In a negligence action, the issue of whether a duty applies is a question of law. See Limones v. School Dist. of Lee County, 161 So.3d 384, 389 (Fla. 2015) (“[T]he existence of a duty is a legal question because duty is the standard to which the jury compares the conduct of the defendant.”); McCain v. Florida Power Corp., 593 So.2d 500, 502 (Fla. 1992) (“Since duty is a question of law, an appellate court obviously could reverse based on its purely legal conclusion that no such duty existed.”). Thus, the trial court determines, as a matter of law, whether a legal duty of care applies in a negligence action.
Florida law recognizes the following four sources of duty: (1) statutes or regulations; (2) common law interpretations of those statutes or regulations; (3) other sources in the common law; and (4) the general facts of the case.
Oftentimes it is the fourth source – the general facts of the case – that comes into play to determine whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
To determine whether a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty under the general facts of the case, the issue becomes “whether the defendant’s conduct foreseeably created a broader ‘zone of risk’ that poses a general threat of harm to others.” McCain, 593 So.2d at 502.
For example, in White v. Ring Power Corp., a personal injury case discussed here regarding an expert’s qualifications, the trial court granted summary judgment (as a matter of law) finding that the lessor of a crane did NOT owe the plaintiff a duty to download certain crane overload data before renting the crane to the lessee. The appellate court affirmed because nothing in the record established that the failure to download such data by the lessor before renting the crane created a broader zone of risk to the plaintiff.
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