A man who suffered significant injuries as a result of a Florida car accident prevailed recently in 5th District Court of Appeals.
Appellate justices in Bodiford v. Rollins ruled that not only were the $1 million in damages appropriate, but the finding that plaintiff was 30 percent comparatively at-fault was erroneous.
That means plaintiff is likely to collect the full amount in damages.
According to court records, plaintiff sustained serious injuries when he was rear-ended by defendant driver. Plaintiff had been waiting to make a left turn, watching for traffic to clear. Defendant struck him from behind.
It had been a nice, dry afternoon in a typical, busy urban area with no special or unique circumstances. Plaintiff’s left turn signal was clearly on and he was stopped in order to turn left into a local gas station. He was not in any special turn lane, but it was undisputed he was lawfully stopped in order to make his turn.
Plaintiff filed an auto accident lawsuit, alleging negligence resulting in bodily injury, mental anguish, disfigurement, pain and suffering.
Throughout the years-long pre-trial exchanges, plaintiff once offered to settle the case with defendant for $100,000. However, defendant declined that offer, and the case went to trial.
Jurors ultimately awarded plaintiff damages in excess of $1 million. However, it found plaintiff to share one-third of the blame. This is known in legal circles as “comparative fault.”
Comparative fault is the percentage of liability a plaintiff has for an accident or incident through his or her own negligence. In some states, such a finding will bar a claim completely. Florida by contrast is quite forgiving on this point, allowing plaintiffs to recover damages even if they are 99 percent comparatively negligent. However, damages are reduced by the percentage of comparative fault.
So a case where an award is $1 million, but comparative fault is 30 percent, plaintiff could only collect a maximum of $700,000.
Both sides appealed. Defendant argued the damages were excessive, while plaintiff argued the finding of comparative fault was unwarranted.
The appellate court affirmed in part and reversed in part. It found damages were not excessive. However, it did find trial court abused discretion when it failed to issue a judgment notwithstanding verdict for plaintiff on the issue of comparative fault. That’s because there was no evidence provided plaintiff had acted negligently.
It is presumed in a rear-end accident that the vehicle driver who hit from behind is negligent because each driver is expected to maintain an assured clear distance so as to avoid a collision. The Florida Supreme Court underscored this point in the 2001 case of Clampitt v. DJ Spencer Sales, where it found every driver is charged under the law with remaining alert and following the vehicle in front at a safe distance. Failure to maintain an adequate zone of safe stopping distance is normally the proximate cause of injuries and damages resulting from rear-end collisions.
Defendants in rear-end crashes who challenge this assertion bear the burden of proof. And to do so, it was not enough in this case to say plaintiff made an abrupt stop because undisputed evidence revealed plaintiff’s actions were reasonably anticipated at the time and place where they happened.
Defendant failed to meet the proof burden in this case to show there was comparative negligence, and thus the question should never have even gone to the jury in the first place, appellate court ruled.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Bodiford v. Rollins , Aug. 7, 2015, Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal
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