Florida no longer recognizes the principle of joint and several liability with regard to satisfying final judgments rendered in personal injury cases. Under the concept of joint and several liability, one liable defendant could be forced to pay for the fault of other defendants. One of the theories behind the concept is that the damages would not have occurred but for that party’s fault, so make each party whose fault formed part of the chain leading to the total damages, liable for the fault of all.
Where one or more of the at-fault defendants did not have the financial means to pay its share of the damages, a defendant could be stuck with paying a disproportionate share of the judgment relative to its degree of fault. This procedure worked to the benefit of plaintiffs, who could turn to any defendant to satisfy the whole judgment. Consider this example: The drivers of a Coca-Cola truck and an uninsured vehicle are found equally at-fault for causing a horrible highway accident resulting in the death of a minor child in a third vehicle. At trial the jury awards damages totaling $5,000,000 and a final judgment is entered in this amount. Under joint and several liability, the Coca-Cola company can be forced to satisfy the entire judgment, although the jury has decided that its driver was only 50% at-fault. With the elimination of joint and several liability by the Florida Legislature, plaintiffs can no longer rely on any defendant to satisfy the entire judgment. Under current law, in my example, Coca-Cola would have to pay $2,500,000 instead of the full $5,000,000 final judgment.
What about when a violent crime is committed and a negligent security case is brought against the property owner and/or party in possession of the property for failing to prevent the crime? As between the property owner/possessor and the perpetrator of the crime, does the property owner get a discount on its liability to the extent of the perpetrator’s role in the event? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding No.
Fabre v. Marin, 623 So.2d 1182 (Fla.1993) is the Florida Supreme Court case that requires the allocation of fault among all negligent parties, including the plaintiff. The jury makes the determination and provides its answer on what is called the Jury Verdict Form. The verdict form will contain the name of everyone accused of being at-fault, even those not a party to the lawsuit, and the jury will determine the percentage of fault of each. Each defendant pays no more than its percentage of fault, regardless of whether or not any other at-fault defendant has the financial means to satisfy its share of the final judgment. No longer can the plaintiff look to one defendant to satisfy more than its share of a judgment.
Although Fabre stands for the proposition that fault can be apportioned among all negligent parties, it does not stand for the proposition that persons whose conduct was intentional rather than merely negligent, must be included on the jury verdict form. In fact, this matter has been litigated and Florida’s appellate courts have determined that the person whose intentional conduct precipitated the damages, cannot be included on the jury verdict form.
This is an exceedingly sensible and important position. The issues regarding negligent security should not be confused with the bad acts of a criminal. If the law were otherwise, it is highly likely that few if any defendants would be found liable for failing to provide adequate security. Jurors might tend to place most or all of the blame on the perpetrator, being distracted from the negligence of the property owner/possessor. This would be a natural reaction to hearing about the intentional conduct, but would result in a miscarriage of justice. Negligence is the issue to be decided in the civil case. Was the bad act foreseeable and could it have been prevented by better security measures? If the answer to these questions is Yes, the landowner/possessor has breached its duty to the harmed party and should be called to account.
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.
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