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Florida Court Rules Comparative Negligence Statute Applies Retroactively

October 15, 2019

by Donaldson & Weston

When an automobile insurance policy is not properly issued,  it can result in insufficient or absent coverage following a car accident and legal battles as to whose negligence caused the inadequate coverage. Under Florida law, until recently, defendants could be held joint and severally liable for any negligent harm caused to the plaintiff, which means one defendant could have to pay the entire amount of a judgment awarded. In 2006, however, the Florida legislature passed a comparative fault statute that eliminated joint and several liability in negligence cases.

In a recent case involving the negligent failure to provide automobile insurance coverage ,a Florida court held that the comparative negligence statute should be applied retroactively, requiring all parties to bear responsibility for a percentage of the damages. If you were involved in a South Florida car accident, it is essential to retain an attorney knowledgeable about recent changes in the law and how those changes affect your case.

Facts Regarding the Applicable Insurance Policy

Reportedly, the plaintiff’s brother owned two similarly named companies: one in Florida and one in the Bahamas. The plaintiff and his brother sought insurance for the Bahamian company, but the insurer issued coverage for the Florida company. The plaintiff, who worked for his brother’s Bahamian company, was subsequently injured in a car accident in the Bahamas, and sought coverage for the accident. The insurer denied coverage, on the grounds the Bahamian company was not covered by a policy of insurance.

It is alleged the plaintiff subsequently filed a negligence claim against the insurance company. Following a trial, the jury assessed 5% liability for the mistake to the plaintiff, 25% to his brother, 35% to the insurance company, and 10% and 25% to the Bahamian and Florida Companies. The plaintiff sought the entire damages award, minus the 5% apportioned to him, from the insurance company, under the statute allowing for joint and several liability. The insurance company appealed, arguing the recently passed comparative negligence statute should apply to the case, even though it was not passed until several years after the accident occurred.

Retroactivity of Joint and Several Liability

When a statute applies retroactively it attaches novel legal consequences to events that occurred prior to its enactment. In the subject case, the court noted that to determine whether a statute should apply retroactively, it must assess whether the legislature intended for it to apply retroactively, and whether retroactive application would violate any constitutional principles. Here, there was no language in the 2006 comparative negligence statute the allowed for retroactive application. The statute was modified in 2011, however, to include a provision that explicitly stated it should be applied retroactively.

As such, the court found that it was intended to apply retroactively. The court also found that the retroactive application did not affect the plaintiff’s constitutional rights, since it did not diminish his damages award, it merely modified the manner in which the award could be collected. Thus, the court found that the comparative negligence statute was properly applied retroactively.

Meet with an Experienced South Florida Car Accident Attorney to Discuss your Case

If you were harmed in a South Florida car accident you should meet with an experienced car accident attorney to discuss how any potential apportionment of liability could affect your recovery of damages. The South Florida personal injury attorneys of Donaldson & Weston will thoroughly assess the facts of your case and help you develop strong arguments in favor of your recovery. We can be reached at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 to schedule a free and confidential meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Insurance Company Granted New Trial After Florida Car Accident, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 13, 2018