In Hester v. United States, the District Court for the Middle District of Florida takes on two defenses that are often raised in Florida personal injury cases: collateral source benefits and comparative negligence. While these remain viable defenses in many cases, the Court explains that a party raising them bears the burden of proving that they are actually applicable to a given matter.
Plaintiff Michael Hester, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, was injured while being transported to a medical care facility by Dannie Dick, an employee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Plaintiff alleges that he was thrown from his wheelchair when Dick suddenly slammed the breaks in the vehicle in which he was driving Plaintiff in order to avoid an accident. Plaintiff filed this action against the U.S. government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which permits private parties to sue the government in a federal court for most torts committed by persons acting on the government’s behalf.
The U.S. countered by arguing that any damages to which Plaintiff may be entitled must be reduced by the amount of “collateral source benefits” paid or payable to Plaintiff. Florida Statute § 768.76 provides that a court must reduce a damages award by the amount paid for the benefit of the plaintiff, or otherwise available to the plaintiff, from collateral sources. In this case, the U.S. argued that the damages award must be decreased by monthly VA benefits that he receives as a result of his status as a disabled veteran.
The court granted Plaintiff’s motion to strike the government’s collateral benefits defense, finding that Plaintiff’s monthly VA benefits are not a collateral benefit simply because they come from the same source – the VA – as would any damages received. According to the court, the government failed to show that, by receiving both his monthly benefits and a damages award for injury suffered as a result of the car accident, Plaintiff would in effect be paid twice for the same injury. However, the court granted the government leave to amend its answer to the complaint in order to clarify its collateral benefits defense.
The court also granted Plaintiff’s motion to strike the government’s comparative negligence defense. Under Florida law, a person who is injured partly due to his or her own negligence can hold another liable proportionately. In other words, were Plaintiff found to be 40 percent responsible for the injuries sustained in the accident, he could only recover 60 percent of his damages from the government. In this case, however, the court found that the government “proffers no set of facts in which Plaintiff could be found to be comparatively negligent.” As a result, the court granted the motion to strike.
Accidents can have devastating consequences for the victim, as well as his or her family and friends. The physical and emotional pain and suffering, long hospital stays, medical expenses and significant time off from work can take a huge toll on everyone involved. If you have been injured in an accident, call the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Pompano Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Hialeah.
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