As in any state, in Florida, if you are injured as the result of another person's negligence, you have the legal right to sue to recover the compensation you are owed for your injury. For example, if a shop owner did not maintain their business in a safe manner and you suffered an injury on the premises as a result, you could pursue a legal action against the owners to recover the amount of damages you are owed because of the accident. However, the amount of compensation you are entitled to is dependent on several factors, ranging from the severity and cause of your injuries, the impact the accident had on your ability to work, your pain and suffering, as well as the circumstances surrounding the accident.
Determining Who Was At Fault for the Accident
Having represented injured victims for decades, at Taylor, Warren, Weidner & Hancock we know our job often centers around proving who was “at fault” for an accident. Meaning, whose negligence caused the accident? Before you can recover, there must be a showing that the other party's negligent conduct directly caused the accident and your injuries. While proving fault can sometimes be easy—for example, in a read-end collision where the first car was stopped—in other cases it can be far more challenging where there are certain things both parties did that could be argued as negligent that contributed to the accident. In addition, most people do not like to admit they were at fault, particularly when there are large financial consequences to such an admission. Also, it may be difficult without eye-witnesses, footage, or other evidence to accurately recreate an accident that no one else saw.
Florida's Comparative Negligence Law – an Example
When there is a question, in a personal injury matter occurring in Florida, who is to blame for the accident, Florida law operates under a “comparative negligence” standard in order to determine responsibility for the accident. An example will help explain how Florida's comparative negligence law apportions blame.
Let's say Megan walks into AnyStore USA to do some shopping. It's been raining and the foyer is wet. Megan shakes her wet umbrella to her side, pulls out her phone to check her shopping list, and steps over the lip of the tile in the foyer. As she does so she slips and falls, breaking her elbow. The evidence shows AnyStore USA has a policy to wipe and dry the foyer on rainy days every 15 minutes, but they did not maintain a check sheet to show which employee completed this task at every increment. AnyStore USA's security cameras do not cover the entire foyer or the area where Megan slipped, but they do show a wet floor sign had been posted just inside the foyer. Megan files a personal injury action against AnyStore USA to recover for her injuries.
How Florida's Comparative Negligence Law Apportions Blame
In this situation, both Megan and AnyStore USA have arguably engaged in some negligent conduct. Megan will argue AnyStore USA didn't adequately warn (with appropriate colors or tape) about the raised lip in the foyer and that it did not maintain a dry foyer for customers. AnyStore USA will argue Megan contributed to the wetness on the floor with her own umbrella and that she was looking at her phone when she stepped into the foyer. To settle this case, a judge or jury would need to assign a percentage of fault to both parties before damages could be awarded. A comparative fault negligence standard essentially compares each party's conduct and apportionments of negligence to determine the amount that is owed.
States that follow a comparative negligence standard, like Florida, will still allow a party who is partially responsible for the accident to recover. Their damages are simply reduced by that person's allotted negligence. For example, if the judge found Megan was 30% at fault for the accident and AnyStore USA was 70% at fault for Megan's accident, Megan's recovery would be reduced by her 30% allotment of fault, but she could still recover 70% of her damages from AnyStore USA. Meaning, if her damages were determined to be $100,000, Megan could still recover $70,000 from AnyStore USA.
Florida Used to Follow a Pure Comparative Negligence Standard - Now It is Comparative
A comparative negligence standard allows an injured party, even one who was partially at fault (like Martha in our example), to collect damages. They are simply reduced by that person's allotted negligence. For example, if the judge found Martha was 30% at fault for the accident and AnyStore, because it did not maintain a safe, dry foyer, was 70% at fault for the accident, Martha's recovery would be reduced by her 30% allotment of fault, but she could still recover 70% of her damages. Meaning, if her damages were determined to be $100,000, Martha could still recover $70,000 from AnyStore.
Florida used to follow a “pure” comparative negligence standard which would allow a plaintiff to recover regardless of his/her amount of blame for the accident. Meaning, even if the plaintiff was 90% responsible for her injuries, she could recover the remaining 10% from the person or entity responsible for her injuries. However, as of March 24, 2023, when Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 837 into law, Florida now follows a "modified comparative negligence" standard as opposed to a "pure comparative negligence" standard. Under modified comparative negligence, a plaintiff is barred from recovery if he is more than 50% at fault for his injuries. This change does not apply to actions based upon medical negligence.
UNDERSTANDING FLORIDA'S NEW MODIFIED COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE
Prior to March 24, 2023, a plaintiff in Florida could recover in proportion to the defendants' percentage of responsibility for her injuries regardless of her own liability. Thus, a plaintiff could be 90% at fault for her own injuries but could still recover 10% of her damages from the person or entity responsible for her injuries. This new "modified comparative negligence" standard does not allow a person to recover any damages whose apportionment of the fault was over 50%. Meaning, if a jury found Martha's distraction by looking at her phone while walking made her 51% liable for her injuries, she would no longer be able to recover for her injuries in Florida, which now operates under the "modified" comparative negligence standard (no longer the pure standard), because she was more than 50% at fault.
Contributory Negligence (Recognized In Very Few States)
There are only a handful of states who still follow a contributory negligence standard. Under this rule, if you were the slightest bit negligent in your conduct, and a judge or jury found you to be only 1% at fault, you would not be able to recover any damages. Contributory negligence is a harsh rule that is not widely accepted. In fact, only four states currently follow this rule—Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia—plus the D.C. Florida does not.
How to Protect Your Rights If You Were Partially At Fault
Proving negligence in a personal injury matter can be more difficult than it may seem. Memories fade or change. Some people modify their stories. Evidence (such as footage, photos, and/or the method of injuries) can be interpreted and argued multiple ways. Some evidence is also simply lost and cannot be retrieved. To help our clients who have been injured in some type of accident, we have often had to hire a skilled accident reconstructionist to prove our version of the accident in order for our client to recover. If you have been injured in an accident, even though you feel you may have been partially at fault, do not wait to protect your rights. If you do not feel you are being treated fairly by the person responsible for your injury or their insurance company or you have not been offered enough to truly compensate you for what may be a life-changing injury, never hesitate to contact us. We never charge any fee or cost or require any obligation from you to simply sit down, answer your questions, and explain your rights.