Negligence, the Legal Definition in Florida
Understanding the legal definition of “negligence” is key to understanding Florida’s laws concerning personal injury lawsuits as negligence serves as the basis for most personal injury cases. In other words, Florida personal injury plaintiffs (i.e. the injured person who is suing) generally argues that the defendant acted negligently in some way and that it was this negligence that caused their injuries. But how do we know when a defendant acted negligently? Negligence can encompass a great many actions in which a person acted unreasonably or without due care, however, jurors serving on civil cases in Florida are asked to abide by the legal definition of negligence provided in Jury Instruction 401.4 which states that:
Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care, which is the care that a reasonably careful person would use under like circumstances. Negligence is doing something that a reasonably careful person would not do under like circumstances or failing to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under like circumstances.
Now that you’re familiar with Florida’s legal definition of negligence, read on to explore the important role that negligence plays in personal injury cases.
In order to win a personal injury case based on negligence the injured plaintiff must prove the following four elements:
- That the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care,
- That the defendant breached this duty by acting negligently,
- That this breach of duty led to the plaintiff’s injuries, and
- That the plaintiff’s injuries are compensable (i.e. the plaintiff must prove his or her damages).
In many personal injury cases, proving that the defendant acted negligently is by far the most difficult element to satisfy. However, there is a type of shortcut available in some case. This shortcut is referred to as “negligence per se” and can apply under two different circumstances:
- When a defendant violates a law that is intended to protect the public from harm and which defines the failure of care required to constitute negligence, or
- When a defendant’s actions are so far beyond society’s definition of what constitutes reasonable behavior that the defendant’s behavior is negligent on its face.
For example, if a particular law states that driving in excess of a certain speed is considered to be legally negligent then an individual who breaks this law is considered to be negligent per se. Additionally, even if there isn’t an applicable driving law that dictates the speed at which a driver is considered to be legally negligent, a court would, for example, likely find that driving at a speed of 100 miles per hour through a residential neighborhood is negligent per se.
Pure Comparative Negligence in Florida
The degree of a party’s negligence plays a critical role in personal injury cases in Florida. This is because our state acknowledges the reality that more than one party’s negligence often contributes to an accident. But who is held liable when more than one party is at-fault for causing a plaintiff’s injuries? And what if the injured plaintiff himself acted negligently and is partially at fault for causing the accident in which he was injured? Florida answers these questions by analyzing them under a pure comparative fault theory of negligence.
In a pure comparative negligence state, like Florida, a personal injury plaintiff can still recover damages even if he or she was partially at fault for causing the accident in which they were injured. However, the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced in proportion to the amount of their fault. This means that a plaintiff may be 99 percent at-fault for causing an accident and may still sue the one percent at-fault defendant to recover one percent of their damages.
How is Negligence Punished in Personal Injury Cases?
A negligent personal injury defendant who is found liable in a Florida court can be ordered to pay a variety of different damages to the plaintiff, depending on the nature of plaintiff’s injuries. Damages commonly awarded in personal injury cases include:
- Economic Compensatory Damages. Economic compensatory damages are awarded in order to compensate the injured plaintiff for any financial losses that he or she suffered because of the liable defendant’s negligence. Economic compensatory damages commonly include compensation for the plaintiff’s medical bills, impaired earning potential, lost wages, etc.
- Non-Economic Compensatory Damages. Like economic compensatory damages, non-economic compensatory damages are designed to make the injured plaintiff whole again. The difference is that non-economic compensatory damages compensate plaintiffs for their non-financial losses. Examples include compensation for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional anguish, etc.
- Punitive Damages. Unlike other types of damages, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant. These damages are awarded in a small number of personal injury cases, and only when the defendant’s actions were particularly reckless or malicious. The idea is that punitive damages will help deter both the defendant and others from engaging in similar behavior in the future.
It is important to note that some states cap the amount of money that a successful personal injury plaintiff within their state can recover in damages. In Florida, there are no damage caps on compensatory damages, however, there is a limit on how much an injured plaintiff can recover in punitive damages. In most personal injury cases a plaintiff can only recover $500,000, or three times the amount of their compensatory damages, whichever is greater. However, Florida does impose a $500,000 damage cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases where the defendant is a medical practitioner ($750,000 if the defendant is not a medical practitioner).
Need Legal Advice?
Wondering if someone else’s negligence caused your injury? If so, contact the experienced Jacksonville personal injury lawyers of Farah & Farah. Our experienced lawyers have been fighting to help our clients and their families get what they deserve out of their personal injury cases for more than 35 years. We would be happy to put our expertise to work for you. Schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal options via our online contact form today.