How is Liability Determined in a Car Accident in Florida?
In Florida, for car accidents that result in injury, establishing or proving liability for the accident is essential to recovering money or other damages from the at fault party or parties.
In Florida, as in most states, negligence law defines who is at fault for a car accident. Florida law places liability on the party or parties involved in a car accident who acted outside the zone of what is deemed to be reasonable and safe conduct in the operation of a motor vehicle. A driver has a duty to use reasonable care in driving a car. If the driver fails to use reasonable care, he or she is deemed to have acted negligently. A jury finding of negligence will force an at fault driver to pay damages to the victims who were injured in the accident or who suffered property damage.
Evidence of liability is crucial to establishing that you are entitled to money or other damages. Pre-litigation, your attorney will generally present this evidence of liability to the third party insurance company for the at-fault driver or drivers. If your attorney is unable to reach a settlement with that insurance company, your remaining option is to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at fault party or parties who are legally responsible and liable for causing the car accident. Examples of evidence that you will need to establish liability in a Florida personal injury lawsuit are the police report completed by law enforcement officials; any witness statements taken following the accident; medical bills and documentation of any other medical expenses that you incurred due to injuries sustained in the accident; any photographs taken of the accident scene and damages to your vehicle; and written documentation of your lost wages or income due to your injuries.
The stronger the evidence that you are able to muster proving that another party was liable for the car accident, the better the chance you have at receiving money damages.
Florida is a comparative negligence state, not a contributory negligence state. Comparative negligence means that a party who has been injured in a Florida car accident may be partially at fault, but still may be able to recover damages for injuries. Even if a Florida plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent at fault for a car accident, he or she may still be able to recover damages. The percentage of fault or liability ascribed to you for the car accident shall reduce the amount of any jury verdict in your favor by that same percentage.
With respect to insurance, the insurance adjuster assigned to handle the case will review all accident-related documents, to include police reports, medical records and any other relevant factors in order to propose a settlement amount.
In such cases, the claims adjuster might determine that a number of drivers are liable or he or she may decide not to settle the case at all. Insurers often look for ways to either deny substantial claims or lowball those claims — which is why it is crucial for victims to seek guidance from a knowledgeable lawyer.
If you have been involved in a multi-vehicle collision and you have questions and concerns about who can be held responsible for your injuries and damages, contact attorney David I. Fuchs as soon as possible.
Liability in Multi-Vehicle or Pile Up Accidents in Florida
Whenever a multi-car accident takes place, two primary questions typically arise: Who can be held liable for the damages and injuries sustained and is there enough insurance to cover those injuries and damages?
Under Florida law, the amount of compensation that an injured accident victim can receive in a multi-vehicle accident will be in direct proportion with the percentage of fault attributed to each driver. This legal concept is known as comparative negligence, and ultimately, determining fault will come down to the specific facts of the case.
Consider the following four-car scenario: Four automobiles are traveling on a Florida roadway when a crash takes place and a chain reaction occurs. In this chain reaction, Car 1 sideswiped an oncoming vehicle (Car 2). Car 1 then hit another automobile head-on (Car 3) and another car (Car 4) ultimately ran into the back of Car 3.
Accidents like the one above will take the skill of a car accident attorney to resolve, as it can be difficult to demonstrate which driver’s acts contributed to the accident and to what extent. Undoubtedly, each driver will have his or her own version of what happen, and any witnesses to the crash may have stories that are completely different than those of the four drivers involved in the collision.
The initial reaction may be to blame the driver of Car 1, which sideswiped Car 2. But why did that happen? What if the driver of Car 1 was operating the vehicle properly until one of the tires on the vehicle ran into a pothole, which ultimately flattened it, causing the driver to swerve into Car 2? Also, what if the driver of Car 4 was driving faster than the posted speed limit and following too closely to Car 3, but could have avoided hitting Car 3?
As you can see, determining liability can be difficult when there are only four vehicles involved, not to mention when there are 20 or 30 car pileups. Nevertheless, for those injured in the collision, it is crucial that a proper determination is made as soon as possible with respect to liability. Working with a skilled accident attorney can help accident victims navigate through the determination process in order to bring a claim against all appropriate parties.
Drunk Driving and Third-Party Liability for Intoxication
In the state of Florida, third parties may be held liable for injuries caused by a drunk driving accident under limited circumstances. Though third-party liability for intoxication is applied narrowly in Florida, if you are injured as the result of a drunk driving accident, it is still worth serious consideration. You may be entitled to recover damages against additional defendants.
Social Hosts vs. Vendors
When applying third-party liability, Florida law makes a distinction between social hosts who furnish alcohol to their guests, and actual vendors of alcohol.
A social host is someone who serves alcohol to their guests at a private event or function. It does not involve the sale of alcohol. The size of the function does not necessarily change the status of the social host. A person who hosts a small gathering for a few friends would be considered a social host, as would a couple hosting their wedding for hundreds of guests.
