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Determining who is at fault in a Florida car accident is not always as straightforward as it may seem. While some accidents involve a clear error on the part of one driver, other accidents present a much more difficult situation. For example, chain-reaction accidents can involve multiple parties, each of whom may be partly at fault for the collision. Determining who is at fault in these accidents and dividing up the fault according to each driver’s actions is a difficult task that is most often left to the courts.

Blurred TrafficFlorida uses the comparative negligence rule when determining which accident victims are permitted to recover compensation for their injuries and how much they should recover. Under the comparative negligence doctrine, each party who is injured in an accident is entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party or parties they believe to be responsible for their injuries. If the jury determines that a plaintiff is partially at fault for their own injuries, that plaintiff’s total award amount will be reduced by their own percentage of fault.

Florida’s comparative negligence method is considered to be much more plaintiff-friendly than the alternative doctrine applied in other states, called contributory negligence. Under a contributory negligence analysis, any person who is determined to be even the slightest bit at fault for an accident cannot recover for their injuries.

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Earlier this month, the District Court of Appeal for Florida’s Second District issued a written opinion in a nursing home negligence case. The issue the court had to decide was whether the arbitration clause that was signed by the deceased resident’s daughter could bind the resident’s estate in a subsequent wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home. The court held that the agreement could not bind the estate to arbitrate, and it allowed the estate to pursue its claims through the court system.

Attorney's TableThe Facts of the Case

The case arose after a nursing home resident died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. At the time of her death, as well as prior to her admission to the nursing home, the resident was not competent to make her own medical decisions. Thus, the woman’s daughter was helping her get placed into a nursing home facility. As a part of this assistance, the daughter arranged for her mother to stay at the defendant nursing home and signed an arbitration agreement prior to her mother’s admission.

At the time the daughter signed the arbitration agreement, her mother had not assigned a power of attorney to her daughter. In fact, it was undisputed that the daughter was merely acting as a health care proxy for her mother and did not have any control over financial or legal matters involving her mother. However, when the daughter signed the arbitration agreement, she signed on the line designated for a “legal guardian.” The agreement defined a legal guardian as someone “who, under independent legal authority, such as a court order has authority to act on the Resident’s behalf.”

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Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion in a medical malpractice case in which the plaintiff claimed that the defendant negligently left a four-inch piece of drainage tube in his body after a surgery. The court ultimately held that the statute stating that a foreign body left inside a patient’s body is prima facie evidence of negligence should apply to the case, even though the plaintiff knew exactly who left the tube in him.

Medical SuppliesThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was admitted into the defendant hospital for a colon resection surgery. During the surgery, several feet of drainage tube were inserted into his body to help his body eliminate fluids after the surgery. A few days after the surgery, a nurse came to remove the tubing before the plaintiff was discharged. She pulled the tube out, as is normal practice, and the plaintiff was sent home.

A few months later, the plaintiff noticed pain in the area of where the tubing had been, and it was discovered that there were approximately four inches of tube still in his body. A subsequent surgery was required to remove the tubing. The plaintiff then filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital where the original surgery and tube-removal took place.

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Earlier this month, the District Court of Appeal of Florida’s Second District issued a written opinion in a nursing home negligence case, invalidating an arbitration agreement signed by one of the resident’s sons. As a result of the court’s decision, the estate of the deceased resident will not be required to argue their claim in front of an arbitration panel, and may file a personal injury case in the Florida court system.

ContractThe Facts of the Case

The nursing home resident was admitted into a nursing home in 2013. Before admission, her son, who had valid power of attorney for his mother, signed the nursing home contract. Included in the contract was an arbitration clause by which the parties agreed any claims arising from the resident’s admission would be settled through arbitration rather than the court system.

Later, the nursing home was acquired by another company. The nursing home claimed that a subsequent agreement was made to replace the old nursing home’s name with the new nursing home’s name. However, this was never admitted into evidence. At some point the resident was injured while in the care of the new nursing home and her estate later filed a personal injury claim against the nursing home.

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Mike-200x300A Miami-Dade jury awarded this week a $9.3 million verdict to a 24 year-old man involved in a motorcycle accident that resulted in a skull fracture and traumatic brain injury.

On the morning of March 16, 2014 Dylan Machado, who was represented by attorney Michael Cecere from Cecere Santana, PA, was traveling on his motorcycle near SW 67 Ave and 32 Terrace in Miami, when the defendant, Maria Rodriguez, changed into his lane, crashing into his motorcycle. The force of the impact caused Mr. Machado to fly off his motorcycle onto the pavement. Mr. Machado’s injuries resulted in him spending more than two months in the hospital and several months of rehabilitation.

During the one week trial, the attorney representing the defendant argued that Mr. Machado was negligent for not seeing Ms. Rodriguez and was negligent for not wearing his helmet. Mr. Cecere, along with attorney Henry Seiden, argued that Mr. Machado was indeed wearing his helmet and he did not contribute to the accident. In addition, Mr. Cecere contended, the defendant’s negligence had caused Mr. Machado’s severe and irreversible injuries that resulted in a lifetime of challenges and limitations for him.  The Miami-Dade jury only attributed 12% fault to Mr. Machado resulting in the multimillion dollar verdict.

