Florida’s motor vehicle insurance laws can be confusing, even to lawyers and  judges. It is little wonder, then, that lay people often face unfortunate motorway nightpredicaments because of uninformed insurance decisions. One of the most common predicaments is the suspension of driving privileges and vehicle registrations following a motor vehicle crash.

Vehicle insurance is a significant expense for most people. Every different type of coverage comes at the cost of a premium payment. Only two types of coverage are mandatory in Florida to register a motor vehicle: PIP and property damage liability. Because of cost concerns and a lack of knowledge, many Florida vehicle owners limit themselves to the basic package.

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Our firm was recently retained by the grieving mother of a young adult killed instacking a motorcycle accident. Because her son was not married or the father of a child, she and the boy’s father can bring a civil claim for mental pain and suffering and funeral expenses against any party whose negligent conduct caused the accident. See §768.21(4) & (5) Florida Statutes.

It is too early in the investigation for us to know what happened. Law enforcement has not filed a Florida Crash Report or homicide report and the investigating officers are not talking. We do not know the cause of the accident or whether others were involved.

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truck2Following a car crash, Florida car insurance companies are required to pay 80% of their own insureds’ medical expenses and 60% of their lost wages until coverage is exhausted at a combined $10,000. The requirement applies regardless of who caused the accident.

In 1972, the Florida Legislature crafted a law, known as the “Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law,” for application in motor vehicle accident cases. Every owner or registrant of a Florida motor vehicle — there are exceptions — became obligated to maintain Personal Injury Protection (PIP), an insurance coverage designed to pay medical expenses and reimburse lost wages up to $10,000 (less deductibles) without regard to fault. The purpose of the law was to provide important benefits quickly without having to fight over fault — similar to workers’ compensation. PIP remains the law in Florida.

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security gateWith the exception of strict liability cases, the burden is always on the plaintiff in personal injury cases to prove that the “[defendant’s] negligence probably caused the plaintiff’s injury,” with “probably” being the more likely than not/greater weight of the evidence standard. Gooding v. Univ. Hosp. Bldg., Inc., 445 So.2d 1015, 1018 (Fla.1984); see, also, Standard Jury Instruction – Civil Cases 401.3.

The standard was recently put to the test in Sanders v. Erp Operating Limited Partnership, 157 So.3d 273 (Fla. 2015).

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pillsA pharmacy owes a customer a duty of reasonable care. Reasonable care is the degree of care that an ordinarily prudent pharmacist would exercise under the same or similar circumstances. Marjorie A. Shields, Annotation, Exemplary or Punitive Damages for Pharmacist’s Wrongful Conduct in Preparing or Dispensing Medical Prescription—Cases Not Under Consumer Product Safety Act, 109 A.L.R.5th 397, § 2 (2003); see Pittman v. Upjohn Co., 890 S.W.2d 425, 434 (Tenn. 1994) (stating pharmacists have duty to exercise standard of care required of pharmacy profession in same or similar communities); Schaerrer v. Stewart’s Plaza Pharmacy, Inc., 79 P.3d 922, 933 (Utah 2003) (reiterating that pharmacist has generally recognized duty to possess and exercise reasonable degree of skill, care, and knowledge that would be exercised by reasonably prudent pharmacist in same situation).

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P1010046.JPGUnder common law, principals are generally not liable for the negligent acts of independent contractors. Interstate shipping companies took advantage of this standard to avoid liability for accidents caused by the owners of rigs who contracted to transport their goods. The practice allowed carriers to keep from having to purchase liability insurance. Given the volume of interstate traffic and the risk of catastrophic injury resulting from big rig crashes, the premium savings were tremendous.
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scales of justice.jpgPersonal injury plaintiffs bear the burden of proving the defendant was negligent. See Florida Standard Jury Instruction 415.11 – Civil Cases. Negligence is determined by measuring the defendant’s conduct against the behavior of a “reasonable person” under similar circumstances. In Florida, the burden requires proof by the greater weight of the evidence. Standard Jury Instruction 401.3 – Civil Cases.

The reasonable person standard, also known as the standard of care, can be established by statutes, ordinances, codes, rules, industry standards, and a company’s own policies & procedures. The violation of a statute, ordinance, code, or rule may constitute negligence per se; violation of industry standards and policies & procedures cannot. When the trial judge decides that a violation is negligence per se, the jury will be instructed to determine if the defendant violated the statute and whether such violation was a legal cause of the injury or damages complained of. deJesus v. Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Company, 281 So.2d 198 (Fla. 1973).
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broken-sidewalk-2-1090214-m.jpgOur last blog discussed the liability of landowners for accidents caused by tree roots. Today’s blog addresses the liability of landowners for accidents caused by broken sidewalks.

Every premises liability case analysis involving invitees begins here:

“Generally, a property owner owes two duties to an invitee: (1) the duty to use reasonable care in maintaining the property in a reasonably safe condition; and (2) the duty to warn of latent or concealed dangers which are or should be known to the owner and which are unknown to the invitee and cannot be discovered through the exercise of due care.” Aaron v. Palatka Mall, L.L.C., 908 So.2d 574, 577 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005).

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FullSizeRender-medWe are about to file suit in a case where our client fell after catching the heel of her shoe on a tree root as she was traversing a raised, curbed planting bed that was six to eight feet wide, on the way back to her parked car from an employer-sponsored holiday party. (The photo at right shows the accident scene.) The accident happened at night under dim lighting conditions. Our client sustained a trimalleolar fracture.

We blame the commercial property owner for causing the accident by failing to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition, and failing to give warning of the concealed dangerous condition. We expect the property owner to counter that it had no duty to make the landscaping area in its parking lot fit for pedestrian traffic, and that the tree root was so obvious so as not to constitute a dangerous condition.
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scales.jpgWhile the American jury system is one of the greatest human inventions, it is not infallible. At times our peers are influenced by prejudice, passion, or corruption; they sometimes ignore or misconceive evidence, take improper elements of damages into account by speculation and conjecture.

A verdict based on any of these elements should be rejected by the trial judge and superior appellate courts. There are various procedures for putting the decision before the respective courts. Rather than address those procedures, this blog will focus on the legal standards the courts consider.

There are two standards. The threshold standard is purely objective, the other standard is a hybrid of objective and subjective analysis.
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