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What You Need to Know About Florida’s Pure Comparative Negligence System

05/26/2023
Car Accidents
BY

Florida Governor Ron Desantis signed House Bill 837 into law in March of 2023. This change to our legal structure overhauls several important aspects of how personal injury cases are handled in our state. Perhaps the most important of these changes is that the new law abolishes Florida’s old pure comparative negligence system and replaces it with a modified comparative negligence system. This article discusses the recent change in Florida law as well as the complications which this can cause for plaintiffs in a personal injury case.

Florida Previously Employed a Pure Comparative Fault Negligence System

Florida previously was among a minority of states which employ a pure comparative fault negligence framework. Under this legal standard, a victim could recover damages regardless of the extent to which they were partially responsible for the accident. The recovering victim’s damages would be reduced by their share of the fault. This means, for example, that if a car accident victim suffered $100,000 in damages, and the jury believed that the victim was ninety-five percent responsible for the wreck, then the victim could still recover $5,000 ($100,000 – ninety-five percent). This system, by and large, protected the victims of serious injury cases against receiving nothing. Such victims may include those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, damage to their neck or spine, and surviving family members in a wrongful death case.

Florida Now Employs a Modified Comparative Fault Framework

Our state’s new negligence framework is more similar to what is employed in most other states. Under a modified comparative fault framework, a victim’s damages are still reduced by their share of fault for the accident. Such an individual may not recover damages, however, if the jury finds that they were more than fifty-percent responsible for the wreck. 

Suppose Joe is approaching an intersection and has a yellow turn signal. Without looking or paying attention, Joe turns. Now suppose that Jack was approaching from the other direction. Jack is driving fifteen miles an hour over the speed limit and is texting while driving. A drug test also shows that he is high on marijuana while driving. Jack runs into Joe and causes Joe serious injuries. It is true that Joe was negligent in that he turned without looking at oncoming traffic. Given these facts, however there is a chance that the jury may find that Jack was more at fault for the accident than Joe. If this is the case then Joe would still be able to seek compensation. Given that Jack is likely more responsible for the wreck, he will not be able to recover damages. He may have been able to under our former pure comparative fault system.

Establishing Which Party is More at Fault Can Complicate a Personal Injury Case

The allocation of fault to each party can be quite subjective. It can be common for two people to look at the same set of facts and reach different conclusions. One person, for example, may believe that the parties share equal blame while another person may find that one party was more at fault than the other. The difficulty in determining fault means that Florida’s new law will make things more complicated for those dealing with insurance adjusters prior to filing a lawsuit. It can also change how a case is presented to a jury. Each of these issues will now be discussed in turn.

Insurance Adjusters May be More Likely to Deny Personal Injury Claims

The first step in gaining compensation for a personal injury is to submit a demand for payment to the defendant’s insurance company. It is common for insurance adjusters who handle such claims to assert that the Plaintiff bore some responsibility for the wreck. While the level of responsibility was a point of negotiation under the old system, it can now allow an adjuster to outright deny a claim under the new framework. It can largely be expected that adjusters will be quick to initially deny claims as a starting point of negotiations.

It is strongly suggested that you speak with an attorney before dealing with an insurance adjuster. It is common for adjusters to contact you immediately following an accident. They will often attempt to claim that you should deal with them directly and that there is no benefit to hiring counsel. Given this common practice, there is a high possibility that some accident victims will simply believe that their claim is denied and that they have no recourse. The truth of the matter, however, is that counsel will go back and forth with the adjusters. If an agreement for a settlement cannot be reached, then your attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Jurors Will Decide the Issue of Comparative Fault at Trial

If your matter does not settle then it will be necessary to file a lawsuit. In the event that the case goes to trial then the decision of how to apportion fault will be up to the jury. This means that your attorney must be able to present a clear, concise, and easy to follow narrative when presenting the case to the jurors. Furthermore, during closing arguments your counsel must be able to tie all of the evidence together in a way that clearly spells out fault. Retaining an attorney with extensive trial experience, and who is versed in personal injury law, is vital to ensuring that your case is presented to the jurors correctly.

Call a Florida Personal Injury Attorney For Assistance

If you have been injured in a car accident, a truck accident, or through some other form of negligence then you need quality representation. Our firm practices exclusively in the area of personal injury law and we understand that this is an important time in your life. We will make your case a priority and we look forward to being of assistance. Call us today at 800-780-8607 or contact us online to speak with a Florida personal injury lawyer.

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