A Florida state appellate court recently reversed a trial court’s ruling in a case involving a woman who sustained injuries after the car in which she was riding collided with a dead horse lying across the roadway. As a result of the collision, the woman’s vehicle overturned, which caused her to suffer severe harm.
After the accident, the woman initiated a lawsuit against the County Sheriff, which the woman initially won. Following the suit, the woman filed a motion for additur, which requests the court to increase the amount of damages that the jury awarded to the prevailing party in its verdict. The trial court granted the motion and issued a judgment.
The Sheriff appealed the case to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, arguing that the sovereign immunity doctrine barred the plaintiff from holding the defendant liable. A major issue at trial was the extent to which the Sheriff had been involved with two horses that had escaped from their enclosures before the accident occurred. At trial, it was established that approximately 90 minutes before the collision, the Sheriff’s Office received a call indicating that the horses were running loose.
The deputy who responded to the call testified that the horses saw the glow from the patrol car’s lights and returned up a road to what appeared to be a pasture. Unbeknownst to the deputy, one of the horses did not fully return to the pasture and made its way to the roadway instead, where it was ultimately struck and killed.
The plaintiff argued that the Sheriff owed a duty of care to individuals driving upon the county road and that failing to ensure that the horses were successfully returned to their pasture and secured was a breach of this duty. The trial court had sided with the plaintiff on this issue, denying two motions for summary judgment brought by the Sheriff, arguing that the Sheriff did not owe such a duty.
According to the appellate court, the Sheriff did not owe a duty to the plaintiff. Relying on common law principles, the appellate court concluded that laws requiring public officials to ensure the protection of citizens are meant to broadly protect the public at large, as opposed to individuals like the plaintiff. Additionally, Florida Statute Section 588.13(3) indicates that livestock running at large are a threat to public safety. In order for a special duty to arise between a law enforcement official and a private citizen, the law enforcement officer must become involved directly in a situation that places the private citizen within a zone of risk. The appellate court concluded that this test was not satisfied in the present case and reversed the lower court’s ruling.
If you or someone you love has suffered injuries in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, our experienced and zealous personal injury lawyers have helped many Southwest Florida residents bring a claim against a party responsible for their injuries. We serve clients throughout the region, including in Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your free and confidential consultation.