Proximate Causation in a Negligence Action and the Granting of a Directed Verdict in a Negligence Action

Posted by David Adelstein on March 07, 2015
Burden of Proof, Evidence

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Mostly everyone has heard of the term “negligence.” Negligence actions oftentimes form the basis of personal injury claims and, in certain instances, property damage claims. (For example, this article discusses negligence actions in premise liability claims.)

To prove a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove the following elements: 1) the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, 2) the defendant breached that duty of care, 3) the defendant’s breach proximately caused damages to the plaintiff, and 4) the plaintiff suffered injuries / damages.

The Florida Supreme Court in Sanders v. ERP Operating, Ltd. Partnership, 2015 WL 569041 (Fla. 2015) recently discussed the application of a directed verdict in a negligence action (the case was a negligent security action). The district court of appeal held that the plaintiff, as a matter of law, failed to prove the element that her injuries were proximately caused by the defendant’s breach of a duty of care. The Florida Supreme Court reversed with two important rulings regarding 1) the element of proximate causation in a negligence action and 2) the granting of a directed verdict in a negligece action.

Element of Proximate Causation in Negligence Action

 

 As to the element of proximate causation, the Florida Supreme Court held:

“Whether or not proximate causation exists is a question of fact, involving an inquiry into whether the respondent’s [defendant] breach of duty [of care] foreseeably and substantially contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries. This Court has made clear that plaintiffs alleging negligence in Florida must meet the more likely than not standard of causation as Florida courts require proof that the negligence probably caused the plaintiff’s injury.”

Sanders, supra, at *3 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

Directed Verdict in Negligence Action

 

As to the granting of a directed verdict, the Florida Supreme Court held:

“In order for a court to remove the case from the trier of fact and grant a directed verdict, there must only be one reasonable inference from the plaintiff’s evidence. Where the jury only has to draw one inference from direct evidence to reach a decision regarding the defendant’s negligence, the jury is entitled to make the ultimate factual determination regarding whether the defendant’s breach was the proximate cause of the harm suffered. Thus, if the jury is forced to stack inferences to find that the plaintiff presented a prima facie case of the defendant’s negligence, then a directed verdict is warranted. An appellate court reviewing the grant of a directed verdict must view the evidence and all inferences of fact in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and can affirm a directed verdict only where no proper view of the evidence could sustain a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.”

Sanders, supra, at *3 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

Take-Aways

 

The following bullet points are important take-aways from this Florida Supreme Court case:

  • When proving a negligence action, make sure you understand the elements you need to prove and the evidence required to support the elements.
  • The element of proximate causation is typically a question of fact and is generally proven by the “more likely than not” standard—the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach probably (e.g., more likely than not) caused the plaintiff’s injuries / damage.
  • A directed verdict entered against a plaintiff will only be proper if no proper view of the evidence and all inferences from the evidence can sustain a verdict in favor of the plaintiff as a matter of law.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

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