Florida Court Discusses Affirmative Defenses in Personal Injury Cases

It is not uncommon for a defendant in a personal injury case to assert what are known as affirmative defenses, which attempt to shift harm for a plaintiff’s injuries onto the plaintiff. While affirmative defenses are generally permitted, there are some instances in which a plaintiff may have grounds to ask the court to strike certain defenses. What defenses a defendant can assert was recently discussed in a Florida case in which the plaintiff sought damages from a cruise ship line. If you or a loved one suffered harm due to the negligence of an entity that owns cruise ships, it is wise to confer with a skillful Florida personal injury attorney to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your potential claims.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiffs, a husband and wife, entrusted their eighteen-month-old daughter to the care of her grandfather while they were on a cruise operated by the defendant. Tragically, the grandfather lifted the toddler up to a window, and she fell 150 feet to her death. The plaintiffs then filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging that its negligence led to their daughter’s untimely passing. The defendant filed an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint and asserted numerous affirmative defenses, many of which attributed liability to the grandfather. The plaintiffs moved to strike these defenses, arguing they attempted to assign fault to a person that was not a party to the case.

Affirmative Defenses Permissible Under Maritime Law

Under the relevant rules of procedure, a court may strike any matter from a pleading that is scandalous, impertinent, immaterial, or that constitutes an insufficient defense. While granting a motion to strike is a drastic remedy, it will be granted in cases in which it is clear that the matter which will be stricken has no bearing on the subject of the litigation, such as when the recovery sought is unavailable as a matter of law.

The court noted that the Eleventh Circuit, which Florida is a part of, has held that it is improper to apportion any degree of fault to a non-party in a maritime action pursued in federal court. Thus, while Florida law allows for fault to be attributed to non-parties, that standard does not apply in a maritime case filed in federal court. Rather, the principles of joint and several liability under which a plaintiff may obtain damages against all joint tortfeasors regardless of fault applies. The court further explained that the superseding cause doctrine, which acts to exonerate a defendant from liability, applies in maritime cases, as do the defenses of assumption of risk and comparative negligence. Thus, the court found that the affirmative defenses that attributed the plaintiffs’ harm solely to the grandfather must be stricken, but the defenses arguing that the plaintiffs shared in the culpability of the grandfather for entrusting him with the care of the infant were permissible.

Speak to a Trusted Florida Attorney

Cruise ship accidents are common, and in many instances, the company that owns the cruise ship will attempt to shift liability to the injured party to avoid paying damages. If you were injured in an accident on a cruise ship, the trusted Florida personal injury attorneys of Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, P.A. can advise you of your rights and help you seek a just outcome. You can reach us via our online form or at 800-283-7442 to schedule a meeting.

Contact Information