Articles Posted in Personal Injury

peopleFlorida’s liability law and workers’ compensation systems are cautious about awarding benefits for mental and nervous injuries. The underlying basis for the caution is that allowing recovery for injuries resulting from purely emotional distress would open the floodgates for fictitious or speculative claims. R.J. v. Humana of Florida, Inc., 652 So.2d 360 (Fla.1995).

What has come to be known as the “Impact Rule” requires that “before a plaintiff can recover damages for emotional distress caused by the negligence of another, the emotional distress suffered must flow from physical injuries the plaintiff sustained in an impact.'” See Southern Baptist Hosp. of Fla. v. Welker, 908 So.2d 317 (Fla.2005).

The rule is applied in common law personal injury cases and in workers’ compensation cases.

Limited exceptions to the Impact Rule apply in both fields. The common law exceptions have been created by the Florida Supreme Court. See, e.g., Eastern Airlines, Inc. v. King, 557 So.2d 574 (Fla.1990) (recognizing the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress absent impact); Champion v. Gray, 478 So.2d 17 (Fla.1985) (allowing recovery where plaintiff is in the “sensory perception” of physical injuries sustained by a close family member); Kush v. Lloyd, 616 So.2d 415 (Fla.1992) (finding rule inapplicable to actions for wrongful birth); Tanner v. Hartog, 696 So.2d 705 (Fla.1997) (impact rule does not preclude recovery of non-economic damages for parents of stillborn child); Gracey v. Eaker (impact rule inapplicable for breach of statutory duty of confidentiality to patient); Rowell v. Holt, 850 So.2d 474 (Fla.2003) (impact rule does not preclude recovery for psychological injury due to attorney’s negligence).

In short, “[e]xceptions to the rule have been narrowly created and defined in a certain very narrow class of cases in which the foreseeability and gravity of the emotional injury involved, and lack of countervailing policy concerns, have surmounted the policy rationale undergirding application of the impact rule.” Id. at 478.

Compare these close-call cases: R.J. v. Humana of Florida, Inc., 652 So.2d 360 (Fla. 1995) (impact rule applies to negligent HIV diagnosis without physical damage), Woodard v. Jupiter Christian School, Inc., 913 So.2d 1188 (Fla. 2005) (impact rule applies to outing student’s homosexuality).

Continue reading

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.

law-booksDuring every initial workers’ compensation client interview, I spend time explaining that Florida’s workers’ compensation system does not pay benefits for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. Most people don’t know this. I reiterate the point during various stages of the case, especially as we approach settlement discussions. Nothing prevents fair and reasonable settlements more than expectations based on misapprehensions of the law.

The statutory authority for this limit on non-economic damages in workers’ compensation cases is found in Florida Statute 440.11(1):

The liability of an employer prescribed in s. 440.10 shall be exclusive and in place of all other liability, including vicarious liability, of such employer to any third-party tortfeasor and to the employee, the legal representative thereof, husband or wife, parents, dependents, next of kin, and anyone otherwise entitled to recover damages from such employer at law or in admiralty on account of such injury or death….

The “at law” provision encompasses non-economic damages, and the limitation is commonly referred to as “workers’ compensation immunity.” Injured workers bound by this provision are limited to receiving medical and indemnity benefits through the workers’ compensation system contained in Chapter 440 of Florida’s statutes.

“[A]t law” non-economic damages are available in personal injury cases. A key element of every personal injury case is that the harm resulted from, at a minimum, another person’s or entity’s negligence. 440.11 bars personal injury claims against co-workers and employers for mere negligence. This is “workers’ compensation immunity.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

cemetery1It is the job of every injury lawyer to maximize the client’s recovery. Sometimes when a person is hurt at work, more than one remedy is available. Workers’ compensation is one remedy. Civil law is another.

Florida’s workers’ compensation laws do not allow for the recovery of noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering. Workers’ compensation covers only authorized medical expenses and a defined period of lost wages. Noneconomic damages are not allowed. Civil remedy damages include economic damages such as medical expenses and lost wages as well as noneconomic damages.

Florida Statute 440.11 provides immunity to employers and their employees from civil remedy actions. There are exceptions to this rule. The exceptions are outlined in 440.11. The employer loses its immunity if it fails to maintain the workers’ compensation security required by Chapter 440 or commits an intentional tort. Section 440.11(1)(b) describes the fellow-employee exceptions:

Fellow-employee immunities shall not be applicable to an employee who acts, with respect to a fellow employee, with willful and wanton disregard or unprovoked physical aggression or with gross negligence when such acts result in injury or death or such acts proximately cause such injury or death, nor shall such immunities be applicable to employees of the same employer when each is operating in the furtherance of the employer’s business but they are assigned primarily to unrelated works within private or public employment. (Italics added.) 

In Moradiellos v Gerelco Traffic Controls, Inc., 176 So.3d 329 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2015), Mr. Moradiellos was killed in a construction site incident caused by the negligence of a subcontractor’s employee. Employees of construction subcontractors typically also get the 440.11 workers’ compensation immunity. The decedent was employed by the general contractor.

Continue reading

dollarsCompanies make billions of dollars leasing and renting their motor vehicles. You’d think they’d have some corresponding corporate responsibility to compensate individuals injured through no fault of their own by the negligent operation of their vehicles. They don’t.

The Florida Legislature once believed they did. They may still feel this way, but its will has been overridden by Federal law.

While section 324.021(9), Florida Statutes requires rental and leasing companies to maintain a substantial minimum amount of liability insurance on their vehicles operated in the state, it has been superseded by 49 U.S. Code Sec. 30106, also known as the Graves Amendment, which was enacted into law in 2005.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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:

Joanis-300x263What began as a product liability investigation, ended in a $2,000,000 personal injury settlement against the owner of an altered riding lawnmower (pictured).

Our client lost his right leg when run over by the lawnmower he was operating for his employer. Initially thinking that the mower was owned by the employer, which would give the employer workers’ compensation immunity, we set our sights on a product liability case as the only way to secure a civil remedy for our client.

We quickly discovered that any products liability case was barred by Florida’s Statute of Repose. We also learned that our accident was caused by a post-manufacture alteration to a safety feature.

Continue reading

Contact Information