Florida Supreme Court Rules: A New Approach to Products Liability Cases

This session of the Florida Supreme Court continues to have a big impact on personal injury cases. In its most recent ruling affecting victims of personal injury, the court handed down a decision dealing with products liability cases. This new ruling is interesting for several reasons. First, it changed what was perceived to be settled law when it comes to products liability. And second, it established a bright-line rule for all future products liability cases.

The main issue at hand in this case was a rather complicated legal concept that is rarely dealt with. In a wrongful death and negligence case involving an alleged defective product, a jury had to decide two issues: first, whether the product in question (a ladder) was defective and therefore caused the death and injuries of the victim; and second, whether the store that sold the ladder was negligent because they sold an allegedly defective ladder. It seems like a simple enough task, but the jury confused things when they returned a conflicting verdict.

A Jury’s Confusing Decision

After the trial was over and both sides presented their evidence, the jury answered both questions. But their answers were confusing: they said that the ladder was not defective, but that the store was negligent for selling a defective ladder. The jury then awarded damages based on their decision. But as you can see, that does not make very much sense. The store couldn’t really be negligent if the ladder was not defective.

Past Law on This Issue

Prior to this case being decided by the Florida Supreme Court, inconsistent verdicts such as these in products liability cases were not necessarily objected to. Lower Florida courts previously held that the fundamental nature of a conflicting jury decision in products liability cases did not require an immediate objection and could be resolved by the judge. That meant that the defense could simply ask the court to set aside a jury’s inconsistent verdict and dismiss the case.

New Ruling Means New Rule

The story that led to this case is truly a tragic one. A father was using a ladder, when, during the use, he fell from the ladder, and died upon impact. His survivors brought the lawsuit making two claims: that the ladder malfunctioned due to a defect; and, that the big-name store that sold the ladder was negligent for selling a defective ladder. After hearing all of the evidence in the case, the jury returned the conflicting verdict that is the subject of this blog. But instead of objecting when the verdict was handed down, the defense waited to ask the judge to set aside the verdict, and when that was not successful, they appealed.

The Florida Supreme Court reversed prior rulings, and established the now bright-line rule that if a party wants to fix a conflicting verdict they have to object at the time. There are several reasons why the Supreme Court decided to rule this way. In the first case, if an affected party objects at the time, the court can send the jury back to resolve the conflict. By fixing the verdict this way instead of letting a judge do it, the jury’s verdict remains the deciding factor. In our judicial system we place a large emphasis on jury decisions. And secondly, fixing the verdict at the time conserves limited judicial resources to decide cases. These are just some of the reasons the Supreme Court decided the case the way they did. In the end, the court sent the case back to the trial court to enter the original verdict decided by the jury.

Panama City Area Accident and Injury Attorney Here for You

This case is a great example of why it is so important to have an experienced qualified personal injury attorney working for you. At The Pittman Firm, we dedicate our practice to representing victims of accidents and injuries. Contact us so we can evaluate your case for you.

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