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What is negligence?

Negligence refers to the failure of a person to exercise reasonable care in a particular situation, which results in harm or injury to another person. In Florida, negligence is a basis for civil liability, and statute and common law principles established by court decisions govern negligence’s application to specific actions.

For example, assume that a driver distracted by their phone causes a car accident. Under Florida law, all drivers have a legal duty to exercise reasonable care while operating their vehicle to prevent harm to other drivers on the road. Suppose that the injured driver files suit and the court determines that the driver was texting or browsing their phone while driving and, as a result, caused an accident that injured another driver. In that case, the at-fault driver may have breached their duty of care and could be liable for negligence in a Florida court. In addition, the injured driver can seek compensation for their damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Here’s another example: suppose a property owner failed to fix a broken step on a stairway, leading to a visitor falling and getting injured. By law, property owners must keep the property safe and warn of any known dangers. If the property owner knew or should have known about the broken step and failed to fix it, they may have breached their duty of care and could be liable for negligence in a Florida court. Like the injured driver above, the visitor can seek compensation for their damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Need help bringing or defending against a negligence claim? Schedule your consultation today with a top business litigation attorney.

What legal issues typically arise related to negligence?

Some common disputes often accompanying negligence actions include:

  1. Duty of care: Determining whether the defendant had a legal duty of care to the plaintiff can be a complex issue, as it depends on the case’s specific circumstances.
  2. Comparative negligence: Florida follows a pure comparative negligence rule, meaning that the court considers the plaintiff’s negligence in determining the plaintiff’s recovery. If the plaintiff is partially at fault, available damages will diminish.
  3. Statute of limitations: Florida has a four years statute of limitation for negligence claims.
  4. Proving damages: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s damages.
  5. Proving causation: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions were the cause of the injury and not an intervening or superseding cause.

What are relevant laws related to negligence in Florida?

Some relevant Florida Statutes that may apply to negligence cases include:

  1. Section 95.11: This statute sets the statute of limitations for negligence claims in Florida, typically four years from the date of the injury.
  2. Section 768.81: This statute sets forth the rules for comparative negligence in Florida, which states that the court shall consider the plaintiff’s negligence in determining their potential recovery.
  3. Section 768.28: This statute sets forth the rules for sovereign immunity in Florida, which limits the liability of government entities and officials for certain types of negligence claims.

What is required to prove a case of negligence in Florida?

In Florida, plaintiffs must prove the following elements to establish a negligence action::

  • Duty of care: The defendant had a legal obligation to act reasonably and prudently to prevent harm or injury to the plaintiff;
  • Breach of duty: Evidence of a failure to conform to the duty of care requiring reasonable and prudent harm prevention;
  • Causation: The defendant’s breach of duty caused the plaintiff’s harm or injury; and
  • Damages: The plaintiff suffered actual harm due to the defendant’s breach of duty.

When a set of facts is appropriate to meet the requirements of negligence, there are many paths a claimant may take. We are value-based attorneys at Jimerson Birr, which means we look at each action with our clients from the point of view of costs and benefits while reducing liability. Then, based on our client’s objectives, we chart a path forward to seek appropriate remedies, such as:

  • Compensatory damages, which compensate the plaintiff for any losses or harms suffered as a result of the defendant’s negligence
  • Punitive damages, which punish the defendant and deter similar conduct in the future
  • Injunctive relief, which requires the defendant to take specific actions to remedy the negligence, and
  • Declaratory relief, which provides a legal determination of the rights or responsibilities of the parties involved

To see what actions may be available for your unique situation, please contact our office to set up your initial consultation.

What are common defenses to negligence in Florida?

The primary defenses to negligence in Florida include:

  • Contributory negligence: This defense argues that the plaintiff’s actions contributed to their injuries and, therefore, they should be unable to recover damages.
  • Assumption of risk: This defense argues that the plaintiff voluntarily assumed the risk of injury when they engaged in the activity that led to their injuries.
  • Comparative negligence: This defense argues that the plaintiff and the defendant were both negligent, and the court should reduce the plaintiff’s available damages in proportion to their negligence.
  • Statute of limitations: This defense argues that the plaintiff did not file their lawsuit within the time frame allowed by law.
  • Governmental immunity: This defense applies to government employees or entities, arguing that they are immune from liability in certain situations.
  • Workers’ compensation exclusive remedy: This defense applies to employees and their employer, arguing that the employee’s sole remedy for work-related injuries is workers’ compensation.

One core strategy to defend against a negligence claim is to disprove any or all of the elements necessary for a negligence claim with evidence that the defendant exercised reasonable care when the injury occurred or that the defendant’s actions were not the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Another core strategy may be what those in the legal profession refer to as an “empty chair” defense. This defense allows a defendant to point to an empty chair (a non-present third party) and argue that a nonparty is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

To see what defenses may be available for your unique situation, please contact our office to set up your initial consultation.

Have more questions about a negligence-related situation?

Crucially, this overview of negligence does not begin to cover all the laws implicated by this issue or the factors that may compel the application of such laws. Every case is unique, and the laws can produce different outcomes depending on the individual circumstances.

Jimerson Birr attorneys guide our clients to help make informed decisions while ensuring their rights are respected and protected. Our lawyers are highly trained and experienced in the nuances of the law, so they can accurately interpret statutes and case law and holistically prepare individuals or companies for their legal endeavors. Through this intense personal investment and advocacy, our lawyers will help resolve the issue’s complicated legal problems efficiently and effectively.

Having a Jimerson Birr attorney on your side means securing a team of seasoned, multi-dimensional, cross-functional legal professionals. Whether it is a transaction, an operational issue, a regulatory challenge, or a contested legal predicament that may require court intervention, we remain a tireless advocate every step of the way. Being a value-added law firm means putting the client at the forefront of everything we do. We use our experience to help our clients navigate even the most complex problems and come out the other side triumphant.

If you want to understand your case, the merits of your claim or defense, potential monetary awards, or the amount of exposure you face, you should speak with a qualified Jimerson Birr lawyer. Our experienced team of attorneys is here to help. Call Jimerson Birr at (904) 389-0050 or use the contact form to set up a consultation.

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