We currently represent an elderly woman who was knocked down in the hallway of her condominium building by a large, unleashed dog. She fell and struck her head on the ground. In the days following the event, she had headaches and was lightheaded. While taking a shower, she fainted. As a result of this event, she was hospitalized then transferred to a facility for a month of rehabilitation. She is now receiving 24/7 attendant care at home.
Are the injuries sustained from the subsequent fall compensable?
Something similar happened in Eli Witt Cigar & Tobacco Co. v. Matatics, 55 So. 2d 549 (Fla. 1951). The Plaintiff/Appellee had suffered a brain concussion and other injuries in a motorcycle accident. Within weeks of the accident, he climbed a ladder to reach his attic. While descending, he suffered a dizzy spell and fell to the concrete floor. His injuries from this fall were permanent and catastrophic — paralysis in his lower and upper extremities.
In his lawsuit against the Defendant/Appellate, whose employee caused the motorcycle accident, Plaintiff/Appellee sought compensation for the ladder fall injuries. The jury rendered a verdict in his favor. The verdict was appealed.
The Florida Supreme Court framed the question before it as follows:
The principal question here presented is whether the evidence is sufficient to show that the original accident is the proximate cause of the injuries and paralysis resulting from the plaintiff’s second accident. We think that this question must be answered in the affirmative.
Defendant/Appellee challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the verdict, contending that “plaintiff’s dizzy spells were a ‘”merely possible” rather than a ‘”natural and probable” result of the brain concussion. It cited Cone v. Inter County Telephone & Telegraph Company, Fla., 40 So.2d 148, 149.
In affirming the verdict, the Court explained why the rule set down in Cone was not “applicable to a determination of the particular question of whether the plaintiff’s dizzy spells were caused by the brain concussion.” Instead, it framed the issue as one of proximate cause, under the authority of Southern States Power Company v. Clark, 181 Fla. 521, 159 So. 881 and Potts v. Mulligan, 141 Fla. 685, 193 So. 767.
It noted that the question of “proximate cause” under the circumstances of the case at bar was one of first impression in Florida. However, it was able to point to the Restatement of Torts as setting forth the rule applicable to the case:
“If the negligent actor is liable for an injury which impairs the physical condition of another’s body, the actor is also liable for harm sustained in a subsequent accident which would not have occurred had the other’s bodily efficiency not been impaired.”
As an example of the rule in action, the Court recounted the facts in Marshall v. City of Pittsburg, 119 Pa.Super. 189, 180 A. 733, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court felt justified a jury verdict finding the negligence of the defendant was the proximate cause of the death of plaintiff’s decedent:
The plaintiff’s decedent sustained an injury to his knee due to defendant’s negligence. Some two months later, the injured knee gave way while the deceased was descending the stairs in his home, he fell down the stairs, and died as a result of the fall.
Just as defendants may be held to account for subsequent injuries, awards can be avoided or limited under the principle of comparative fault (Florida Statute 768.81) by showing that plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by undertaking the behavior leading to the subsequent accident when he or she knew or should have known of the potential outcome. See Cone at 551.
In workers’ compensation cases, compensability for subsequent accidents is a relatively common issue. The rule is essentially the same. Here are some authorities:
- The well-established rule that every natural and direct consequence of a compensable injury must likewise be regarded as arising out of the employment and compensable was first set forth in Sosenko v. American Airmotive Corp., 156 So.2d 489 (Fla.1963).
- Sunshine Plumbing v. Benecke, 558 So.2d 162 (Fla. App. 1990) (“We agree with the EC that claimant failed to sustain his initial burden of proving that a causal connection exists
between the 1983 injury and the 1987 fall.”)
- D’Angelo Plastering Co. v. Isaac, 393 So.2d 1066, 1068 (Fla.1981) (“every natural consequence that flows from the initial injury likewise arises out of the employment unless it is the result of an independent intervening cause attributable to claimant’s own negligence or misconduct….”)
- Newhouse v. Volusia County School Board, 474 So.2d 1222 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985); Parish v. Baptist Hospital, 512 So.2d 1031 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987). This is particularly true when the effects of the initial accident are still present at the time the subsequent accident occurs. McPherson v. Broward County School Board, 527 So.2d 238 (Fla. 1st DCA 1988).
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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.
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