Liability for “Enhanced Injuries” in Florida Personal Injury Cases

On July 7, 2010, I blogged that the initial tortfeasor (a wrong-doer, one who does wrong) in a negligence case is liable under Stuart v. Hertz Corp., 351 So.2d 703 (Fla. 1977), for all foreseeable damages arising from an accident, including enhanced injuries caused by medical malpractice suffered during treatment for the initial injuries. (Blog.) Today’s blog addresses the responsibility of those whose negligence has caused injuries apart from those resulting from the initial negligence.

The seminal case in Florida on this issue is the Florida Supreme Court case D’Amario v. Ford Motor Company, 806 So.2d 424 (Fla. 2001). In D’Amario a minor was the passenger in a vehicle that struck a tree. A fire began that ended in an explosion, causing the minor to lose three limbs and suffering burns to much of his body.

The minor and his mother sued Ford alleging that a defective relay switch in the automobile caused the fire. It was their theory that but for the defect, the fire would not have started and the minor’s injuries would have been much less serious. In line with this theory, they only sought damages for the injuries caused by the defective switch rather than for the injuries caused by the initial impact with the tree.

At trial, Ford sought to introduce evidence as to the cause of the initial accident, which was that another minor was intoxicated and negligently drove the vehicle into the tree. The plaintiffs (mother and son) sought to keep this evidence out by arguing that it was irrelevant. In their view, since they were not seeking compensation from Ford for the injuries sustained from the initial impact, how and why it happened was irrelevant. The trial court disagreed, allowing the evidence to be presented to the jury. The jury returned a verdict for Ford.

After a rehearing and an appeal to the Second District Court, the case landed before the Florida Supreme Court. Since the case was one of first impression for the court, the Florida Supreme Court considered cases from other states. It concluded that the majority view in the nation was that evidence of the cause of the initial accident was relevant, while the minority view was the opposite. To its credit, the Florida Supreme Court adopted the minority view.

Accordingly, the law in Florida is that in cases involving allegations of enhanced injuries resulting from negligence unrelated to the initial fault, evidence of what caused the initial accident is not relevant per se. Not only does this mean that jurors will not be confused and distracted by irrelevant evidence, but also that parties whose negligence caused injuries are more likely to be held accountable for their fault.

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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.