A vendor is someone who sells alcohol to their customers. A liquor store, bar, dance club, and restaurant (if serving alcoholic beverages) are all considered vendors.
The status of the defendant as a social host or vendor can significantly impact your ability to recover damages against them under Florida law.
Application of Third-Party Liability
Florida laws relating to third-party liability for intoxication – otherwise known as “dram shop laws” – are commonly criticized for being overly protective of vendors and social hosts.
Under F.S. section 768.125, vendors cannot be held liable for injuries caused by their drunk driving customers unless the vendor knowingly and willfully sold or furnished alcohol beverages to: a) a customer below the legal drinking age; or b) a customer who is “habitually addicted” to alcohol.
Suppose that you are injured in a car accident, in which the defendant-driver was intoxicated. Earlier in the night, the drunk driver was a customer at a local bar. Can the bar be held liable for your injuries because they furnished alcohol to the driver?
If the drunk driver was of legal drinking age and was not “habitually addicted” to alcohol, then the bar cannot be held liable for furnishing him with alcoholic beverages. In fact, even if the drunk driver was below the legal drinking age or was “habitually addicted” to alcohol, so long as the bar was not aware of these facts, they cannot be held liable.
Social hosts in Florida enjoy additional protections over and above those granted to vendors. The court in Bankston v. Brennan limited third-party liability for intoxication to vendors – indicating that the applicable statute (section 768.125) does not allow for a legal cause of action against social hosts.
Limited exceptions do exist, however. The social host may be found liable if they host an “open house party” and knowingly and willfully provide alcohol to their guests who are below legal age (see Trainor v. Estate of Hansen).
Social hosts therefore enjoy an almost complete liability shield against third-party intoxication claims.
As with other Florida personal injury lawsuits, you have only four years to file your lawsuit against a third-party for knowingly furnishing alcoholic beverages to your drunk driver. If you or someone you love has been injured by a drunk driver, seek legal guidance from a skilled Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyer at David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer, P.A.
Liability for Accidents Involving Teenage Drivers in Florida
In Florida, young drivers are given an opportunity to learn how to drive with a learner’s permit from the age of 15 to 17, before they graduate to a full driver’s license. The learner’s permit is designed as a restricted license, to allow the teen the chance to drive on the roads while still supervised by a licensed driver in terms of when they are driving and how many passengers they are carrying. Although there is no better way to learn than through practice, sometimes a young and inexperienced driver can cause a car accident while learning to drive, auto accident attorneys in Florida say.
If you have been in an accident involving a permit driver, contact an attorney from David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer, P.A. to schedule a free initial consultation.
The state laws allow teenagers to apply for a learner’s permit when they turn 15. With the permit, a young driver must be accompanied by a licensed driver aged 21 or older, who must be riding in the front passenger seat. For the first three months, the learning driver can only operate a vehicle between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., and after three months, this curfew is extended until 10 p.m. A driver with a learner’s permit must keep his record clean, with no points or convictions, for twelve months, before applying for a full license. These restrictions are intended to keep the permitted driver and his teacher, as well as other drivers out on the road, safe from accidents, hazardous situations, and other dangers.
If you have been involved in a car accident caused by a driver with a learner’s permit, the responsibility for the driver’s actions may be split between both the teenager driver and the parents responsible for teaching him or her to drive safely. If the driver was alone in the car, and the parents allowed him or her to operate the vehicle while they were not present, they have broken the state’s laws regarding supervision of a teen learning to drive and allowed an inexperienced driver out on the roads. In this case, the parent is partially, if not completely, responsible for making sure that the teen acts within the rules that govern the permit.
If the inexperienced driver was operating the vehicle without the knowledge or permission of his or her parents, their liability may be lessened, because they did not help the teen break the law. If this is the case, the young driver may bear the full brunt of the responsibility, including any and all medical, insurance, and car repair bills that resulted from the accident. If the driver is in the car with a licensed driver as the passenger, the driver will then be treated as if he were a fully licensed driver—the permit does not remove responsibility or excuse negligence. While the young driver may have caused the accident based on inexperience rather than negligence, that does not mean that he cannot be held accountable for the accident.
Liability for Vehicle Owners and Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine
Under the state’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine, in most cases, vehicle owners are held vicariously liable for the negligent actions of a third party driving the vehicle with permission, car accident attorneys in Fort Lauderdale say. This doctrine covers accident victims who may have been injured by a driver who does not have a vehicle, and therefore does not have insurance coverage, by splitting the responsibility between the driver and the vehicle owner and insurance policyholder.
The dangerous instrumentality doctrine states that any owner of an “inherently dangerous tool is liable for any injuries caused by that tool’s operation.” In the 1920 case Southern Cotton Oil Co v. Anderson, the Florida Supreme Court expanded this doctrine to include motor vehicles, so that the vehicle’s owner is responsible for the use and operation of the vehicle, even when another person is driving with the owner’s consent and knowledge. This vicarious liability is a result of the owner’s voluntary trust in the person that he or she has allowed to drive the vehicle, and takes effect should that person cause damage or harm to another individual through negligent use.
