In De Los Santos v. Brink, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 2015, Dustin C. Brink sued Juan Ruiz De Los Santos and Juan L. Ruiz Pereles.
As a result of a collision with a motor vehicle owned by Juan Ruiz De Los Santos (“Santos”), and operated by Juan L. Ruiz Pereles (“Pereles”), Dustin Brink (who was riding a motorcycle) suffered serious brain injuries. I do not know if Santos’ motor vehicle was a truck or car.
His negligence lawsuit against Pereles and Santos went to trial, where the jury gave a verdict for damages of over $25 million. After consideration of Brink’s comparative negligence and calculation of collateral source setoffs and costs, the trial court ultimately entered a final judgment against Santos and Pereles for $12,832,837.17, with language providing that Brink’s recovery against Santos was “subject to the limitations of Santo’s responsibility pursuant to section 324.021(9)(b)3, Florida Statutes.”
This means that even though the jury verdict awarded $25 million, Brink was apparently also at fault. In Florida, your damages are reduced proportionately with your percentage of fault.
I do not know Brink’s percentage of comparative fault. But, for example, if Brink was 50% at fault, he would be entitled to recover 50% of the damages. In Florida, even if you over 51% at fault, you can still recover damages.
In Florida, your total damages are reduced by collateral source setoffs.
Collateral sources are benefits received or payments made by collateral sources of indemnity. In Florida, a defendant is allowed to reduce a jury verdict by the total amounts which have been paid for the benefit of the claimant, or which are otherwise available to the claimant, from all collateral sources.
However, there shall be no reduction for collateral sources for which a subrogation or reimbursement right exists. Contractual discounts are considered collateral sources. Goble v. Frohman, 901 So.2d 830.
Let’s assume that the motorcycle rider had private health insurance that it received $1,000,000 in billed medical charges, but due to contractual discounts only paid $500,000 of his medical expenses.
Assume that the jury awarded the full $1,000,000 in medical bills. The motorcyclist would only be able to recover the $500,000 that the health insurer paid. This assumes that the health insurer had a right of subrogation.
If the health insurer did not have a right of subrogation, the motorcyclist would not be entitled to recover these medical bills. This would be because he would not have to repay the health insurer.
Santos’ liability was solely vicarious and that Pereles had insurance with limits less than $500,000 combined property damage and bodily injury liability.
This means that the owner was only liable because he loaned the motor vehicle to Pereles, the user, in Florida. In this case, the owner did not do anything wrong.
As a result, the parties agreed that Santos’ liability was limited to $600,000, plus costs and interest. The motorcycle rider’s attorney agreed to this $600,000 limit because Florida law limits his liability to $600,000.
Section 324.021(9)(b)3., Florida Statutes states:
“The owner who is a natural person and loans a motor vehicle to any permissive user shall be liable for the operation of the vehicle or the acts of the operator in connection therewith only up to $100,000 per person and up to $300,000 per incident for bodily injury and up to $50,000 for property damage.
If the permissive user of the motor vehicle is uninsured or has any insurance with limits less than $500,000 combined property damage and bodily injury liability, the owner shall be liable for up to an additional $500,000 in economic damages only arising out of the use of the motor vehicle. The additional specified liability of the owner for economic damages shall be reduced by amounts actually recovered from the permissive user and from any insurance or self-insurance covering the permissive user. Nothing in this subparagraph shall be construed to affect the liability of the owner for his or her own negligence.”
The appeals court said that the final judgment against Santos’ should be limited to $600,000.
My thoughts: The jury issued a huge verdict because the motorcycle rider had severe brain injuries. They also found the motorcyclist to be partially at fault and reduced his damages due to contractual discounts on his medical bills.
In Florida, motorcyclists are often found to be partially at fault in an accident. Witnesses often say that the motorcycle rider was speeding.
After taking those factors into account, the total judgment against the vehicle driver was still huge ($12,832,837.17). However, since the owner did nothing wrong, he is only liable for $600,000.
The motorcyclist will likely only collect this $600,000 judgement (or anything close to it) if:
1. The owner or driver has a large bodily injury (BI) liability auto insurance policy; or
2. The owner and/or driver’s auto insurer failed to act in good faith and settle the case when it could and should have.
This is because in Florida, BI liability coverage is not required on private passenger motor vehicles. A private passenger vehicle is a non-commercial vehicle.
When a natural person (not a corporation) has BI coverage, it is usually not more than $100,000. It is often much less.
The vehicle driver is still responsible for the entire judgment because his negligence caused the motorcyclist’s severe brain injuries.
The District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District issued an opinion on July 2, 2015. The Fifth District Court of Appeal is comprised of Hernando, Lake, Marion, Citrus and Sumter Counties; Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia Counties; Orange and Osceola Counties; and Brevard and Seminole Counties.
Therefore, I assume that this accident happened in one of these counties. Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Florida lawyers represented Brink. This not my case.
A Tampa lawyer and Orlando attorney represented the defendants.
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