someone “negligently” injured you. In Florida, injured victims must prove four elements to bring a successful negligence claim.
The Defendant Owed You a Duty of Care
In some situations, it is easy to establish a duty of care. For example, a doctor who agrees to treat you has created a doctor-patient relationship and owes you a duty of care. Similarly, an amusement park that sells you a ticket for a ride has created a duty to keep their premises, including their rides, in a safe condition.
Duties can also be created simply by physical proximity. For example, a driver owes other vehicles on the road a duty to drive carefully. No contract exists between drivers. However, the duty exists because a driver's carelessness could injure other people. The same is true of a person in a grocery store who has a duty to push their cart so that they do not injure anyone in the store.
To figure out if someone owed you a duty, you should step into their shoes. Ask yourself: Did their actions create a general risk that they would harm you? If the answer is no, then according to the Florida Supreme Court they owed you no duty of care. If the answer is yes, then they owe you a duty of care.
The Defendant Breached the Duty of Care
The second element looks at the defendant’s conduct and asks whether it was sufficiently careful. In a negligence suit, no defendant is required to be perfect. However, they must exercise the same care as a reasonably prudent person. Under this standard, the jury considers how a prudent person would have acted in the circumstances and then measures the defendant’s conduct against this standard.
This test is “objective,” which means the jury does not consider the defendant’s subjective mental state. For example, it doesn’t matter if the defendant was a klutz who was really “trying” to be careful. He either is objectively careful, or he isn’t.
In some situations, a defendant must be more careful than ordinary people. For example, a surgeon must have more skill than a layperson. In medical malpractice cases, defendants must exercise the skill and experience of other reasonably prudent medical professionals under similar circumstances. If the medical professional is a specialist, then they must have the skill that a specialist in that profession would have.
In most cases, the jury will rely on its experience about how careful people should act. However, in other medical malpractice cases, you might need expert testimony if the subject matter falls outside the jury’s experience. For example, in many medical malpractice cases, you need another doctor to act as an expert witness to testify about how a reasonably careful doctor would have acted in the circumstances.
You Suffered a Legally Recognizable Injury (“Damages”)
In a negligence lawsuit, you seek compensation for injuries you have suffered, called “damages.” In most negligence cases, the injury will be physical, such as:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Broken bones
- Soft-tissue injuries
- Pinched nerves
- Spinal cord injuries
- Medical expenses to treat your physical injury, including hospital visits, equipment, rehab, and prescription drugs.
- Lost wages if you cannot work because of your injury.
- Damage to your property, such as damage to your car in an accident.
- Common non-economic injuries include:
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress from feelings of anger, grief, embarrassment, depression, irritability, etc. stemming from your injuries.
- Loss of consortium for negative changes to your intimate relationships.
To sue for negligence, you need to have incurred some injury. Furthermore, in most negligence cases, you will need some sort of physical contact to qualify for emotional distress damages. This is called the “contact rule” in Florida. Consider the following example:
You are walking past a parking garage late at night. Without warning, a car races out of the garage and doesn’t honk its horn. The car barely misses you. Because of this near miss, you have trouble sleeping and struggle with depression and other negative emotions. However, because the defendant did not contact you, you cannot receive emotional distress damages.
By contrast, if the defendant hit you, fracturing your leg, you have suffered a physical injury and can receive compensation for all necessary medical care and possibly lost wages. You can also receive emotional distress damages because the defendant contacted you.
To prove your injury, you can submit medical bills, medical records, and proof of missed employment. You can also testify to your emotional distress and pain and suffering.
The Defendant’s Lack of Care Caused Your Injury
Causation is the final element in a negligence lawsuit. The defendant’s conduct must have directly caused the injury. One way to look at direct causation is to ask, “But for the defendant’s conduct, would I have been injured?” If the answer to this questions is “no,” then there is direct causation. Of course, an injury can have more than one cause, so the defendant’s conduct must have contributed substantially to your injury.
In addition, your injury must have resulted in a natural and continuous sequence after the defendant’s actions. Often, this is easy to prove. For example, an aggressive driver who plows into the rear end of your car has directly injured you, and the injury followed naturally and continuously from hitting you. In other situations, you might need expert testimony to establish causation.
Sometimes, causation will not exist because the specific injury was not foreseeable. In the words of the judges of the Florida Supreme Court in McCain v. Florida Power Corp. (1992), these include “freakish” and “improbable” sequences of events that lead to injuries that were not foreseeable. For example, if someone shoots a gun, which startles a dog, which races into the road, which causes a driver to swerve off the road onto the sidewalk, which scares someone in his backyard grilling, who accidentally burns himself. In this attenuated situation, the burn injury was not a foreseeable result of a person firing a gun, so causation might not exist.
Speak With a St. Petersburg Personal Injury Lawyer
Negligence lawsuits take many forms. Some, like car accidents, we see every day, whereas others present novel fact patterns. Regardless of how you were injured, you might have a case for negligence if someone else’s carelessness is the cause. If you suffer injuries from an accident that may be someone else’s fault, speak with a personal injury lawyer at Dolman Law Group in St. Petersburg today. You can schedule your free consultation by calling 727-222-6922 or submitting our online contact form.
Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712