Florida Court Explains Proximate Cause

December 09, 2019

by Donaldson & Weston

Most car accident cases are pursued on a theory of negligence. Under Florida law, recovering on a negligence claim requires, in part, evidence that the defendant’s behavior caused the plaintiff’s harm. It is not sufficient to merely show that an action was one of the causes of the resulting harm, however. Rather, the action must be shown to be a proximate cause for a plaintiff to recover damages.

Recently, a Florida court clarified what constitutes proximate cause, in a case in which it reversed a verdict against a defendant due to lack of proximate cause. If you were injured in a South Florida car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced car accident attorney to discuss whether you may be able to pursue damages.

Factual Background

Reportedly, the plaintiffs were involved in a rear-end collision while they were stopped, waiting for trucks to pass between two cars that were parked on the street. The plaintiffs subsequently filed a suit against the other driver and the homeowners’ association that managed the community where the accident occurred. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant association allowed overnight street parking despite the fact that the ordinances of the town in which the community was located prohibited street parking that interfered with the flow of traffic. There were frequently cars parked on both sides of the street, which created a condition that would only allow one car to pass through the parked cars at a time.

A trial was held, during which the defendant association filed a motion for a directed verdict, arguing that allowing cars to park on the street did not proximately cause the accident. The court denied the motion, and a jury returned a verdict in which it found the defendant association 30% liable for the accident. The defendant association appealed, arguing the trial court committed an error in not granting a directed verdict.

Proximate Cause Defined

On appeal, the court stated that while proximate cause is usually an issue to be determined by the fact-finder, in certain cases the issue should be decided as a matter of law. The court explained that a condition or behavior that only provides the opportunity for another party’s negligence to occur, is not the proximate cause of the resulting negligence. In other words, actions that create an opening for negligence to occur are not legally significant, unless the actions are also a proximate cause of the subsequent injuries. An action is a proximate cause if it is reasonably foreseeable that the action would largely contribute to the eventual harm.

Here, the court found that the parking of cars on either side of the street was not the proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ damages. The court noted all drivers are required to maintain a safe following distance, and there was no evidence the plaintiffs’ had to stop abruptly to avoid the cars parked on the street. As such, the court found that in allowing cars to park on the street the defendant association merely created the occasion for the defendant driver’s negligence to occur. The court held that the defendant driver’s negligence was not reasonably foreseeable by the defendant association, and allowing cars to park on the street was not the proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ alleged harm. As such, the court reversed the trial court ruling and remanded the case for a verdict in favor of the defendant association.

Retain an Experienced South Florida Car Accident Attorney Today

If you were injured in a car accident, you should retain an experienced South Florida personal injury attorney to assist you in pursuing damages from the parties responsible for your harm. At Donaldson & Weston, our South Florida personal injury attorneys will analyze the facts of your case and work tirelessly to help you seek any compensation you may be owed. Contact us today at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 for a free and confidential meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Court Finds One Prejudicial Question Does Not Warrant a New Trial, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, December 19, 2018

Florida Court Holds Policy Language Excludes UIM Coverage Benefits for Injuries Sustained by a Resident Relative in a Car Not Owned by the Insured, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 30, 2018

Florida Court Addresses Jury Verdict After Car Accident,South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 19, 2018