Florida medical malpractice and personal injury lawyer, Guy S. DiMartino, DC, JD, talks about the concept of legal duty and why it is so important in Florida injury and accident cases.
In order to hold somebody responsible for negligence or medical malpractice there has to be a legal duty between the parties. Black's Law Dictionary defines legal duty as:
An obligation arising from contract of the parties or the operation of the law. That which the law requires to be done or forborne to a determinate person or the public at large, correlative to a vested and coextensive right in such person or the public, and the breach of which constitutes negligence.
What does all this legalese mean? Whether somebody owes somebody else a duty is dependent on the relationship between the parties. Legal duty can be clear cut in a medical malpractice case. A doctor owes their patient a duty to comply with the standard of care. The concept of legal duty can become very complicated as discussed in the recent case of Weber v. Marino Parking Systems, Inc., which originated on the west coast of Florida.
The Facts in Weber
The facts in the case are very sad. A young lady goes out on a date with a guy to a local lounge/club. The guy parks his car with Marino, the valet parking attendants. The guy gets intoxicated in the bar. When he goes to pick up his car from the valet parking attendants, he is visibly drunk (intoxicated). The valet parking attendants give him his keys. He crashes the car and the young lady dies.
Odds are that the driver of the car did not have enough insurance to compensate the young lady's estate for the death so the estate's attorneys looked to other parties that may be responsible. They sued the bar and the valet parking company. To the average person it may seem like the valet parking attendant should not have give the guy his keys and should have called a cab.
After it was served with the lawsuit, the valet parking company asked the trial court to dismiss the claim arguing that it did not have a duty (responsibility) to keep the guy's keys and not deliver his car.
Trial Court Ruling
The trial court agreed with Marino and found that the Marino did not have the responsibility or duty to keep the keys away from the intoxicated guy.
Court of Appeals
The Florida Second District Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court and affirmed Marino's dismissal. The court followed a prior ruling in Blocker v. WJA Realty which found a valet service did not owe a duty to the injured person when they delivered a car to back to a clearly intoxicated patron. The Second District also did not agreed with the estate's negligent entrustment theory of liability. Remember Black's definition, a duty is an obligation arising from contract or by operation of law. The valet parking attendant did not owe a duty of care or responsibility to the young lady who passed away in this sad accident.
Whether a potential defendant owes a duty of care to an injured party can be a complex analysis and requires an attorney well versed in the specific area of law. One of the most difficult tasks for an attorney trying to receive compensation for a family involved in tragic cases such as this one; is finding adequate insurance proceeds. If you have any questions regarding a Florida injury and accident case, give me a call at (352) 267-9168 or fill out the internet consultation box on the right. Guy S. DiMartino is a trial lawyer with the firm of Gordon & Doner, P.A.