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Earlier last month, three utility workers were killed in a Florida car accident while they were working along the edge of the road. According to a local news report covering the tragic accident, the three men were working in a roadside ditch while attempting to restore power at the time of the crash.

Evidently, shortly before seven in the evening, a truck was traveling northbound on a state highway while towing a trailer. The truck inexplicably left the roadway and crashed into the three utility workers. After the accident, the driver fled the scene but was later located by police. Based on the circumstances of the crash, police believe that the driver may have been intoxicated at the time. The driver was arrested and charged with DUI manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, and felony vehicular homicide, among other offenses.

Florida’s “Move Over” Law

Accidents such as the one discussed above were the impetus for the passage of a series of laws across the country, casually referred to as “Move Over” laws. Indeed, hundreds of roadside workers lose their lives each year in accidents in Florida and nationwide, which became a major concern for lawmakers. While each state has a different move over law, the idea behind each state’s move over law is to protect roadside workers from the dangers presented by passing motorists.

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When it comes to determining liability in dog bite cases, states employ a variety of different approaches. Most commonly, states will either apply a “strict liability” standard or a “negligence” standard. Many states also require a plaintiff to prove that the dog’s owner knew of an animal’s aggressive tendencies.

In Florida dog bite cases, a dog’s owner is held strictly liable for injuries caused by their animal, regardless of the dog’s history or aggression. A recent case illustrates the difference between a strict liability standard and a negligence standard in dog bite cases.

The Case Facts

The defendant’s dog bit the plaintiff as he approached the animal with an extended hand. As it turns out, the dog had bitten several other people, and had drawn blood during two of those incidents. The dog was usually kept confined within the defendant’s backyard, and on the fence outside the defendant’s home there was a sign stating “Beware of Dog.”

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Recently, the state’s supreme court issued a written opinion in a Florida personal injury case discussing an interesting aspect of Florida law that allows for an accident victim to hold the owners of dangerous instrumentalities liable for their injuries under certain circumstances. This application of the vicarious liability doctrine is somewhat unique to Florida and is important for Florida injury victims to understand, as it may provide an additional means of recovery.

Vicarious Liability and Dangerous Instrumentalities

Under Florida law, the owners of dangerous instrumentalities can be held vicariously liable for any injuries that are caused by the instrumentality regardless of another’s fault in bringing about the accident. Courts consider several factors when determining if something is a dangerous instrumentality, including:

  • whether the instrumentality is a motor vehicle;
  • whether the instrumentality is used near the public;
  • whether the dangers presented by the instrumentality are unique; and
  • how the legislature has chosen to regulate the instrumentality.

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Losing a loved one is always exceptionally difficult. However, the pain and frustration associated with a loved one’s passing are magnified when their death was due to a preventable accident. In Florida, those who have lost a loved one in any kind of accident can pursue a claim for compensation against the responsible parties through a Florida wrongful death lawsuit.

Florida’s wrongful death statute is contained in Florida Statute section 768.16, and is known as the “Wrongful Death Act.” The concept behind the Wrongful Death Act is to “shift the losses resulting when wrongful death occurs from the survivors of the decedent to the wrongdoer.” The statute allows for a personal representative of the deceased to bring a lawsuit against any responsible parties for the benefit of any “survivors.”

The first step in a Florida wrongful death lawsuit is to establish who is a “survivor.” Florida law defines a survivor as spouses, children, and parents of the deceased. In addition, any blood relative or adoptive sibling can be considered a survivor if they are at least partially financially dependent on the deceased for support.

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When someone is hurt in a Florida drunk driving accident, the injuries are often severe. In many Florida DUI accidents, the intoxicated motorist is traveling at a high rate of speed, traveling the wrong way down a one-way road, or entering an intersection without yielding to a traffic signal. These accidents may result in a high-speed, direct-impact collision.

Regardless of the specific type of accident, anyone who is injured in a Florida drunk driving accident can pursue a claim for damages against the responsible parties. The obvious party to name in this type of claim is the drunk driver. However, liability may not stop there. Under Florida’s Dram Shop law, an accident victim may be able to pursue a claim for compensation against the individual or business who provided alcohol to the intoxicated driver.

Florida’s Dram Shop law is contained in Florida Statutes section 768.125, and provides two situations in which a third-party can be responsible for injuries to a person who was injured due to the third party’s decision to provide to another.

