Articles Posted in Civil Litigation

workerFlorida employees hurt at work have the potential of being compensated under the State’s workers’ compensation and civil laws. To recover under civil law against employers and fellow employees (including corporate officers or directors, supervisors, and managers), employees must overcome workers’ compensation immunity. Section 440.11(1)(b), Florida Statutes sets out what employees must prove to overcome the immunity*:

Against Employers:

  1. The employer deliberately intended to injure the employee; or
  2. The employer engaged in conduct that was virtually certain to result in injury or death, and the employee was not aware of the risk.

Against Fellow Employees: 

  1. The employee acted with willful and wanton disregard or unprovoked physical aggression or with gross negligence; or
  2. The injured employee and the at-fault employee were assigned primarily to unrelated works.

*These are the standards when the employer has secured workers’ compensation coverage as required by Chapter 440. If the employer fails to secure the compensation required by the chapter, the employee may elect to claim compensation under the workers’ compensation laws or maintain an action at law (a/k/a civil law) or admiralty without having to meet the heightened standards outlined above. See Section 440.11(1)(a), Florida Statutes.

An important consideration in every injury case is whether the target defendant has the financial resources to pay for the losses. Workers’ compensation insurance policies will pay for all workers’ compensation benefits. However, because of exclusions, these policies are unlikely to cover the damages associated with an action at law. Most companies also maintain liability insurance policies. However, these policies also often contain exclusions for injuries to employees even when the harm was caused by the employer or a fellow employee.

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puzzle1Parties to civil lawsuits in Florida have the right to learn things about an opponent’s case through a process called discovery. The discovery procedures are set forth in the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.

Rule 1.280 sets forth the general methods and scope of discovery. Concerning scope, subsection (b)(1) provides as follows:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the subject matter of the pending action, whether it relates to the claim or defense of the party seeking discovery or the claim or defense of any other party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any books, documents, or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter. It is not ground for objection that the information sought will be inadmissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Multiple vehicles are available for obtaining discovery. Depositions, interrogatories, which are written questions, and requests for the production of documents, are the most common methods. Rule 1.350 addresses the request for documents. Depending on the stage of the proceeding, a response is due within 30 or 45 days of when the discovery is propounded.

The party must either produce the documents or voice an objection within the prescribed time period. Importantly, a party’s failure to respond or object to discovery within the time deadline results in a waiver of any objections that party may have to the discovery sought. Am. Funding, Ltd. v. Hill, 402 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981).

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application“Ignorance of the law is no defense” is a popular expression. It means that a person will not be excused from punishment for not knowing that particular conduct was against the law.

A similar rule holds true when it comes to written documents: Ignorance of a document’s content does not discharge the responsibility of a party to the document.

We are in suit against a homeowner for serious personal injuries sustained by our client from an accident that occurred on the homeowner’s property during a construction project. Among the legal theories claimed for holding the homeowner responsible is the breach of his duty created by undertaking the project as the owner-builder.

dollarsThe competition to advance money to those injured in accidents is fierce. The reason for the fierce competition is the potentially high rate of return on the investment.

Numerous companies, some large with a national presence, engage in the competition. Because their only security is the injury case itself (workers’ compensation and personal injury), which gives rise to the term “non-recourse funding advance“, the companies are not bound by Florida’s usury laws limiting interest rate charges. The rate can be multiple times over the 18% limit allowed in Florida. In fact, the interest rates are so high that the repayment amount can quickly double and triple the principal.

Advance companies are barred from foreclosing on real property or seeking repayment through wage garnishment. Their sole recourse for repayment is the case itself. If the case fails altogether or the recovery is not enough to repay the advance in full, it’s tough luck for the company. Given the precarious nature of accident cases, this is a real risk. Cases can “Go South,” so to speak, for a variety of reasons.

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scales-of-justice-300x203The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides as follows:

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. They were proposed by James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, in a speech before Congress on June 8, 1789. Here’s what he said in that speech about jury trials:

Trial by jury cannot be considered as a natural right, but a right resulting from the social compact which regulates the action of the community, but is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre—existent rights of nature.

The Federalist Society is a conservative American legal organization. Former members include current U.S. Supreme Court justices Brett KavanaughNeil GorsuchClarence ThomasJohn RobertsSamuel Alito, and Amy Coney Barrett. The society’s logo is a silhouette of James Madison and its website displays his portrait at the bottom.

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car-insurance-policyFlorida liability insurance policies often provide coverage to many individuals, including those not named in the policy. For example, the standard Florida motor vehicle policy will insure vehicle owners and unlisted permissive users. This was the scenario in Contreras v. U.S. Sec. Ins. Co., 927 So.2d 16 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006).

