The trail that lawyers for injured victims must take to obtain just compensation is sometimes difficult, complicated and long. I have to commend the excellent work of Plaintiff’s counsel in one Florida Wrongful Death case. The case, DAVIS v. BRUHASPATI, INC., 1D05-2378 (Fla.App. 1 Dist. 2005), is the subject of an appellate court opinion – excerpts are below. Carter is the bad guy who stole gas from a gas station and fled the scene. Pamela Davis is the deceased whose father brought the civil action. Reading this opinion in its entirety made me appreciate the tenacity of the plaintiff and the ultimate fairness of our court system which, at the appellate level, recognized the legal right to compensation.
The following facts are not in dispute. Gregory Carter, also known as Gary Carter, pumped gas costing $17.60 into the vehicle he was driving and which was owned by his father, Cleatous Carter. Gregory Carter and a passenger then drove away from the gas station without paying for the gas. Atulbhai Patel and Kamlesh Shah, who were present at the gas station and were acquainted with the owners or operators of the gas station, pursued Carter down a public roadway in Bay County. At one point in the pursuit, the Patel-Shah vehicle cut off the Carter car. Carter continued down Highway 77 stopping at a red light behind a vehicle driven by Pamela Denise Davis. The Patel-Shah vehicle rear-ended Carter’s vehicle which in turn rear-ended Davis’ vehicle. Davis was injured and, according to the complaint filed by appellant, required pain medication which led to Davis’ death.
Davis’ estate brought suit against several defendants. Defendants Gregory Carter and Cleatous Carter moved for summary judgment. After receiving evidence and argument from counsel, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of these defendants. This appeal ensued.
[The Trial Judge stated his reasoning as follows:] “While the Defendant’s act of stealing gas was the cause in fact of the series of events that culminated in the death of the passenger in the car in front of him, this Court as a matter of law, must determine whether this was the legal cause of her death. There was no evidence whatsoever of what the Defendant was doing right before the incident, such as speeding or abruptly hitting the brakes or anything to cause the vehicle driven by the other Defendants to run into him and then push his car into the car in front.”
“So I find that while this petty theft may have been a cause in fact of the death of Ms. Davis, it was not the proximate or legal cause of her death because there was a clear break between Carter’s improper conduct (stealing) and the negligence of the driver of the pursuing car in ramming a stopped vehicle. This break in the series of events leading up to the collision occurred when the Defendant Carter stopped and lawfully awaited the light change. Therefore, I find that the Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted as to Gary Carter.”
The Florida Court of Appeals overtruned the ruling of the Trial Judge and held that the matter should be presented to a jury for its determination of the issues. It held Whether Carter was negligent in the manner in which he drove after he became aware of the pursuit instigated by his theft, whether that negligence was the proximate cause of the accident, and whether any liability should be apportioned among the various defendants are matters for a jury to decide.