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Florida Appeals Court Considers Duty of Care in Truck Accident Case


Automobile accident cases, whether they involve cars, trucks, or other vehicles, generally fall into the large class of civil cases known as personal injury cases. In personal injury cases, the plaintiffs’ claims are often based on principles of negligence.

In order to prove negligence, the law generally requires the plaintiff to establish four elements. The necessary elements of a negligence claim are:

  • a duty
  • a breach of the duty
  • Causation
  • injury and damages

The first required element of proof in a negligence case – a duty – requires a showing that the defendant owed some duty to the plaintiff. Recently, in a case that involved an accident that occurred when a truck towing a trailer struck a pedestrian, a Florida appellate court considered the concept of duty in a truck accident case. 

Sturgill v. Lucas: Courts Must Consider the Facts of Each Particular Case

In Sturgill v. Lucas, a truck was towing a twenty-foot commercial trailer loaded with foliage (palm fronds) when a vehicle stopped suddenly in front of it. The driver tried to apply the truck’s brakes, but determined that she could not do so and stop in time to avoid hitting other cars. When the truck driver swerved off the road to avoid an accident, she hit a grandmother who was waiting for a school bus with her grandchildren at the edge of the road. The trailer (loaded with the palm fronds) had no brakes, and the police officer who arrived at the accident scene identified this fact as a cause of the accident.

In the resulting lawsuit, which was filed against the truck driver’s father and mother, who apparently owned the truck car, and others, was what duty the truck driver had with respect to the brakes on the trailer. According to the plaintiff, the father owed a duty of care to the plaintiff because he decided to use the truck and trailer to haul the palm fronds, loaded the palm fronds onto the trailer, asked his daughter to drive the truck with the trailer in tow, and exercised dominion and control over the truck and the trailer.

The lower court decided that the father did not owe any duty to the plaintiff, based primarily on the absence of relevant statutes or regulations (or common law interpretations of statutes or regulations) related to trailer brakes.

The Florida District Court of Appeal, Second District, reversed the lower court’s decision. The court explained that there are four sources of duty that are recognized under Florida law:

  • statutes and regulations
  • court decisions that interpret statutes or regulations
  • other relevant court decisions, and
  • the facts of each particular case

Because it was not clear that the lower court had considered all of the sources of duty – in particular, the facts of the case – the decision was reversed.

As the Sturgill v. Lucas case shows, a variety of issues – legal and factual – need to be carefully evaluated and considered in cases involving truck accidents and injuries. Please contact Sholtes Law, PLLC to speak with an experienced Fort Pierce truck accident lawyer serving St. Lucie & Martin County about a truck accident claim or case.



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