Florida’s High Court Upholds Damages in Bar Fight Case, Holding One Patron Has Duty to Prevent Another Patron’s Misconduct

In any Florida personal injury case, a plaintiff must first prove that another party owed a “duty of care,” or a legal obligation to act as a reasonable person would in similar circumstances. Then, it must be shown that there has been a breach of that duty, and that injuries occurred that were caused by the breach. Generally, a duty of care does not extend to preventing misconduct by a third party. However, in certain circumstances, a Florida court may find the existence of a legal duty, even when it comes to acts committed by third parties.

The Florida Supreme Court recently filed an opinion in a personal injury case that began with a bar fight. The case of Dorsey v. Reider involved three men who had been drinking at a neighborhood bar. Their conversation became heated and culminated with several verbal insults by Plaintiff directed toward Defendant and another individual. All three men exited the establishment, where Plaintiff was then corralled between Defendant’s truck and another vehicle. While Defendant blocked Plaintiff’s escape from the path, the third individual reached into Defendant’s truck, retrieved a tomahawk, and allegedly struck Plaintiff’s head with the tool.

After a trial on Plaintiff’s personal injury claims, a jury returned a verdict for approximately $1.5 million, including damages for medical wages, lost wages, and past and future pain and suffering. The trial court entered the judgment awarding the damages to Plaintiff. Defendant then appealed the verdict, and the Appeals Court reversed the trial court’s entry of judgment, holding that a person cannot be held liable for injuries that result from a third party’s misconduct.

The Florida Supreme Court discussed the duty of care to prevent misconduct by third parties. Long-standing Florida law holds that a person generally does not have a duty to take any action to stop bad acts by a third party. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, and under the facts of this case, the Florida Supreme Court found that Defendant did owe a duty of care that extended to the individual who injured Plaintiff. The court noted that it was not necessary to conspire with the third party to cause injuries, only to create a setting where harm is foreseeable.

The evidence at trial showed that Defendant blocked Plaintiff’s escape, left his vehicle unlocked with a dangerous instrument inside, and continued to prevent Plaintiff’s escape even after the third individual retrieved the tomahawk. The Supreme Court noted these circumstances and the fact that Defendant was participating in the altercation when Plaintiff was injured. The Supreme Court found that the threshold for establishing a legal duty had been met, but did not rule on whether that duty was breached. The Supreme Court sent the case back to reinstate the damages judgment against Defendant.

If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of another person’s negligence, you have a right to be compensated for your injuries. The Southwest Florida injury attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano stay updated on developments in Florida laws that benefit the victims of negligence. Contact our legal team today to discuss your case and the next steps in your claim. Contact us online or call toll-free at (800) 238-7442.

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