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Can I Sue For Negligence in Florida?

Experts In This Article

After an accident or injury, victims may want to know, “Can I sue for negligence?” The answer is complex because each injured accident victim’s legal options vary depending on their case and the damages they suffered. However, most accident victims can generally file a lawsuit for negligence.

Negligence is one of the most important concepts in personal injury law. In fact, most of the work lawyers perform in personal injury cases involves proving that someone’s harmful actions amounted to negligence.

But just because it’s an essential concept doesn’t mean negligence is easy to grasp. Most people only have a vague understanding of negligence or how to obtain compensation for their injuries.

So, to help clear up any confusion, we’ll go over the fundamentals of what you need to know about negligence and how it affects your personal injury claim. We cover what negligence means, the elements that an attorney must prove to establish negligence, and how an experienced personal injury attorney can help get you the money you deserve following an accident involving negligence.

sue for negligence

Can I Sue For Negligence in Florida?

Yes, you can. Most accident victims can generally file a lawsuit for negligence. If you have been a victim of negligence by another party, you can take legal action against them. It is recommended that you hire a personal injury attorney to help you with the legal process.

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What does negligence mean?

In the most general sense, negligence is a failure to act reasonably that unintentionally causes harm to another person. Negligent behavior can consist of actions or failures to act (omissions) so long as the actor did not intend to cause harm.

Negligence can happen in virtually any setting involving human conduct, including driving a car, building a house, doing a job, or making any of the thousands of decisions we confront daily.

In personal injury law, negligence is a basis for assigning liability for harm someone has suffered. A person found by a court of law to have acted negligently will typically owe financial compensation to anyone who suffered physical, emotional, or financial injuries due to that negligence.

What is a negligence lawsuit?

A negligence lawsuit is when someone claims that another person didn’t take proper care and that caused harm. If we can show that their actions led to your injury or loss, we can seek compensation for what you’ve been through

When can you file a lawsuit for negligence?

Strictly speaking, personal injury lawsuits are torts. Tort law deals with wrongful acts that harm or injure another person. If another person’s negligence harmed you, the law usually allows you to hold that person financially accountable for the losses and injuries you sustained by suing them for monetary damages.

Just as negligence can arise in connection with just about any human activity imaginable, so can taking legal action for negligence. This means you might be able to file a lawsuit for negligence.

Lawsuits for negligence claims often involve:

  • Car accidents;
  • Truck accidents;
  • SUV accidents;
  • Motorcycle accidents;
  • Bicycle accidents;
  • Pedestrian accidents;
  • Slip and fall accidents;
  • Accidents resulting in wrongful death.

Of course, not all these and other incidents always involve negligence, but many do. The job of an experienced personal injury lawyer is to identify the negligent actions that contributed to the cause of an accident and the harm it inflicted. If your attorney examines your case and believes you have cause, they can file a personal injury lawsuit for negligence.

How does a lawyer prove negligence?

To prove negligence in a lawsuit, your lawyer must establish four elements: 1) the defendant owed you a duty of care. 2) the defendant breached this duty. 3) This breach caused your injury. 4) you suffered damages. For liability and financial compensation under Florida Law, all four outlined elements must be established.

Here are the details of each Florida negligence element, along with examples:

Element One: Existence of a Duty of Care to the Victim

Negligence involves unreasonable actions, but not all unreasonable actions amount to negligence.

Instead, a victim’s lawyer must establish that the person who engaged in unreasonable actions (referred to as the “defendant” in a personal injury case) owed a duty of care to the victim not to engage in those actions.

Broadly speaking, a legal duty of care exists if it is reasonably foreseeable that someone like the victim would suffer harm if the defendant engaged in unreasonable actions.

A duty of care usually exists, for example, if:

  • A defendant volunteered to protect the victim from harm;
  • A defendant knew or reasonably should have known that their conduct created a risk of harm to a class of potential victims like the one who suffered injuries; or
  • A defendant knew or reasonably should have known that their conduct would harm the specific victim.

Duties of care arise throughout our everyday lives. Drivers owe others on the road a duty of care to drive safely and to follow traffic laws. Shopkeepers, restaurant operators, and other businesspeople owe their patrons a duty of care to keep their premises free of unreasonable hazards. Automotive manufacturers and service providers owe their customers a duty of care to produce and maintain vehicles and vehicle parts free of dangerous defects.

A duty of care constitutes an element of negligence so that we do not subject people to lawsuits and hold them financially liable for actions that they could never have reasonably foreseen would harm someone else. After all, for the most part, it’s the foreseeability of harm that makes actions wrongful.

Element Two: A Breach of the Duty of Care to the Victim

Next, a personal injury victim’s attorney must collect and present evidence to show a breach of a duty of care to the victim. Typically, that amounts to proving that the defendant 

  • Acted toward the victim in an unreasonably dangerous manner
  • Failed to act reasonably to prevent a dangerous situation for the victim, or
  • Made an unreasonable decision that led to a dangerous result for the victim.

Examples of breaches of duty of care include:

  • A motorist speeding, disobeying traffic laws, or driving while drunk, drowsy, or distracted (breaches of the duty of care owed to others on the road);
  • A business failing to mop up spilled liquid or to post a warning about slippery floors (breaches of the duty of care to the business’s patrons);
  • A car mechanic overlooking a ruptured brake line or mistakenly installing bald tires on a car (breaches of the duty of care owed to the mechanic’s customer);
  • A healthcare professional or surgeon who violates the standard of care and causes injury to the patient.
  • Property owners who know a hazardous walkway in a building fail to warn contracted workers, causing a slip-and-fall injury (breaches of the duty of care owed to employees)

A breach of a duty of care need not be intentional to constitute negligent conduct. Forgetful or absent-minded actions can be just as negligent as deliberate ones. A driver doesn’t have to decide to drive through a red light for it to constitute negligence to do so. Driving through a red light constitutes a breach of a duty of care, regardless of whether the driver did it on purpose or out of carelessness.

