What elements make up a Florida personal injury case?
The fundamental concept behind personal injury claims is that some else has caused you damage and you are entitled to compensation for the damages you have lost. Common examples of personal injury claims include auto accidents, dog bites, slip and falls, medical malpractice, and motorcycle accidents.
Elements of a Personal Injury Claim
Duty of Care
In order to prevail on a personal injury claim, you must do more than show that you have suffered an injury or loss. You must show that the other party owed you some kind of duty of care. The law can impose a duty on a person in a variety of ways. For example, your local grocery store has a duty to make sure their store is safe for you while you are shopping. The levels of duty that a person or company has to you is based on their relationship to you. For example, a doctor has a higher level of duty to care for you than, say, a flea market.
So how do Florida courts determine if an individual had a duty of care? By answering a simple question: Could the harm that the defendant’s actions caused been predicted by another reasonable person in the same circumstance?
To use the doctor example above, one would need evaluate if a similar, reasonable doctor could have predicted that the defendant doctor’s actions would cause harm. Would a reasonable doctor be able to predict that the defendant leaving a tool inside a patient’s body would cause harm? The answer is probably yes.
Breach of Duty
The other person must then fail to meet that duty they owe (i.e. breach their duty of care). In other words, once it has been established that an individual has a duty of care, did they fail to live up to that duty? If so, you are one step closer to proving negligence.
Let’s look at another example. Mateo enters a grocery store to shop. While shopping, he slips and falls on puddle from a leaking air vent, which had been leaking for week and the store had yet to fix it. Mateo suffers a herniated disc in his back. Mateo decides to sue the grocery store for his injuries.
Mateo would first have to prove the grocery store had a duty of care. Since the grocery store invites guests into their building, they have a duty to keep them safe. Next, Mateo would have to prove that the store breached that duty of care. The store knew about the leak and failed to fix it, causing a puddle to form on the floor. This is clearly a breach of the duty because the store failed to keep their shopper safe.
You must be able to show that the other party’s failure to meet their duty was the cause of the injury you suffered. [Read more about the elements of causation.]
For example, in a premise liability context, the law imposes a duty on property owners to keep people they invite onto their property free from known danger. If this property owner invites you over for dinner but fails to warn you about or repair a broken stair, they have breached their duty to protect you from danger. If you are injured because of their breach, e.g. you stepped on the loose stair and tripped, you are entitled to compensation from the property owner for the damages you sustain.
Personal Injury Claims in Florida
Each state has its own set of laws that regulates when and how personal injury claims may be brought. If you plan to file an action for a personal injury in Florida, a few of the basic Florida laws you should be aware of include:
- Time Limit: All actions have a limit on how long you can wait to bring your claim in court. This limit is known as the “statute of limitations” and if you wait too long, your claim will be barred from court. In Florida, you have four years1 to bring a personal injury action to court. If your claim is against any government entity, the time limit is shortened to three years.
- Limits on Damages: In Florida, there are limits on the amounts you can recover for certain kinds of personal injury claims. For example, for most personal injury cases, punitive damages2 are maxed out at 3x regular damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.
- Comparative Fault: Florida follows a “pure comparative negligence” doctrine when assessing damages for personal injury claims. This means that if you recover for your injuries, under Florida law, the amount of your recovery will be reduced by the amount of your fault. For example, you are awarded $100,000 for your medical costs and other damages based on a car accident you were in. However, the jury also determines that the accident was 60% your fault. This means that the amount you are awarded is reduced by 60% and you only receive $40,000.
What damages can I recover for a personal injury claim?
If a plaintiff can prove liability on the part of the defendant, he or she is entitled to recover damages. The amount of damages can be reached by agreement prior to trial in the form of a settlement agreement or can be determined by the judge or jury at trial.
The amount of recovery for a personal injury claim will vary widely depending on the plaintiff, the severity of the injury and countless other factors. Plaintiff will generally be awarded compensatory damages, designed to compensate them for their losses. Compensatory damages include things like medical bills, property damage, lost wages and pain, and suffering.
If the defendant’s actions were especially bad, additional or punitive damages may be awarded. The purpose of this kind of damage award is to punish the defendant and deter others from similar bad behavior. Punitive damages are rarely awarded.
As discussed above, if it is determined that you were partially at fault for the injury you suffered, the damages you are awarded will be reduced proportionally.
Contact a Clearwater Personal Injury Lawyer Today for a Free Consultation!
If you have been injured due to the negligence of another, contact a Clearwater personal injury attorney right away. Florida tort law allows victims to recover compensation for injuries and other losses that they may experience as a result of a preventable accident. A lawyer familiar with litigating Florida personal injury cases can often help victims recover substantially more compensation than they would be able to retain on their own, so it is highly advisable for anyone injured in an accident to discuss their options with an experienced lawyer.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765