Life in a Comparative Fault State
Florida is a comparative fault jurisdiction. This means several things when an accident occurs. First, a parties’ own contributory fault diminishes proportionately the amount awarded for economic and non-economic damages. Second, each actor pays only that portion of fault attributable to their own actions. The doctrine of joint and several liability has been abolished in Florida.
Florida Statute 768.81 entitled Comparative Fault is the law upon which these doctrines are based. Under 768.81 (3) “Apportionment of Damages” it states in pertinent part; “In a negligence action, the court shall enter judgment against each party liable on the basis of such party’s percentage of fault and not on the basis of the doctrine of joint and several liability”. So for example, in the case of a defendant and a plaintiff with a portion of responsibility, the jury is asked to set forth the percentage of fault for each party so long as the total is 100%. If the plaintiff is found to be 50% at fault, their net judgment is reduced by half. There is no minimum or maximum percentage of fault which acts as a threshold or bar to recovery as in some jurisdictions. Florida is also referred to as a “pure comparative fault jurisdiction”.
Nonparties can also be placed on a verdict form if they are properly identified in affirmative pleadings and, the defendant proves at trial by a preponderance of the evidence that the nonparty was at fault in causing plaintiff’s damages. A percentage of fault assigned to a nonparty acts as a reduction of plaintiff’s damages.
There are some exceptions to this comparative fault doctrine. For instance, it does not apply to any action brought to recover actual economic damages resulting from pollution, intentional torts or where the doctrine of joint and several liability is still allowed by statute. Also, Florida’s comparative fault statute specifically states that enhanced injury cases from defective products must include, for apportionment of fault, the underlying case factors.
In conclusion, Florida’s comparative liability doctrine allows each party, including the plaintiff to be responsible for their own percentage of negligence.
Special thanks to our friend Jeff Davis, a Miami FL car accident attorney of Jeffrey R. Davis, P.A., for providing some insight into comparative fault practice.