Second District Allows Personal Representative to Consolidate Two Florida Wrongful Death Actions

A Florida appellate court recently assessed an appeal stemming from an accident and negligent care that caused significant, fatal injuries. In a recent case, the personal representative of the injured person’s estate filed suit against several defendants, alleging the decedent was first injured by a malfunctioning sliding door at a drugstore, which led to her receiving inadequate care at a senior home, ultimately resulting in her death. The decedent suffered significant injuries from the fall at the drug store’s premises that were then aggravated by a second fall at the senior center. The representative initially filed two separate actions against the drugstore and the senior center but eventually moved to consolidate the two actions under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.270(a).

In his motion, the representative alleged the wrongful death claim was based on successive injury-producing incidents, and both the drug store and the center contributed to the woman’s death. The representative argued there was a substantial risk of inconsistent verdicts because one defendant could place the blame on the other defendant in each case. The representative asserted this could collectively minimize the defendants’ liability and the jury’s award of damages.

The Second District Court of Appeal looked at previous state decisions to determine whether the trial court erred when it denied the motion to consolidate. The Florida Supreme Court previously determined two separate actions involving two automobile accidents should have been consolidated because the damages could not be readily divided among the defendants in each action. (See Lawrence v. Hethcox, 283 So. 2d 41 (Fla. 1973).) The court ruled that separate actions would have increased the injured person’s challenges in proving how much each defendant was responsible. The court felt a denial of consolidation would obstruct rather than promote justice. Other district court verdicts reflect this reasoning in U-Haul Co. of Northern Florida, Inc. v. White and Hickey v. Pompano K of C Inc. Hickey had similar facts to the case at hand, in which a plaintiff suffered two separate slip-and-falls three weeks apart. The plaintiff in Hickey injured her knee, which was alleged to have contributed to the second fall that then exacerbated the first injury. The Fourth District pointed out that the defendant in each action could place the blame on the other defendant, which would result in a low verdict in one or both trials. Low verdicts are not grounds for a new trial, and the plaintiff would be blocked from an adequate remedy by appeal.

The Second District also looked at decisions that ruled against consolidation in an automobile accident case. In Pages v. Dominguez Ex Rel, 652 So. 2d 864, (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.1995), two people were injured, which led to severe injuries in one passenger and the death of another passenger. The court found that consolidation was not expedient in this case because there were separate and distinct damages. The fact that both arose from the same accident did not mean consolidation was appropriate. The appellate court also looked at the decision in Barnes v. Meece, 530 So.2d 958, (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.1998), which also declined to consolidate a wrongful death and medical malpractice action upon the motion of the defendant. The appellate court in Barnes decided the defendant could find relief through a separate subrogation action, and the issues related to the medical malpractice action were not appropriate to include in the personal injury case. After reviewing Florida case precedent, the Second District ultimately concluded the trial court erred in its denial of the motion to consolidate, quashed the order, and allowed the estate to move forward in one action against the defendants.

In any Florida wrongful death action, you need experienced counsel at your side. The personal injury attorneys at Donaldson & Weston are here to assist you with your case. Call our office today at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 for a free, confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appellate Court Reviews Future Medical Expenses in Multi-Car Accident Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 28, 2016

Federal Circuit Court of Appeal Declines to Find Equitable Tolling in Slip and Fall Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 21, 2016

Florida Court of Appeal Allows Injured Motorist to Pursue Additional PIP Payments to Medical Providers, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, May 18, 2017