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Two Key Third Party Liability Theories In Port St. Lucie

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Florida’s auto insurance minimum requirement is one of the lowest in the country. Many drivers only have $10,000 in accident coverage. In a catastrophic injury case, like a wrongful death, that amount may not be nearly enough to provide fair compensation to the victim/plaintiff. There are options in this situation, such as attaching current assets or maybe even future earnings. These efforts are often successful, but they are also rather cumbersome.

A better approach is to find another defendant that is also financially responsible. If that defendant has rather “deep pockets,” that’s even better. So, vicarious liability plays an important role in many Florida car crash cases.

Some Basic Employer Liability Theories in Florida

If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was a taxi driver, truck driver, or Uber driver, respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) usually applies. As a bonus, these commercial drivers are typically common carriers in Florida. Since these individuals have a higher duty of care, it is often easier to establish liability against the tortfeasor.

Back to the damages question. This doctrine is the most widely-used employer liability theory. Respondeat superior has three basic elements:

  • Employee: The tortfeasor must be the company’s employee. This part of the law does not restrict this label to regular workers who earn a regular paycheck. Instead, most Florida courts use the Department of Labor’s definition, which is “suffer or permit to work.” Under that definition, independent contractors, owner-operators, and even most unpaid volunteers are “employees.”
  • Course of Employment: Just like anyone who does any work for the employer is an employee, any activity which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. That could include something as simple as driving a company car that bears the company logo, because the employer benefits from the free advertising.
  • Foreseeability: This rule is not limited to respondeat superior cases but is common in most negligence matters. The injury must be a foreseeable result of the employment relationship. For example, it is arguably not foreseeable for a worker to break into the parking garage and steal a company car.

Respondeat superior applies in most car accident cases. If the tort is an intentional one, such as assault, there are other theories, such as negligent hiring and negligent supervision.

Does Florida Have a Dram Shop Law?

Some states have done away with their alcohol liability laws, on the grounds that they detract from personal responsibility. But there is a difference between personal responsibility and legal responsibility. Legal responsibility is partially about fault, but it also has to do with who can correct the environment. In an alcohol-related crash situation, the alcohol provider clearly has the power to make things safer.

So, there are two ways to establish third-party liability against a bar, restaurant, grocery store, or other commercial alcohol provider in Port St. Lucie:

  • Under 21: If the tortfeasor was an intoxicated minor, the provider is usually liable for damages as a matter of law. Generally, the victim/plaintiff must only make a connection between the tortfeasor’s intoxication and the alcohol sale.
  • Over 21: If the tortfeasor was an adult, the strict liability provision does not apply. However, liability still attaches if the victim/plaintiff proves that the provider knew the tortfeasor was habitually addicted to alcohol.

Similar to respondeat superior, the accident must be a foreseeable result of the sale. In this context, it is foreseeable that a driver will open packaged alcohol, drink it on the way home, and become impaired.

Reach Out to Hard-Hitting Lawyers

The tortfeasor may not be the only party responsible for damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. We have five area office locations.

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