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Legal Tip #5 – How Florida’s Comparative Fault System Affects Your Recovery

At Leesfield & Partners, we get this question a lot: I was injured by more than one person/corporation. Who is responsible for compensating me?

In long-ago passing Fla. Stat. § 768.81, Florida has adopted what is known as a “pure comparative fault” system. Under this regime, every party to an action, including the plaintiff as the injured party, is responsible for the proportion of the damages caused by his/her/its negligence.

Take, for example, a house fire with multiple defendants that cause severe, nearly deadly, third-degree burns on 90 percent of the plaintiff’s body and effectively paralyzes him. Pure comparative fault allows a jury to find, for example, that:

  • a faulty electrical outlet, the fire’s origin, was 35% to blame for the injuries;
  • faulty windows that slowed the plaintiff’s escape and greatly increased his burns was 30% to blame;
  • a landlord who violated the building code by failing to provide adequate means of egress is 20% to blame; and
  • the plaintiff (injured party) is 15% to blame (e.g., the plaintiff should have known the cord he plugged into the outlet could cause a fire, as he had seen the outlet spark on a prior occasion).

Assume that, based on this apportionment of fault, the jury finds that the total damages are $10 million. Because the injured plaintiff was 15% at fault for his own injuries, the $10 million is reduced by 15%, leaving the plaintiff with $8.5 million. Then, the defendants pay the plaintiff according to their level of contributory negligence:

  • the electrical outlet company pays $3.5 million (35% of $10 million);
  • the window company pays $3 million (30% of $10 million); and
  • the landlord pays $2 million (20% of $10 million).

The $3.5, $3, and $2 million contributions from each defendant totals $8.5 million, which is Plaintiff’s recovery and which is equal to the jury award of $10 million, minus 15%–1.5 million—for the plaintiff’s negligence.

Florida’s form of comparative fault is called “pure” comparative fault because it is based “purely” on the proportion of fault, and does not bar recovery even if the plaintiff herself is mostly to blame for the injuries. For example, if a plaintiff is paralyzed in a car crash, a jury might award $10 million. It could find, however, that Plaintiff was 80% to blame for her own injuries—she was speeding and not paying attention—while the designer of the road on which she crashed, which had a curve that was slightly sharper than it should have been based on the speed limit, bears 20% of the comparative fault. In such a situation, Plaintiff’s $10 million jury verdict would be reduced to $2 million, as the accident was 80% ($8 million) the fault of the plaintiff herself.

If you are injured by multiple parties and need help navigating the ins and outs of comparative negligence, give Leesfield & Partners a call today for a free consultation.

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