Prior to the mid-1970s in Florida, if an accident occurred which involved more than two parties, and the possibility therefore existed that more than one party legally caused the accident, courts would consider the application of the doctrines of contributory negligence and joint and several liability. The former doctrine barred recovery by a plaintiff whose own fault contributed in any way to his or her injuries. The doctrine of joint and several liability rendered each defendant at fault liable for the entire judgment awarded to plaintiff, regardless of each party’s percentage of fault. However, this doctrine, along with contributory negligence was abolished by the introduction of the doctrine of comparative negligence as codified in Fla. Stat. 768.21. In a limited number of cases, such as those causes of action that may have accrued before the doctrine was abolished, joint and several liability may still exist.
Thus, prior to the Hoffman case and the enactment of 768.21, if multiple parties were involved in an accident, a few scenarios would occur. First, if the plaintiff was not at fault in any way but both of the other parties possessed some degree of fault, both defendants would be liable for the entire judgment even if one was only 20% responsible or at fault. Second, if the plaintiff was, in fact, at fault even minimally, even 1%, the doctrine of contributory negligence barred any and all recovery. Both of these scenarios contained outcomes that were patently unfair to at least one of the parties.
In Hoffman v. Jones, 280 So. 2d 431 (Fla. 1973), the court discarded contributory negligence as a bar to recovery by plaintiffs and adopted the comparative negligence doctrine: “Perhaps the best argument in favor of the movement from contributory to comparative negligence is that the latter is simply a more equitable system for determining liability and a more socially desirable method of loss distribution. The injustice which occurs when a plaintiff suffers severe injuries as a result of an accident for which he is only slightly responsible, and is thereby denied any damages, is readily apparent. The rule of contributory negligence is a harsh one…. When the negligence of more than one person contributes to the occurrence of an accident, each should pay the proportion of the total damages he has caused the other party.”
Under the present state of the law and the doctrine of comparative negligence, the first scenario where one defendant was 20% liable would result in this defendant being liable for 20% of the damages rather than the entire amount as he or she would under the doctrine of joint and several liability. Under the second scenario, if the plaintiff was 1% at fault, his or her recovery would not be barred as it would under the doctrine of contributory negligence but rather, the damages recovery would be 99%. Thus, under the present law in Florida, if more than one party caused your injuries the court will determine the proportion of fault for each of the perpetrators or guilty parties and compute damages accordingly.
Determining which parties are responsible for an accident and to what extent can be a complicated legal matter and something that an experienced personal injury lawyer may need to assess. If you were injured in an accident in which multiple parties were involved and the apportionment of fault may be difficult to determine, you should contact Board Certified Personal Injury attorney Bryan Caulfield. Bryan Caulfield has decades of experience in all personal injury cases. Call Bryan Caulfield today for a consultation at (727) 796-8282.