Court: Insanity is No Defense to Negligence, but "Sudden and Unforeseeable Loss of Consciousness" Is - Felker v. Zampatti

February 29, 2012

Negligence is the most common theory of recovery for people injured in any type of accident. The law allows a person sued for negligence to defend himself on a number of grounds, including that the person's conduct was not negligent. In Felker v. Zampatti, the Middle District of Florida considers two lesser raised negligence defenses: insanity and sudden and unforeseeable loss of consciousness.

651915_crazy_daisy.jpgPlaintiff Christopher Felker was injured when the bicycle he was riding on A1A in North Florida was struck by a car driven by Defendant Andrea Zampatti. Felker and his wife Linda filed the present suit raising a number of claims, including negligence. Although both Felker and Zampatti indicated that they don't remember what happened at the time of the accident, an eyewitness testified at deposition that he saw Zampatti's vehicle swerve and hit Felker's bike.

In order for a plaintiff to successfully assert that a defendant was negligent, he or she must show that: 1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a "duty of care"; 2) the defendant breached the duty of care; 3) the plaintiff was injured; and 4) the breach caused the plaintiff's injury.

Before trial, the Felkers filed a motion for summary judgment on the negligence claims, asserting that the undisputed facts show that Zampatti breached her duty of care owed to Mr. Felker and that the breach resulted in his injury. In response, Zampatti argued that she cannot be held liable for negligence because she was insane at the time of the accident.

"Under Florida law, the general rule is that insane persons are responsible for their own negligence, despite their mental incapacity," the Court ruled, citing the Third District Court of Appeals' 1991 decision in Mujica v. Turner. As a result, the Court ruled that Zampatti may not offer evidence of her mental incapacity in defense of the Felkers' negligence claims.

The Court did not, however, grant the summary judgment motion as to Zampatti's ultimate liability for the negligence or other claims. Citing the " the unusual circumstances of the case," the Court granted Zampatti additional time to establish her other defense: that her boyfriend drugged her before she got behind the wheel and, as a result, Zampatti had a "sudden and unforeseeable loss of consciousness" at the time of the accident. Noting that a sudden and unforeseeable loss of consciousness is a valid defense to negligence under Florida law, the Court stated that Zampatti must prove that her alleged loss of consciousness occurred before the accident, in addition to it being sudden and unforeseeable, in order to successfully raise this defense.

Accidents can have devastating consequences for the victim, as well as his or her family and friends. At the Law Firm of Anidjar & Levine, our South Florida personal injury lawyers have extensive experience handling all types of accident claims throughout the area, including in Fort Lauderdale, Coral Springs, Hollywood, Boca Raton, Pompano Beach and Hialeah. For more information or for legal assistance regarding a potential accident claim, call us toll-free at (800) 747-FREE (3733) or fill out and submit our online Contact Us form.

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