Element Three: Causation

A personal injury attorney must prove that the defendant’s negligence led to the victim’s harm or injuries. This connection between the victim’s injuries and the defendant’s actions is called causation.

Causation can be deceptively complicated to prove. Sometimes, of course, it’s obvious that a defendant’s negligent actions, such as drunk driving, directly caused an accident and a victim’s injuries. But oftentimes, a longer, more uncertain chain of events connects unreasonable actions with the harm the victim ultimately suffered, and the challenge is to figure out if the actions constituted the legal (or “proximate”) cause of the injuries.

A famous example studied by every law student in the country involves the 1928 case of Helen Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad. Mrs. Palsgraf was standing on a railroad platform when a man carrying a package jumped aboard a moving train nearby.

A Long Island Railroad employee pushed the man in the back to help him into the train, dislodging the package from his arms, which fell onto the tracks and exploded.

At a distance, the force of the explosion knocked some scales onto Mrs. Palsgraf and injured her. She sued the Long Island Railroad, claiming the negligence of its employee in pushing the man onto the train and dislodging the package caused her injuries.

But an appeals court held that Mrs. Palsgraf could not show the required causation. Yes, the explosion had technically caused the scales to fall onto her. And yes, the railroad employee may have acted unreasonably in pushing the man with the package onto a moving train.

But the two events were not sufficiently connected to amount to legal causation, since the railroad employee could not reasonably have foreseen that pushing the man on the back could result in scales falling onto Mrs. Palsgraf. The chain of events was just too long and unpredictable.

Causation, in other words, means something more than simply proving that X-led-to-Y-which-led-to-Z. Instead, lawyers must prove that the breach of the duty of care must have had a reasonably foreseeable connection to the resulting harm. Without that connection, there’s no legal causation.

Element Four: Damages

Finally, the lawyer for a personal injury victim must prove that the victim suffered damages, which generally means one or more types of harm for which compensation (usually in the form of money) is possible. In theory, the compensation awarded to a victim of negligence should pay the victim for all past and future monetary and non-monetary harm the negligence caused.

In the typical personal injury case, damages caused by negligence often include:

  • Medical and other expenses related to treating or living with the injuries the victim suffered;
  • Lost wages and income resulting from the victim missing work or becoming unable to work; and
  • The victim’s physical pain, emotional suffering, and overall loss of quality of life.

As with the other elements of negligence, attorneys for victims collect and present evidence to prove the existence of damages. That evidence may consist of, for example, medical bills, wage statements, and testimony from the victim about the impact of the injuries on the victim’s life.

Other Negligence-Related Concepts

Up to now, we’ve discussed the meaning and application of the concept of negligence. Negligence, however, often also gets used in combination with other words to describe independent concepts in the law. 

Gross Negligence

The term “gross negligence” usually refers to negligent conduct that is so reckless or obviously likely to hurt someone that it is almost, but not quite, as bad as intentionally harmful action. As a legal concept, statutes often use gross negligence to specify conduct that deserves extra sanctions. For example, a law may entitle a victim to seek double or triple damages when the defendant acted with gross negligence.

Gross negligence also frequently serves as a way to distinguish circumstances in which someone has the right to sue for damages from circumstances when that right does not exist. For example, a statute might say that in certain situations, you cannot sue someone who merely acts negligently, but that person can be sued for negligence if they act grossly negligent.

Contributory or Comparative Negligence

In many personal injury cases, the fault for an accident or injury does not necessarily lie only with the defendant. Instead, the injured victim may also have engaged in unsafe conduct that caused their injury.

Every state has a body of law to deal with these scenarios. In most states (including Florida), courts follow a comparative negligence rule that compares each party’s relative degree of negligence and reduces the victim’s damages by the victim’s degree of fault.

Vicarious Negligence

Vicarious negligence, also known as vicarious liability, refers to a situation in which someone has legal responsibility for someone else’s wrongful actions. The most common example of vicarious negligence is an employer’s liability for the negligent actions of an employee.

Negligence Per Se

Negligence per se (meaning negligence in itself) refers to an action that a court will presume to have been negligent without requiring the injured victim to prove that the action was unreasonable in the specific instance that harmed the victim. For instance, violation of a statute or regulation intended to protect the public, such as a public health regulation or a building code, may constitute negligence per se.

Injured by Negligence? An Experienced Florida Personal Injury Attorney Can Help.

If you suffered injuries in any circumstances in which someone probably could have, and should have, taken reasonable steps that would have kept you safe, then negligence has likely occurred, and you may have valuable legal rights to seek compensation. 

The Orlando personal injury lawyers at our law firm can help you take full advantage of your rights. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney right away for a free consultation. We’re eager to learn about your case and advise you about your rights and options for seeking monetary damages from the person whose negligence harmed you or your loved one.

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We know that accidents don’t always happen during business hours. That’s why our experienced lawyers are standing by, 24/7/365, to listen to your story, evaluate your claim, and help you decide what to do next. Call us now and we’ll see if we can pursue compensation for your injuries!

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