Evaluating Liaiblity and Duty in Car Accidents

How Florida state law may come into play.

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Tucker Law

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Practice Areas

Wrongful Death

Liability is one of the first actions a personal injury lawyer will evaluate when determining the merits of a car accident. Liability determines who is legally and financially responsible for the damage caused by the wreck. You do not simply get compensation for an accident merely because you are injured. There are many cases in which a person is injured, but liability cannot be established, thereby preventing a monetary recovery.

Every case is so very different. A few distinct facts in one case can drastically affect the similarity to otherwise comparable cases. Even the city in which the accident occurred can drastically alter the end results. Therefore, it is not enough to look at the compensation from other Fort Lauderdale accident victims to determine what your case is worth or who is liable for your injuries.


Most accidents occur when one or more of the parties to an event is acting carelessly. In Florida, the amount of compensation will be a percentage of the carelessness attributed to each party. For example, one person might be 70% at fault, while you as the injured party bringing the lawsuit is only 30% at fault. Adopted back in the 70's, this rule is called comparative negligence.


Negligence cases commonly are thought of as affirmative acts of a person or company. However, many cases require the evaluation of the failure to act. If the Defendant has a duty to act, then that failure to act will likely place some percentage of liability.

Take one seminal case, involving a motor company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In that case, vehicles were located on an eleven acre Fort Lauderdale car lot. The entrance and exits were the only means for ingress and egress. After hours, the entranceways were locked to prevent vehicles from being stolen from the lot. However, the Fort Lauderdale car lot experienced over thirty breaks and thefts of vehicles during a six year period. The accident lawyer for the Plaintiff argued that there was a duty, particularly with the knowledge of the prior thefts, to securely prevent vehicles from leaving the car lot. Ultimately, the lawyer for the Defendant successfully argued that the deficient security practices, even if they did exist, did not create a risk of third-party criminal conduct i.e. the Defendant did not have a duty to prevent crime on their Fort Lauderdale car lot act under which liability could be imposed. However, there are plenty of cases that the failure to act creates liability.

Forseeable Zone of Risk

The law generally recognizes a duty to lessen a risk or see that sufficient precautions are taken to protect others from the harm that the risk poses. Duty, however, is not without limits. Foreseeability of a risk is not enough. Rather, the Defendant's conduct must create or control the risk before liability may be imposed.

Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine

While the owner of a vehicle must use due care to ensure that a danger of injury to the general public using highways does not occur. The Supreme Court of Florida has held that no person driving or in charge of any motor vehicle will leave the vehicle unattended without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition and removing the key.

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