Even Obvious Negligence can be Difficult to Win in Court
Floridians injured due to negligence often contact personal injury attorneys, sometimes claiming that their cases are “obvious” or “slam-dunks.” While this can be true at times, lawsuits are rarely slam-dunks – even the seemingly obvious ones. This is because injury laws are quite complex, and the rules require skilled legal counsel in order to be successful. A prime example of this comes from a recent case in Wyoming, where, according to the pleadings, a five-year-old child was killed during a school basketball game when “an unsecured lunchroom bench fell on him, causing a fatal head injury.” One would think this is an obvious case of negligence – a slam-dunk even – that would result in a large verdict or settlement; however, what happened may surprise you.
Summary Judgment is a Powerful Tool for Defendants
In Florida, just like in Wyoming, once a case reaches a point where most of the facts are undisputed, either party may ask the court to rule that even if all the facts are true, the other side cannot obtain a verdict. This is tricky. The rule stems from a classic separation of duties between the judge and the jury. Judges are allowed to decide issues of law and interpretation of law. Yet, juries are used to decide the facts. According to Section 1.510 of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, either party may bring a motion when there is nothing for the jury to decide.
Say, for instance, state law requires proof that the defendant knew or should have known about a hazard, but the undisputed facts show that the defendant could not have possibly known about the hazard or had no way of reasonably discovering it before the accident. In this case, the law would likely not provide any recourse for the injured person. So, the defendant could request summary judgment, claiming that since there are no facts to decide, there is no reason to move forward with a trial.
Amos v. Lincoln (Wyoming)
In the case mentioned above, the defendant was the school. It first filed a sworn affidavit that claimed it had sold the facility and was no longer in charge of maintaining the facility. Next, it filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there were no facts in dispute, and that based on the fact that the school was not involved in maintaining the bench, the law would not allow a verdict for the plaintiff. The court dismissed the family’s case, finding no factual issues that could permit the plaintiff to win.
The family, however, appealed, and the appellate court reversed the decision, because, according to its written opinion, even though the facts were not in dispute, “reasonable minds might differ on the conclusions to be drawn from those facts.” So now the trial court will likely have to allow a jury to hear the facts and draw conclusions about what those facts mean.
Lessons to be Learned
The moral of this story is that even a truly clear tragedy involving the senseless death of a child that could have easily been prevented through more careful maintenance and better decisions can still result in complex court battles. There are many choices in Florida, but when choosing a personal injury lawyer in the Tampa Bay area, you should select an experienced and proven trial lawyer with success navigating such complex legal issues. The attorneys at the Romero Law Firm are prepared to provide you with assistance today.