Comparative Negligence Evidence in Florida Car Accident Cases – Lenhart v. Basora

Anyone who has driven in Florida knows that car accidents can and do happen. Often, the injuries caused by an accident are the result of negligence by more than one driver. In Lenhart v. Basora, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal explains the state’s “comparative negligence” system for apportioning liability in car accident cases where multiple people may be at fault.

Abby Chronister was injured in an accident when the scooter on which she was riding as a passenger was hit by a car driven by Christopher Basora. The scooter had been traveling in the right lane of the street and was struck when Basora changed into the same lane. Chronister, who was not wearing a helmet, suffered permanent brain injury as a result of the crash.

Mary Lenhart, Chronister’s mother, filed suit against Basora seeking damages on her daughter’s behalf. Basora admitted that he was at fault in the accident, but argued that his liability should be reduced by Chronister’s comparative negligence for riding without a helmet. Under Florida’s comparative liability system, a person at fault in an accident may have his liability reduced proportionately if the injured person was also negligent.

Prior to trial, the trial court granted Basora’s motion seeking to bar Lenhart from presenting certain evidence regarding his negligence. Specifically, this evidence showed that Basora did not have a driver’s license, had driven a car only once before the accident, may not have been wearing his glasses and had not taken prescribed depression medication at the time of the crash. The Court agreed that this evidence was not relevant because Basora had admitted that he was negligent in causing the accident.

Following trial, a jury found that Basora was 33 percent responsible for Chronister’s damages – which totaled more than $11 million dollars – while Chronister was responsible for the remaining 67 percent.

On appeal, the Fourth District reversed the decision, ruling that the trial court should not have excluded the evidence regarding Basora’s negligence.

In Ridley v. Safety Kleen Corp., the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a person’s failure to wear a seatbelt was an issue of comparative negligence. Similarly, Chronister’s failure to wear a helmet was also a comparative negligence issue, according to the Court.

“Comparative negligence means comparison,” the Court explained, quoting the Supreme Court of Washington’s 1977 decision in Amend v. Bell. “Without the excluded evidence, Basora shielded the extent of his negligence from the jury while exposing all of Chronister’s blameworthy conduct,” according to the Court, which also said that Chronister’s failure to strap on a helmet became the dominant issue in the trial after the evidence of Basora’s negligence was excluded.

The court reversed the decision and remanded the case for a new trial.

As this case makes clear, car accidents can come with devastating consequences. 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, Hialeah and Boca Raton.

Related blog posts:

Causation In Florida Car Accident Litigation – Durse v. Henn

Insurance Issues in Florida Car Accident Lawsuits – Goheagan v. American Vehicle Insurance Company

“Claim Splitting” in Florida Car Accident Cases – Robbins v. General Motors de Mexico