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The lawmakers in each state are able to determine what amount of insurance is required to legally operate a vehicle on public roads. Most states require motorists to obtain a certain amount of bodily injury liability coverage to ensure that an accident victim is able to recover – at least in part – for the injuries they sustained. However, Florida lawmakers left the bulk of the decision to obtain car insurance in the hands of the individual motorists.

Unlike many other states, Florida law only requires motorists to obtain $10,000 personal injury protection (PIP) and $10,000 in property damage liability. Personal injury protection, also called “no fault insurance” covers the motorist (and other qualifying individuals) up to the policy maximum, without a showing of fault.

While this sounds good in theory, by not requiring motorists obtain additional bodily injury liability coverage, few motorists have coverage beyond the bare minimum PIP. This means that many Florida motorists do not have insurance to cover the medical expenses of those who are injured in an accident that they caused. Given the state’s lax insurance requirements, it is no surprise that Florida ranks among the worst states for uninsured and underinsured drivers.

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Angel I. Rivera has joined Cecere Santana, PA as an associate attorney. Mr. Rivera will be working with the legal team handling Property Litigation claims. As part of this team, he will be responsible for helping clients whose homes or businesses have been damaged by hurricanes, storms, fires, water damages or other types of property claims.

Mr. Rivera joins Cecere Santana after a successful career handling property claims. Previously, Mr. Rivera represented insurance companies in cases related to property insurance claims, which gives him a unique perspective when representing our clients. He knows first-hand how insurance companies operate and the best way to help our clients receive the right compensation for their property loss.

A graduate from Western Michigan University Thomas M. Colley Law School, Mr. Rivera is fluent in Spanish. He is also a graduate of Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications.

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As a general matter, Florida landowners owe a duty to those whom they invite onto their property to keep the area reasonably safe and warn visitors of known hazards that may not be readily apparent. The extent of the duty owed by a landowner depends on several circumstances, including the relationship between the parties. For example, a business visitor such as a customer in a retail establishment is owed a higher duty of care than a social guest.

When a landowner fails to exercise the necessary level of care in maintaining their property, and a guest is injured as a result, the landowner may be held liable for their visitor’s injuries through a Florida premises liability lawsuit. In general, in order to succeed in a premises liability lawsuit, a plaintiff must establish that the property owner knew or should have known about the hazard causing the plaintiff’s injuries.

Importantly, a Florida premises liability plaintiff does not need to prove that the landowner had actual knowledge of the hazard; it is sufficient to show that the defendant landowner had constructive knowledge of the hazard. Constructive knowledge is a legal concept by which a court assumes that a party has knowledge of a certain fact based on the surrounding circumstances.

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Semi-trucks are among the largest, most dangerous vehicles on the road, and as a result are involved in more than their share of Florida automobile accidents. Indeed, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported that in 2016 there were 293 fatal Florida semi-truck accidents. Also concerning is the fact that as a percentage of the total number of accidents, Florida semi-truck crashes continue to rise.

One type of semi-truck accident that has been getting significant attention over the past few years is an underride accident. An underride accident occurs when another vehicle gets wedged underneath a semi-truck during a collision. This normally occurs when a motorist rear-ends a stopped or slowing semi-truck at a significant speed; however, underride accidents may also involve a vehicle being dragged underneath the front side of the truck as well.

Trailer manufacturers have long been required to install rear underride guards on their trucks. These guards reduce the likelihood that a vehicle will get dragged underneath the rear of the truck in the event of a rear-end collision. However, more recently, lawmakers have been pushing to require trailer manufacturers to install front- and side-underride guards as well.

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In the tragic event that someone is killed in a Florida car accident, the victim’s family members may be able to recover financial compensation from the at-fault parties through a Florida wrongful death lawsuit. The Florida Wrongful Death Act is contained in Florida Statutes § 768.16, which provides for various forms of recovery, depending on the relationship between the deceased and the person filing the case.

Florida wrongful death claims can be filed by qualifying survivors. A “survivor” is defined under the Florida Wrongful Death Act as the deceased’s “spouse, children, parents, and, when partly or wholly dependent on the [deceased] for support or services, any blood relatives and adoptive brothers and sisters.”

Any qualifying survivor is able to pursue a claim for the loss of support and services they experiment as a result of the loss of their loved one. In addition, there may be specific types of compensation available to certain survivors. For example, a surviving spouse may be entitled to compensation for their loss of companionship and protection. Similarly, surviving minor children may be entitled to compensation for their “parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and for mental pain and suffering.” Surviving parents are also eligible for pain-and-suffering damages for the loss of a minor child.

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