It was all the way back in December 2012 that we blogged about the strange case of Dorsey v. Reider, a legal proceeding that stemmed from a drunken fight outside of a Florida bar. In that post, we noted that the state’s Third District Court of Appeals had decided that the man being sued couldn’t be held liable for injuries inflicted on the plaintiff by a third party. Roughly 15 months later, the Florida Supreme Court recently stepped in and reversed this decision.
As the Third District previously explained, Dennis Dorsey, Robert Reider and Russell Noordhoek were drinking together in a Florida bar in late August 2007 when Reider became belligerent, saying that he wanted to fight everyone in the place. Dorsey told Reider he was “acting like an a***hole” and left the bar. Reider and Noordhoek followed and Reider then trapped Dorsey between the bed of his truck and an adjacent car and demanded an explanation.
As Dorsey and Reider argued, Noordhoek grabbed a land clearing tool called a “tomahawk” from Reider’s truck. Seeing Noordhoek approach, Dorsey attempted to escape, pushing Reider to the side. Dorsey and Reider proceeded to scuffle and Noordhoek then approached Dorsey and bashed him in the head with the tomahawk, knocking Dorsey unconscious. Noordhoek and Reider fled the scene and Dorsey later drove himself to an emergency room after regaining consciousness.
Dorsey later filed a negligence lawsuit against Reider, alleging that he owed Dorsey a duty of care to prevent Noordhoek from attacking him. Following trial, a jury found that Reider was liable for Dorsey’s injuries to the tune of more than $1.7 million in medical costs, lost wages and past and future pain and suffering. The trial court denied Reider’s motion for a directed verdict.
The Third District later reversed the decision on appeal, however. The appeals court said there was generally no duty under Florida law to control the conduct of a third party or to otherwise prevent the third party from physically harming another. While such a duty may be imposed where the person being sued had actual or constructive control of the instrumentality that caused the harm, the appeals court said Reider wasn’t in control of the tomahawk at the time of the fight and didn’t know Noordhoek had taken it from his car.
The case eventually made its way up to the state Supreme Court, where the high court quashed the Third District’s ruling and remanded the case back to the trial judge for further proceedings. “When a person’s conduct is such that it creates a ‘foreseeable zone of risk’ posing a general threat of harm to others, a legal duty will ordinarily be recognized to ensure the conduct is carried out reasonably,” the Court explained. In McCain v. Florida Power, the Court made clear that, “the proper inquiry for the reviewing appellate court is whether the defendant’s conduct created a foreseeable zone of risk, not whether the defendant could foresee the specific injury that actually occurred.”
In this case, the Court noted that Reider failed to lock his truck, despite knowing that the tomahawk was in there and then stopped Dorsey from getting away both before and after Noordhoek retrieved the tool from the vehicle. “[T]he foreseeable zone of risk was created by Reider immediately next to his unsecured truck in which the weapon was located and accessible to Noordhoek, and Reider was present and participating in the altercation when the injury was inflicted,” the Court concluded. As a result, the Supreme Court said the appeals court misapplied the law in finding that the evidence didn’t show that Reider owed Dorsey a duty of care under the facts of the case.
If you or a loved one has been injured by another’s negligence, it’s 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 Hialeah, 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.
Related blog posts: