In Seale v. Ocean Reef Club, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida explains the basic elements of Florida negligence law as it applies to an unfortunate bicycle-golf cart accident.
Mr. Seale while riding his bicycle at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo in January 2011 when he was struck by a golf cart driven by a 12-year-old girl. Seale, a part time resident of the Club, later sued Ocean Reef, the Club’s community association (OCRA) and the girl’s father (Mr. Clark) for negligence, among other claims. He alleged that Clark’s daughter had been issued a license by the OCRA to drive golf carts on the property and was operating a cart loaned to her by the club at the time of the accident. According to Williams, the girl caused the accident by driving carelessly and failed to pay attention to the road, exceeded proper speeds and neglected to brake appropriately.
Denying OCRA’s motion to dismiss the negligence claims against it, the District Court said that Seale sufficiently alleged plausible claims. In order to prove a negligence claim in Florida, an injured person must show that the party being sued (defendant) owed him or her a “duty of reasonable care” which the defendant breached and that the breach was the “actual and proximate cause” of the person’s injury. “Where a defendant’s conduct creates a foreseeable zone of risk, the law generally will recognize a duty placed upon defendant either to lessen the risk or see that sufficient precautions are taken to protect others from the harm that the risk poses,” the court explained.
Here, the court noted that golf carts have long been considered “dangerous instrumentalities” in Florida, particularly when driven by a person under the age of 14. The dangerous instrumentality doctrine is a common law principle providing that the owner of the instrumentality may be held liable for any and all injuries caused by its negligent operation by anyone using it with the owner’s consent. Similarly, the court said there was clearly a foreseeable zone of risk created when the OCRA issued a cart license to Clark’s daughter, which created a duty for the association ” to either lessen the risk or see that sufficient precautions were taken to protect others from the harm that the risk posed.”
While OCRA claimed that it met its duty by adequately training the girl to use the cart before issuing the license, as well as providing certain supervision, the court said it was for a jury to decide whether the association’s actions constituted “reasonable care” under the circumstances. At this stage in the litigation, the motion to dismiss was not warranted because Seale stated a plausible negligence claim by asserting that the OCRA breached its duty and that the breach caused his injury, according to the court.
The District Court also went on to rule against Seale on separate negligent entrustment claims, which we will discuss in a later post.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, it is important to have an experienced, competent attorney in your corner to help you seek any and all available remedies. Contact the South Florida personal injury lawyers at Anidjar & Levine for a free initial consultation. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Coral Springs, Pompano Beach and Boca Raton, and are dedicated to helping people get back on their feet after an accident. Call the firm’s Fort Lauderdale offices today at 800-747-3733.
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