Insurance companies are obligated under Florida law to act in good faith and with due regard for every insured’s interests. Boston Old Colony Insurance Company v. Gutierrez, 386 So.2d 783 (Fla. 1980). Under this duty, carriers must give fair consideration of any settlement opportunity and settle the claim when it can and should do so. Powell v. Prudential Property & Casualty Ins. Co., 584 So. 2d 12, 13 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1991).

In Contreras, a permissive user struck and killed a pedestrian while driving at a high rate of speed after consuming alcohol. Both the owner of the vehicle and the permissive user were covered under a U.S. Security motor vehicle liability insurance policy. Coverage under the policy for wrongful death was limited to $10,000.

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Football-300x200One of the main goals behind holding individuals and corporations accountable for the damage caused by their negligence is to make society a safer place. The thinking is that to avoid the substantial hassle and expense of lawsuits and damage awards, thoughtful people will act reasonably.

An exculpatory clause purports to deny an injured party the right to recover damages from the person negligently causing his injury. Elalouf v School Board of Broward County, 311 So.3rd 863, 865 (Fla. 4th DCA 2021). Exculpatory clauses are commonly used against children in Florida’s public and private schools.

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Pie-Chart-300x246Liability insurance carriers pursue every avenue to limit the amounts they must pay in damages to harmed parties. One avenue at their disposal is Florida Statute 768.76(1):

In any action to which this part applies in which liability is admitted or is determined by the trier of fact and in which damages are awarded to compensate the claimant for losses sustained, the court shall reduce the amount of such award by the total of all amounts which have been paid for the benefit of the claimant, or which are otherwise available to the claimant, from all collateral sources; however, there shall be no reduction for collateral sources for which a subrogation or reimbursement right exists.

768.76(2)(a) defines “Collateral sources” as follows:

(a) “Collateral sources” means any payments made to the claimant, or made on the claimant’s behalf, by or pursuant to:

1. The United States Social Security Act, except Title XVIII and Title XIX; any federal, state, or local income disability act; or any other public programs providing medical expenses, disability payments, or other similar benefits, except those prohibited by federal law and those expressly excluded by law as collateral sources.
2. Any health, sickness, or income disability insurance; automobile accident insurance that provides health benefits or income disability coverage; and any other similar insurance benefits, except life insurance benefits available to the claimant, whether purchased by her or him or provided by others.
3. Any contract or agreement of any group, organization, partnership, or corporation to provide, pay for, or reimburse the costs of hospital, medical, dental, or other health care services.
4. Any contractual or voluntary wage continuation plan provided by employers or by any other system intended to provide wages during a period of disability.
Interestingly, under 768.76(2)(b), “Medicare, or any other federal program providing for a Federal Government lien on or right of reimbursement from the plaintiff’s recovery, the Workers’ Compensation Law, the Medicaid program of Title XIX of the Social Security Act or from any medical services program administered by the Department of Health shall not be considered a collateral source.”
Subpart (2)(b) is there to make it clear that the enumerated programs have a right of subrogation or reimbursement. However, as suggested by the second clause of subpart (1), there can be other entities that have paid compensation to the benefit of the claimant with the right of subrogation or reimbursement. The most common of these are health and disability insurance carriers.

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motorwayThe law disfavors windfall recoveries and insurance carriers are always seeking to be the beneficiaries of this public policy. One way carriers seek to benefit from this policy is by reducing jury verdicts by amounts recovered in damages from other sources. This is known as “Setoff.”

Uninsured and underinsured motor vehicle coverage is an optional form of insurance provided in motor vehicle insurance policies “for the protection of persons insured thereunder who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles because of bodily injury, sickness, or disease, including death, resulting therefrom.” Section 627.727(1), Florida Statutes.

The statutory section contains the following setoff language:

8-225x300In the interest of public health, safety, and welfare, most construction projects require the services of licensed contractors. See Section 489.101, Florida Statutes. Section 489.103 outlines various exemptions to this public policy. One of the exemptions, contained in 489.101(7)(a), applies to “Owners of property when acting as their own contractor and providing direct, onsite supervision themselves of all work not performed by licensed contractors.”

To impress upon owners the significance and consequences of operating as their own contractors without being licensed, the statute contains a 12-part section titled “Disclosure Statement.” The owner is required to sign this form for the local permitting agency.

In general, Florida law provides that “[A] property owner who employs an independent contractor to perform work on his property will not be held liable for injuries sustained by the employee of an independent contractor during the performance of that work.” Strickland v. TIMCO Aviation Servs., Inc., 66 So. 3d 1002, 1006 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011).

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