Under Florida law, when someone is injured by another person or party’s negligence, the person injured is entitled to recover damages through tort action for negligence. In Florida, a plaintiff must show four basic elements in order to recover:
- A duty of care must exist
- The defendant breached that duty
- Proximate or “legal” causation between the breach and the injury
To read more specific information on negligence actions, please read the statute regardingFlorida negligence.
A legal duty to another
In order to be able to sue someone for injuries caused by their negligent actions, it must first be established that a legal duty existed. A duty exists to protect others from reasonably foreseeable harms that may occur as a result of their conduct. For example, a driver using a public road owes a duty of care to other people using that road, whether they are other drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, or the like. While this type of duty may be intuitively understood, a duty can also exist between people who may have no direct contact. For example, the manufacturer of a prescription drug owes a duty of care to all potential people who may ingest their product. Likewise, a duty may span large periods of time; for instance, an engineer who designs a bridge owes a duty of care to people who may use that bridge decades after it is erected.
Breach of duty
The second element requires that the person who owes the duty somehow fails to meet the standard of care legally required. In Florida, the standard of care is the degree of care that a “reasonably prudent person” would use. A plaintiff can show breach by either direct or indirect evidence, and in some cases, in the absence of any evidence outside of the injurious event occurring. This last category is known as the doctrine of “res ipsa loquitor,” which holds that a jury may draw an inference of negligence if the event that occurred usually does not occur in the absence of negligence.
Proximate or legal cause
A plaintiff must be able to show that a defendant’s actions proximately caused his or her injuries. Proximate cause is a legal fiction that operates to limit the chain of liability to what could have been reasonably be foreseen by a defendant. The question, similar to the inquiry when determining the existence of a duty, is whether the harm the plaintiff suffered could have been reasonably predicted. In cases where causation is more clear, courts may impose the “but for” test, meaning they ask whether the plaintiff’s injuries would have occurred but for the defendant’s actions.
In negligence cases, damages must occur for an action to succeed. Negligence without damages is sometimes called “negligence in the air,” and is not actionable. Damages may include physical harm, emotional harm, destruction of property, loss of employment, or other adverse effects that result from another’s negligence. In some cases, punitive damages may be available, which operate to punish and hopefully deter the defendant from similar conduct in the future.
Negligence requries motor vehicle operators to exercise “reasonable care under the circumstances” while driving. Failure to use reasonable care is considered negligence.
A person who is negligent is required to pay for the damages casused to a person and property due to his or her negligence; if, the negligence caused the accident, and the accident was the approximate cause of the injured party’s injuries.
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