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Duty of Care Must be Established in Cases of Alleged Negligence

Any time there is a pending personal injury action, it’s imperative that the plaintiff establish a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff.
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A lot of times in Fort Lauderdale car accident lawsuits, this is fairly simple. Any person who gets behind the wheel owes a duty of care to all fellow motorists, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists, which can be met by obeying all traffic laws, using reasonable caution and not driving recklessly.

However, there are some situations, particularly in third-party litigation actions, in which the duty of care issue can be a bit more complex. Vicarious liability is a good example. This is the principle that holds that a third party (usually a parent or employer) can be held liable for another simply by virtue of the fact that they had control over the person, vehicle, situation, etc.

In situations with more than one defendant, the issue then becomes, the degree of negligence. This is known as comparative fault. In Florida, we are fortunate that the law recognizes that even in situations where the plaintiff might be partially at-fault, he or she can still collect damages from the defense, though the reward might be proportionately lowered in accordance with that fault.

Often, though, there may be multiple defendants arguing against one another about who is more at-fault.

A recent case reviewed by the Rhode Island Supreme Court dealt with all these issues. In Brown v. Stanley, the case stemmed from injuries suffered by a woman who was participating in a charitable fundraiser walk for the benefit of the defendants, both church-related charities. During the walk, she was struck by an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. She sustained serious injuries.

The trucker would later say he had stopped a block before the church at a traffic light and waited through four signals while walk participants made their way across the street. After the fourth signal, he thought the road was clear and proceeded through the intersection at a slight right angle, as he was going to attempt to make a left turn.

As he did so, he struck a woman who had stepped into the crosswalk. The trucker claimed he hadn’t seen her. She was gravely injured, but did not file a lawsuit.

What did happen was that she later accepted a $1.5 million settlement, in which she signed a release against all defendants – the truck driver, his company, and both walk organizers – from liability. That settlement also indicated that it was the truck driver and his company’s intent to sue the event organizers, seeking contribution toward the settlement, asserting a higher degree of comparative fault on their behalf.

The lawsuit was filed, and the truck company won, with the jury finding that the walk organizers had failed in their established duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of the event’s walkers. They were apportioned with 20 percent of the fault, which would translate to about $300,000.

The defense appealed, and the superior court found that there was not a legally sufficient basis for the jury’s verdict. This finding was affirmed by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which indicated there was “no cognizable duty of care” owed by the defendants in this case.

In the end, this did not impact the injured woman, who had already received her settlement. What it meant was that the trucker and his employer had to pay the full amount of those damages.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Brown v. Stanley, Feb. 18, 2014, Rhode Island Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Insurance Dispute in Chain-Reaction Collisions – One Collision or Two? March 7, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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