Settlements, Releases and Joint Tortfeasors in Florida Personal Injury Lawsuits – Trapper John Animal Control v. Gilliard

Regular readers of this blog may already understand that a Florida personal injury lawsuit often involves a wide variety of legal issues, not the least of which concern determining who exactly is at fault and responsible for any injury caused. Usually, the issue of liability comes up in the original suit by an injured party, but, as the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s recent ruling in Trapper John Animal Control v. Gilliard shows, sometimes potential defendants are left to fight it out between themselves.

Robert Cardini died after inhaling rat poison, which had been sprayed into an air duct in his home by an employee of Trapper John Animal Control. Cardini’s estate later sued the company for wrongful death and the matter was settled for $1 million. In a settlement agreement, Katherine Rider-Cardini (the estate’s representative) released all claims against both Trapper John and American Safety Risk Retention Group as well as other related entities. More than a year later, Trapper John procured a second release specifically discharging Dr. Gilliard, who treated Cardini prior to his death, from liability. The company paid Rider-Cardini an additional $10 in return for signing the second release.

Trapper John then sued Dr. Gilliard seeking contribution under Florida’s Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act. As the court explained, the law provides: “When two or more persons become jointly or severally liable in tort for the same . . . wrongful death, there is a right of contribution among them even though judgment has not been recovered against all or any of them.” A tortfeasor – a person liable for wrongful death – who settles a wrongful death claim, however, can seek contribution only from another tortfeasor who has also been released as a result of the settlement.

A trial court granted summary judgment to Gilliard, finding that Trapper John was not entitled to contribution. According to the court, the company could have sought to settle any of the estate’s claims against Gilliard in the first settlement agreement, but did not do so.

The Fifth District affirmed the decision on appeal. “[T]he trial court properly found the first release settled only Trapper John’s liability and left open the estate’s right to pursue any claim for medical malpractice against Dr. Gilliard,” the Court ruled. The second release did not cure this deficiency, according to the Court, because it did not refer to or otherwise describe the original release and did not include the same parties or subject matter.

As a result, the court upheld the trial court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of Dr. Gilliard.

When you are injured, you need a responsible personal injury attorney to help guide you through a potential negligence cause of action and all of the legal remedies available to you. The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine provide free consultations and case evaluations for people injured in accidents throughout the area, including in Hialeah, Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale. Anidjar & Levine works on a contingency fee basis, which means the firm does not charge you any legal fees unless you win. If you have suffered injury because of another person’s negligence, call for a free consultation today.

Related blog posts:

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

Injured on Another Person’s Property? Liability May Depend on the Fine Print – Marler v. U-Store-It Mini Warehouse Co.

Res Ipsa Loquitur in Florida Personal Injury Cases – Hancock v. Wal-Mart