Florida Appeals Court Decision Demonstrates Application Of Comparative Negligence Doctrine

Last month, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals issued a decision in the case of Disla v. Blanco, demonstrating how the application of the state’s comparative negligence doctrine can have a dramatic impact on a plaintiff’s recovery for injuries suffered in a car accident.

In Disla, the plaintiff, Mayuris Disla, was injured in a car accident when the defendant, Joseph Blanco, had a seizure and lost control of the vehicle while driving Disla home. In the ensuing crash, Disla suffered a broken neck which later required cervical fusion surgery. Disla sued Blanco for negligence, and following a trial, the jury found both parties to be the legal cause of damage to Disla, but apportioned 90% of the fault to Disla for failing to wear her seatbelt. The jury awarded Disla total damages of $205,325, which was reduced by the allocation of fault and PIP benefits to $10,532.50.

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As this blog has discussed before, there are two doctrines under which the allocation of fault in a tort case can affect the recovery of damages. The first, referred to as “contributory negligence” has, for the most part, fallen by the wayside and is only still followed in five jurisdictions in the United States.
Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, a plaintiff that is found to have contributed to the injury by his own negligence is completely barred from recovering for his injuries. Many states, unhappy with the harsh results that the application of contributory negligence yielded, did away with it in favor of a more flexible one.

Most jurisdictions, including Florida, now utilize the more forgiving doctrine of comparative negligence, under which an injured party may recover damages to the extent for which the other party was to blame. There are two subtypes of this doctrine, known as “pure” and “modified” comparative negligence.

Under a pure comparative negligence theory, a plaintiff’s damages are reduced by his percentage of liability up to any amount. For example, a plaintiff who was 90% to blame for an accident could recover 10% of his losses. Under a modified comparative negligence standard, a plaintiff can recover only if his negligence is not greater than the defendant’s. This means that a plaintiff found to be more than more than 50% at fault for an accident is barred from recovery.

As demonstrated by the Disla verdict, Florida uses a pure comparative negligence standard. Although comparative negligence is much fairer system than contributory negligence, it often leads to parties playing the blame game for contributing to the accident in order to avoid or reduce their own liability.

The apportionment of liability is often one of the most hotly contested issues that arise with regard to car and motor vehicle accident cases. The attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. have extensive experience representing individuals who have been injured in car accidents. If you or someone you know has been injured by the negligence of another, contact the attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today.

Photo Credit: Simone Lovati via Compfight cc

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