Florida Decision Weekly Wrap-up 04/16

April 19, 2010

Florida Decision Weekly Wrap-up 04/16

BELTRAN, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF CRUZ vs. RODRIGUEZ et al. Case No. 3D09-903. 3rd DCA. April 14, 2010.

[Torts. Negligence. Wrongful Death. Vehicle Accident] 

The Plaintiff below was the personal representative of Flor Cruz who was killed in a vehicle accident. Prior to the accident, Ms. Cruz made a U-turn, sideswiped another vehicle and slid until her vehicle stopped in the left lane of traffic. About seven seconds later, her vehicle was struck by a truck traveling 55 mph in the left lane. The parties stipulatled that Ms. Cruz did not stop before making the U-turn.   The Plaintiff sued the driver of the truck, Rodriguez, and his employer R.S.P. Transport.

The Plaintiff’s theory of liability against the employer trucking company was that the company was negligent in failing to inspect or maintain the truck. Plaintiff’s own expert testified that, while he identified defects in the truck, those defects did not contribute to the accident because the driver did not attempt to slow down, stop or avoid Ms. Cruz’ vehicle. At the close of Plaintiffs case, R.S.P. moved for a directed verdict, which was granted. The 3rd DCA agreed that there was no jury issue and affirmed the trial court’s decision granting a directed verdict for the employer.

The trial court refused to give two jury instructions requested by the Plaintiff and gave another instruction to which the Plaintiff objected. The Plaintiff objected to the trial court’s refusal to give a special instruction on concurrent causation rather than Florida Standard Jury Instruction 5.1(b). The 3rd DCA held that the standard instruction on concurrent causation was sufficient. 

Secondly, the Plaintiff objected to the trial court’s refusal to give an instruction on vicarious liability. Prior to trial, the parties stipulated that if the driver was held liable, his employer R.S.P. would be vicariously liable. Based on this stipulation, the 3rd DCA held that an instruction on vicarious liability was not necessary. 

Finally, the Plaintiff objected to the court instructing the jury that, pursuant to F.S. 316.123(2)(a) “every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop intersection indicated by a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line.” The Plaintiff argued that, since the accident did not happen at the intersection, the instruction was irrelevant. The 3rd DCA held that this instruction was proper because the parties stipulated that Ms. Cruz did not stop before making the U-turn immediately before the first collision, and one of Plaintiff’s witnesses testified that the injuries Ms. Cruz sustained could have been caused by the first collision.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY v. SHEILA JAMES, as Personal Representative of the Estate of TATYANA KIERRA ALLEN, et al. Case No. 4D09-1910. 4th DCA. April 14, 2010.


MICHELIN NORTH AMERICA, INC., v. SHEILA JAMES, as Personal Representative of the Estate of TATYANA KIERRA ALLEN, et al., Case No. 4D09-3539. 4th DCA. April 14, 2010.

[Torts. Product Liability. Vehicle Accident. Civil Procedure. Venue]

The Plaintiff’s daughter was killed when the rented Ford van in which she was a passenger experienced a tire blowout and rolled over in Columbiana County. Plaintiff, a resident of Broward Country filed suit in Broward County. Two of the Defendants, Ford and Michelin filed motions to transfer venue to Columbiana County based on forum non conveniens. The trial court denied the motions and these consolidated appeals ensued. 

F.S. 47.122 provides three factors a court considers in determining whether to grant a motion to transfer venue based on forum non conveniens: (1) the convenience of the parties; (2) the convenience of the witnesses; and (3) the interests of justice (citation omitted). The 4th DCA held that the second consideration, the convenience of the witnesses is “probably the single most important consideration of the three statutory factors” because material witnesses should be located near the forum to allow for live testimony (citation omitted). 

Ford and Michelin relied on Hu v. Crockett, 426 So. 2d 1275, 1277-78 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983), in which the Plaintiff’s Decedent died in a vehicle accident in Walton County and filed a wrongful death action in Escambia County. The Defendants’ motions to transfer venue were granted in that case. The 4th DCA distinguished the present from the Hu case

in which the Plaintiff identified only two testifying witnesses who resided in Escambia County, whereas the Defendants identified six witnesses present at the accident scene immediately following the accident who would testify regarding liability, the key issue in the case.

In the present case, there were nine eyewitnesses in the vehicle at the time of the accident, all of whom were from Broward County, the van was rented in Broward County and the Decedent’s Mother resided in Broward County. The 4th DCA held that another significant reason to distinguish this case from Hu was that in Hu, two vehicles were involved and liability was the key issue, whereas in the present case only one vehicle was involved, the key issue was a potential manufacturing defect in the tire, a design defect in the van, and negligent maintenance of the van. Thus, the determination of liability in the present case will turn primarily on expert testimony and Ford and Michelin failed to produce any evidence that their experts would be inconvenienced by traveling to Broward County versus Columbiana County. Thus, the trial court’s decision denying the motions to transfer venue was upheld.

TOLZ, as TRUSTEE of the CHAPTER 7 BANKRUPTCY ESTATE OF JENNIFER LEE BEEBE v. GEICO et al. Case No. 08-80663-CIV-MARRA/JOHNSON. U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida. January 19, 2010.

[Torts. Vehicle Accident. Insurance]

The Plaintiff below was the trustee of the bankruptcy estate of Jennifer Beebe, who was sued by a non-party, Mayra Granados, following an automobile accident in which Beebe was driving and Granados was a passenger. At the time of the accident, Beebe had an automobile insurance policy with limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence for bodily injury. Granados suit against Beebe resulted in a consent judgment against Beebe for $3,000,000. The trustee for Beebe’s bankruptcy estate sued Geico alleging that Geico did not tender policy limits to Granados in a timely fashion.

Both GEICO and the Plaintiff filed motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff’s motion claimed that Geico’s failed to communicate with Beebe after the serious accident in which Granados was catastrophically injured. GEICO’s motion argued that no reasonable jury could conclude Geico handled Granados’ claim against Beebe in bad faith. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied both motions, finding that genuine issues of material fact remained as to when Geico should have known that Beebe might be partially liable for the accident.

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