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Earlier this month, a Florida appellate court issued a written opinion in a slip-and-fall case, reversing the lower court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The case required the court determine if a plaintiff can still recover for injuries under a premises liability theory where the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s fall was “obvious.” The court determined that in such cases, summary judgment in favor of the defense is not appropriate.

ATM The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a customer of the defendant bank who visited the bank to make a deposit through the drive-thru window. When she arrived, the bank was closed, so she decided to make the deposit at the bank’s outdoor ATM. However, the area around the ATM was under construction. The plaintiff testified that there was a sign in front of the ATM with an arrow to go around the barricade. However, when she walked around the barricade she stepped into a “pot hole,” falling to the ground. As a result of her fall, the plaintiff fractured her foot and leg, and injured her neck and back.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the bank, as well as the construction companies that were responsible for completing the work around the ATM. The plaintiff made two claims: first, that the bank was liable under a failure-to-warn theory, and second, that the bank was liable under a failure-to-maintain theory.

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There are thousands of cases filed in Florida courts each month. In fact, so many cases are filed in Florida that the system would get bogged down if each case resulted in a jury trial. To help whittle down the number of cases that ultimately go to trial, Florida courts have enacted a series of procedural rules to ensure that only the most diligent plaintiffs and most meritorious cases are allowed to proceed to trial.

Law BookDepending on the type of case and the named defendants, there may be dozens of applicable rules that must be strictly followed. A plaintiff’s failure to follow these rules can result in the court refusing to hear the case until the violation is remedied. In some cases, a court will dismiss a plaintiff’s case outright, preventing the accident victim from obtaining relief. A recent opinion from an Ohio appellate court illustrates how an unknowing plaintiff can end up violating court rules despite the best of intentions.

Davis v. Blaylock:  The Facts

Davis’ father passed away while at a local medical center. At the time of his death, Davis’ father was being treated by several doctors. Davis believed that her father’s death was caused by the negligence of the doctors who were caring for him. In hopes of seeking compensation for her loss, she filed a series of wrongful death lawsuits.

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Earlier this month, a West Virginia appellate court issued a written opinion in a slip-and-fall case that occurred at a hospital. The issue the court had to decide was whether the plaintiff’s case was properly considered a medical malpractice case under state law, or whether it was a premises liability case. The significance of the distinction between the two types of cases is that medical malpractice cases are subject to additional procedural requirements.

Doctor's OfficeThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff accompanied her husband to the defendant hospital for a medical check-up. The plaintiff’s husband checked in and was escorted to an examination room by a medical assistant. The medical assistant instructed the plaintiff’s husband to have a seat on the examination table and then left the room.

As the plaintiff’s husband attempted to climb onto the examination table, he fell back onto the plaintiff. Both the plaintiff and her husband sustained serious injuries, and the plaintiff’s husband died 90 days after the incident. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the hospital.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a negligence case brought by a man who was seriously injured when his apartment caught fire after a gas explosion. In the man’s case against the gas company, the court determined that while the gas company may have been negligent in failing to lock the meter after it detected a leak, the plaintiff’s own actions were deemed an intervening cause that severed the initial chain of causation. Thus, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant the summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

Gas MeterThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was moving into a new apartment. Before he moved in, the owner of the apartment arranged for the gas to be turned on. A technician from the gas company came to the property, turned on the gas, and noticed that the meter indicated there was a leak somewhere in the home’s gas system.

The technician filled out a warning card and left it with the girlfriend of the plaintiff’s son-in-law, who was the only one present at the time. The warning indicated that the gas meter was left in the off position because there was a leak that needed to be fixed. The card also explained that the system was left unlocked, so once the leak was fixed, a plumber could turn the system on. This was in direct violation of the gas company’s policy to always leave the meter off and locked when there was a gas leak detected.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a decision in a tragic case stemming from the death of a seventh-grade student that occurred at school while his teacher was out of the room. In the case, the court had the opportunity to discuss when government immunity is appropriate in situations in which a government employee’s negligence is alleged. In this case, unfortunately for the plaintiffs, the court determined that the allegedly negligent teacher was entitled to immunity.

After SchoolThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a seventh-grade student in the defendant’s American Literature class. One day, the teacher stepped out of the room and asked another teacher to listen in on the class while she was gone. However, while the student’s teacher was absent, he and another boy were horse playing when he fell to the ground, fracturing his collarbone. The fracture caused serious blood loss. By the time the teacher returned and called 911, it was too late. The student died later that day in the hospital.

The principal called the teacher to his office to discuss the student’s death. The teacher initially lied to the principal, telling him that she was present when the student fell. It was only later that the principal determined this was not the case. The teacher continued to offer several other versions of what happened, eventually testifying that she was using the restroom at the time of the accident.

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