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All drivers have a duty to operate their motor vehicles in Florida in a careful and prudent manner under the circumstances. This duty extends to everyone, including to police officers driving police cars, whether or not they are responding to an emergency and whether or not the emergency lights are activated. A police officer’s failure to take the necessary precautions when operating a patrol car may result in the officer, the department, or the city being liable for a victim’s injuries through a South Florida personal injury lawsuit.

Police SirensDuty of Reasonable Care

To establish a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty, that the breach of that duty caused the plaintiff’s damages, and that the plaintiff has quantifiable damages. A defendant’s “duty of care” in favor of a plaintiff can arise from four sources:  state laws and regulations, judicial interpretations of laws or regulations, other judicial decisions, or a duty arising out of the specific facts of the case.

Police officers must drive carefully and prudently while operating police vehicles, even when responding to emergencies. In fact, if a police officer is driving in a more dangerous situation, like driving through red lights, the officer may have a heightened duty because, as the risk of harm grows to others, a driver’s duty of care is heightened. Police officers owe a duty to exercise reasonable care in carrying out their duties, including a duty to protect innocent bystanders if their police duties create a foreseeable zone of risk. For example, police officers in Florida have been found to have a duty when police were engaged in a high-speed chase and killed innocent motorists, as well as when police were chasing someone on foot and injured a pedestrian. Florida courts have also determined that police do not have to have a person “in custody” to owe the person a duty of care.

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If an individual suffers damages due to the actions of another person, the individual may be entitled to compensation for injuries and other damages. This is regardless of whether the at-fault person was acting with the intent to cause harm or was merely negligent under the circumstances. Most motor vehicle collisions are results of negligent conduct rather than intentional conduct.

OverpassNegligence Claims Arising after Motor Vehicle Crashes

A Florida personal injury claim requires a plaintiff to prove the following:  a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff to conform to a certain standard of conduct; a breach of the duty by the defendant; a causal connection between the conduct and the plaintiff’s injuries; and damages.

Under Fla. Stat. 316.1925, any person who operates a motor vehicle in Florida must drive in a careful and prudent manner, in light of the circumstances, to avoid endangering other people and property. Circumstances to consider in evaluating a motorist’s driving include the weather, the width of the road, the presence of curves, the speed limit, and the amount of traffic. A driver is also responsible for maintaining attention at all times in preparation for the demands of an emergency.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida drunk driving case requiring the court to interpret the state’s reverse dram shop liability statute. The court was tasked with determining whether the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to survive the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff’s evidence was sufficient, and it ordered the case to proceed toward trial or settlement negotiations.

golf cartFlorida’s Reverse Dram Shop Statute

In Florida, establishments that serve alcoholic beverages are generally not liable for any accidents caused by their customers once they leave the premises. However, under the Reverse Dram Shop Liability statute, a plaintiff may proceed with a case against the serving establishment if they can show that the establishment served alcohol to a patron whom they knew to be “habitually addicted to alcohol.”

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving family member of a woman who was killed by a drunk driver. At the time of the accident, the driver’s blood-alcohol content was .302, which is nearly four times the legal limit of .08. Prior to getting into the car, the driver was at the defendant country club.

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Earlier this month, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal issued a written opinion in a Florida personal injury case brought by a former smoker who had developed lung cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The plaintiff’s case was filed against the manufacturer of the cigarette brand that she used to smoke and claimed that her addiction to cigarettes was what caused her disease.

AshtrayThe case presented the court with the task of determining whether the trial court’s conflicting evidentiary rulings regarding the plaintiff’s expert warranted a new trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the trial court’s error likely did have an effect on the jury’s decision to find for the defendant and ordered a new trial to take place.

The Lower Court’s Rulings

The lower court first determined that the plaintiff’s treating pulmonologist was not qualified to testify that the plaintiff was addicted to cigarettes. In a subsequent ruling, the lower court then allowed the same pulmonologist to respond to questioning from the defense about the plaintiff’s ability to quit smoking. The pulmonologist explained that the plaintiff “could quit when she was sufficiently motivated to do so.”

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When someone is injured while using a product, that person is entitled to file a product liability case against the manufacturer of the allegedly dangerous product to seek compensation for their injuries. In most cases, the injured party will not need to prove that the manufacturer was negligent; however, an injured party will need to prove that the product was unreasonably dangerous.

CourtroomFlorida courts allow product liability plaintiffs to prove dangerousness in one of two ways:  the risk-utility test or the consumer-expectations test. A recent Florida appellate court opinion briefly mentions each test and notes how under the current state of the law, a jury may be instructed on the elements of both tests.

Florida’s Risk-Utility Test

One way in which a Florida product liability plaintiff can establish that a product was dangerous is through the risk-utility test. This test asks the jury to consider the risks posed by a product’s design and weigh those risks against the benefits of the design. Courts applying this test look at a number of factors, such as the obviousness of the danger presented by the product and the availability of other reasonable designs that may be less dangerous. Since it can be argued that most products present some risk, this test is less plaintiff-friendly in most circumstances.