However, the state does impose limits on the owner’s liability in Florida Statutes section 324.021(9)(b)(3). An owner who loans out his or her car to another driver is responsible for up to $50,000 in property damages, $100,000 per person, and $300,000 per incident for any injuries sustained as a result of the crash. If these limits are over the owner’s insurance coverage for both property damage and bodily injured, the owner may be held liable for an additional amount of up to $500,000 in economic damages. These limits can be reduced by the amounts paid by the driver’s insurance coverage.
Although the state’s laws cover responsibility in cases where a vehicle is loaned out, a recent case highlights the complications that ensure when a vehicle is being used in consignment. In the case in question, a man employed by an automobile sales company received a vehicle from an owner who wished to have the car consigned. The employee used the car for a personal trip, and was involved in an accident that left another driver dead. The accident victim’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent driver and the company that employed him, but they also leveled charges against the owner of the vehicle, using the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. The vehicle owner claimed that the employee’s personal use of the car should constitute stolen property, but the Second District court disagreed, and allowed the owner liability claim to stand.
Florida’s owner liability laws and statutes are complicated, and often, the owner will fight back if he or she was not driving the car at the time of the accident. However, you are usually entitled to compensation from the car owner if you have been injured in an accident involving a third-party driver who is not the vehicle owner. For legal advice and representation, contact the Ft. Lauderdale car accident attorneys at David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyers, P.A. today.
Liability for Accidents Caused by Weather
Most often, the driver can face liability for an accident that occurs due to heavy rain. Drivers have a duty of care to operate their vehicles safely in all situations. This includes inclement weather, so an inexperienced driver or a driver who does not feel comfortable driving in the heavy rain should not get behind the wheel during heavy rain.
A driver will face liability for an accident that occurs due to heavy rain because the driver has a duty of care to operate his or her vehicle safely regardless of road conditions. For example, if one driver slams on the brakes during heavy rain and the driver behind brakes but hydroplanes and rear-ends the driver in front, the second driver will still be liable for the first driver’s damages. Drivers who suffer injuries and property damage from accidents in the rain should not allow an at-fault driver to use the rain as an excuse to escape liability.
Some rain accidents can happen due to vehicle defects such as faulty tires, brakes, windshield wipers, headlights, or any other part of the vehicle that contributes to a hydroplaning accident or other rain-related crash. In these situations, injured drivers can file product liability claims against the defective product’s manufacturer. Ultimately, rain makes driving more dangerous for everyone, so it’s crucial for drivers to take extra care to avoid causing serious or even fatal accidents.
Liability for Accidents Caused by a Medical Emergency
In a recent case, an appeals court in Florida threw out an existing verdict, ruling instead that the driver, who had suffered a seizure while behind the wheel, was not at fault for the resulting collision. Medical emergencies while driving can remove the driver’s liability for an accident caused by inattention, especially in cases where the driver briefly loses consciousness or motor skills. This decision has highlighted how juries and judges determine fault and liability in accidents involving medical crises.
The defendant, an assistant manager of a Clearwater pool company, was driving a company car, with a coworker as her passenger, when she rear-ended the car in front of her. The car had been stopped at a red light. The driver of the other car sued the manager for negligence, seeking restitution for the injuries she sustained and the damage done to her car’s rear bumper. A Pinellas County jury sided with the plaintiff, and rendered a guilty verdict.
But upon closer inspection, the Florida appellate courts determined that the liability was in question, because the driver who caused the accident had blacked out after an unexplained seizure. According to Florida’s laws, drivers who have a sudden loss of consciousness while behind the wheel cannot be held responsible in a negligence or personal injury lawsuit if they can prove that the accident was caused by an unforeseen medical emergency. In order to prove this, the driver must demonstrate that he or she actually lost consciousness while driving, and that this loss of consciousness occurred before the accident took place. The attack must be sudden and unforeseeable—meaning the driver must have no history of seizures, dizziness, or sudden blackouts or other medical conditions that cause a loss of consciousness.
In this case, the woman who was driving the company car testified that she had felt funny just before the accident, and felt herself black out for a second, before regaining consciousness, only to black out again. Her next conscious memory, as she claimed, was of the paramedics arriving at the scene of the accident, and helping her out of her car. Her coworker and passenger testified that he had tried to stop their car from hitting the car in front of them at the red light, but he could not reach the brake pedal due to the restraints of his seat belt. He told the judges that no more than 15 seconds had passed from the time the driver admitted to feeling unusual to the time they hit the other car.
Our Accident Attorneys Can Help
At David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer, P.A., a personal injury lawyer in Florida, we represent clients who have been involved in an auto accident caused by another driver. Contact David Fuchs today for a free, no-strings consultation about your case.