelevant, based on hearsay testimony, unreliable, or otherwise excludable under one of the Florida rules of evidence.

When a party learns of an opposing party’s intention to present evidence, the court may be asked to rule on the admissibility of evidence by the party against whom the evidence is being introduced. In so doing, the court will hear arguments from the parties and ultimately decide whether the evidence should be presented to the jury.

Thus, while the judge in a Florida personal injury case may not have the ultimate discretion to decide whether the defendant was liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, she certainly has an important role to play in the process. Of course, judges are human and can make mistakes. When a party feels as though a judge has made a legal error regarding the admissibility of evidence, that party can file an appeal, assuming the alleged error was properly preserved at trial.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida personal injury case discussing the doctrine of comparative negligence as it pertains to allegations involving an intentional tort. Ultimately, the court concluded that a court is prohibited from reducing a plaintiff’s damages based on their own negligent actions if the defendant was found liable for an intentional tort.

Intentional Torts Versus Claims of Negligence

A tort is a wrong act that may result in civil liability. Most torts are the result of the defendant’s negligence; however, tort claims can also be based on a defendant’s intentional act. For example, the claim of fraudulent concealment is an intentional tort. One thing that Florida personal injury plaintiffs should keep in mind is that insurance contracts generally do not cover intentional torts. Thus, even if a plaintiff is successful in a Florida intentional tort claim, the defendant may not have the ability to fully compensate the plaintiff. In this regard, negligence claims may be preferred.

The Facts of the Case

The court’s discussion of the underlying facts of the case was brief; however, the case dealt with a plaintiff’s claim against a tobacco manufacturer — precisely, the plaintiff’s claim that the defendant manufacturer fraudulently concealed harmful effects of their products. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff, but also determined that the plaintiff was partially responsible for her injuries, as she was the one who decided to smoke.

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Unfortunately, Florida has a reputation for having some of the worst drivers in the country. Indeed, according to a recent report, there are almost 15 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people in the state. To give this figure some context, roughly 3,200 people lost their lives as a result of Florida traffic accidents in 2016.

While these figures represent all types of traffic accidents, the victims of fatal Florida bicycle accidents represent a sizable portion of those killed each year. It is estimated that by year’s end there will have been a total of 130 people killed in Florida bicycle accidents this year alone. Many of these fatalities are caused by drivers who are distracted by some other activity or otherwise not paying attention while driving.

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of Florida traffic accidents, claiming over 200 lives per year. According to a recent report by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the most common cause of Florida distracted driving accidents was general inattentiveness, followed by other distractions inside the vehicle. Surprisingly, cell phone use and texting were low on the list of causes; however, that may be due to motorists not wanting to admit that they were on the phone at the time of the accident.

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