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Premises liability claims are lawsuits brought against a property owner who negligently fails to keep their property in a safe condition, violating a duty of care owed to the plaintiff. Premises liability describes a broad range of cases, extending from slip-and-fall accidents to chemical exposure cases.

Swimming PoolChlorine Gas Exposure

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chlorine is an element used in industrial settings, as well as household products such as bleach. It is often used in swimming pools to kill bacteria. Chlorine is sometimes in the form of a poisonous gas, which can be recognized by its pungent, irritating odor, similar to bleach. It is yellow-green in color. When chlorine gas is released into the air, a person can be exposed through skin contract or eye contact, or through breathing air that contains chlorine.

People who are exposed to high levels of chlorine can experience coughing, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, blisters, fluid in the lungs, wheezing, watery eyes, and a burning sensation in the nose, throat, and eyes. Breathing in high concentrations of chlorine can lead to long-term complications, such as fluid in the lungs following the exposure.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Florida issued a written opinion in a medical malpractice case that was brought by a patient who was seriously injured during a surgery that was performed by the defendant doctor. Prior to the surgery, the plaintiff signed a contract containing an exculpatory clause. The case required the court to determine if the exculpatory clause was valid, and if so, whether the lower court was proper to dismiss the plaintiff’s case.

ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff required a spinal fusion surgery. She arranged to have the defendant doctor perform the surgery. However, prior to the date of the surgery, the plaintiff signed a contract containing the following clause:

As of January 1, 2003, [the defendants] will not carry any medical malpractice insurance. Being of sound mind and sound body, I hereby acknowledge this fact and agree not to [the defendants] for any reason. My reason for doing this is that I realize that [the defendants] will do the very best to take care of me according to community medical standards.

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Last year, a Tesla car equipped with auto-pilot technology was involved in a fatal accident with a semi-truck. According to news reports released shortly after the accident, the car was traveling straight on the highway when a semi-truck pulled out in front of the car. Both the driver of the vehicle as well as the vehicle’s auto-pilot system failed to detect the bright-white side of the semi-truck, and the car collided with the side of the truck at full speed.

Car AccidentIn the wake of the accident, many questions arose not just about the safety of self-driving cars but also regarding the many legal issues that the use of self-driving cars brings up. For example, when a person is operating a self-driving car in auto-pilot mode and a collision occurs, is the manufacturer liable for any injuries to a third party? What about the “driver” of the self-driving car?

These questions are no closer to being answered today than they were at the time of last year’s accident; however, as cases involving self-driving cars work their way through the court system, eventually courts will have to come up with answers to these questions.

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Like any other activity, safely driving a motor vehicle is something that requires practice. Whether it be remembering the rules of the road, or the muscle memory needed to safely operate the gas and brake pedals, operating a motor vehicle requires a certain amount of knowledge and coordination. In Florida, before someone is provided with a driver’s license, they must meet certain criteria. These include passing both a written and a practical driving test. However, despite these requirements, it still remains true that new and inexperienced drivers are responsible for a disproportionate number of serious and fatal car accidents each year.

Car AccidentIt should not come as a surprise that newer drivers cause more accidents than more experienced drivers. However, under the laws of Florida, when it comes to determining who is at fault for causing a car accident, it is irrelevant how long a driver has had their license. In other words, all drivers have the same obligation to safely operate their vehicle while on public roads. This means that if a new driver causes an accident resulting in serious injuries or death, they may be held financially liable to the victims of that accident and potentially the victim’s family members as well through a South Florida personal injury lawsuit.

In order to be successful in a personal injury claim, an accident victim must be able to show that some negligent act of the other driver resulted in their injuries. A driver’s negligence can be proven through evidence showing that the other driver committed a traffic violation, was intoxicated at the time of the accident, was distracted by their cell phone, or was careless in a variety of other ways.

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Last month, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a man who tripped and fell on an unsecured cord while rehearsing with a church band. The court had to determine if the plaintiff’s potential knowledge of the hazard – having been playing with the band for several years – resulted in his expressly assuming any risk of injury. Ultimately, the court concluded that under Florida law, the doctrine of express assumption of the risk applies only in certain limited situations, one of which was not present in the plaintiff’s case.

Aux CableThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff joined the defendant church in 2008. In the next year, he started playing in the church band. For the next two years, there were no issues; however, in 2011, the plaintiff tripped and fell on the bass guitarist’s electrical cord. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the church, claiming that the church was negligent in failing to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.

The church argued that it should not be held liable because the plaintiff knew or should have known about the dangerous condition and assumed the risk of injury by performing on stage for the past two years. The trial court agreed, finding that the plaintiff expressly assumed any risk of injury, and dismissed the case.

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