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If you're a resident of the Sunshine State, you may find yourself frequently sharing the road with drivers who don't seem to be in much of a hurry to make it to their final destinations. The interactions between sedate and harried drivers can occasionally result in inadvertent injury--and, as one Florida woman recently discovered, even intervening causes that make these injuries much worse may not be enough to relieve the responsible driver of full liability.
Read on to learn more about a recent decision of the Florida Supreme Court that may impact the extent of liability that can be assessed in personal injury and automotive accident cases, as well as how this decision can affect you as a driver.
What did the recent Supreme Court decision change?
In the case eventually known as Boozer v. Stalley, a scooter driver, Benjamin Hintz, was injured by a vehicle operated by Emily Boozer. After arriving at the hospital, Mr. Hintz was allegedly the victim of medical malpractice, which may have significantly worsened the injuries he sustained in the underlying accident.
Mr. Hintz subsequently sued Ms. Boozer and her auto insurer, alleging that her negligence had led to the accident. Eventually, a judgment of more than $11 million was awarded against Ms. Boozer; only about $1 million of this judgment was paid by her insurance company, and she was deemed personally responsible for the remainder.
Ms. Boozer subsequently filed a motion to intervene in Mr. Hintz's medical malpractice action, arguing that her own actions that resulted in the $11 million judgment were exacerbated by the alleged malpractice, and she should therefore be held responsible only for the injuries directly attributable to the accident.
An intermediate court agreed, allowing Ms. Boozer to file a motion to intervene in the malpractice action between Mr. Hintz and his treating physician.
However, the Florida Supreme Court recently ruled, in a split decision, that Ms. Boozer did not have the right to intervene in the medical malpractice action and that any alleged malpractice that did occur would be insufficient to limit her liability for the accident. Were it not for the initial accident, the Supreme Court indicated, Mr. Hintz would not have been in a position to receive medical treatment; therefore, any malpractice that may have added to his injuries could have been avoided absent the initial car crash.
How will this decision impact Florida residents who are involved in an auto accident?
This decision indicates the state's highest court's policy to avoid essentially splitting liability to apportion it among multiple potential defendants. However, it's not clear that this will impact all auto accident cases. Medical malpractice is litigated under a different set of laws and rules than general personal injury, which can leave judges more reluctant to combine these different areas of law into one determination of liability.
In cases where an intervening action related to personal injury law comes into play--for example, when an injured pedestrian is struck by another driver after the initial accident--it may still be possible for liability to be apportioned among each individual driver. In other cases, the injuries may be entirely caused by an intervening person or driver. A minor fender bender can quickly turn serious when the disabled vehicle is struck by a speeding driver. If you were responsible only for a non-injury causing accident, you'll want to do all you can to avoid being held legally responsible for injuries that occurred later.
For this reason, among others, it's important to contact the police and have an official report generated as soon as an accident takes place, even if it seems very minor and no injuries are immediately apparent. For more information, reach out to accident attorneys at firms like James Munafo & Associates PC.