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Otero v. Gomez – Third Party Lawsuit in Florida Bicycle Accident

Southwest Florida has gained an undesirable reputation as one of the most dangerous places in the country for bicyclists.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida ranks No.1  in bicyclist fatalities and injuries in the country, and the counties with the highest count include Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Lee. bicyclecrossingsign

Boca Raton bicycle accident lawyers recognize when these incidents result in serious, lasting injury and death, Cyclists and their loved ones may have grounds on which to pursue a personal injury action. Many folks probably know this, but what they may not know is how many different parties could become defendants in such a case.

There is, of course, the driver and his or her insurance company. From there, we may analyze the possibility of a vicarious liability claim, if the driver was a minor or driving someone else’s vehicle or was working at the time of the crash. We might also investigate whether defects in the road contributed to the crash. If so and it can be proven municipal workers were aware of the defect and did nothing to stop it, there could be a legitimate claim.

Recently, in the case of Otero v. Gomez, a bicycle accident victim filed lawsuit against a property owner, alleging an obstruction on his property constituted a dangerous condition that blocked his view of oncoming traffic, and ran contrary to standards set forth by the state DOT.

The district court initially granted summary judgment to the defendant on this issue, but the appellate panel for Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal reversed, granting the plaintiff the right to continue pursuit of his claim.

According to court records, the plaintiff filed the suit against the property owner after he was struck by a car in the crosswalk of an intersection adjacent to the defendant’s property. The plaintiff asserted he was riding along the sidewalk and then pulled into the crosswalk, where he was hit by the vehicle.

The plaintiff said his view of oncoming traffic was obstructed by a wall on the defendant’s property. The structure had been built several years earlier by a developer, and then was altered by the previous owner, who failed to gain city permits for the work.

To support his case, plaintiff sought to introduce testimony of an expert witness who said the wall created an “sight triangle obstruction” of both drivers and pedestrians, and that this wall violated both county ordinances and DOT standards.

The defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude the testimony of this witness, arguing such evidence was irrelevant because he owed no duty to the plaintiff under the precedent set in Williams v. Davis. This ruling held private owners of residential property owe no duty to a motorist for torts arising from foliage that is totally within the bounds of the owner’s property.

The defendant further sought summary judgment in his favor, arguing the wall on his property didn’t extend into the public-right-of0way, and therefore, he was not liable as a matter of law.

There was no notice of hearing on the motion for summary judgment, and the motion was not herd prior to trial.

Just a few days prior to trial, the defendant submitted an amended motion in limine request to exclude the introduction of all evidence pertaining to DOT standards. After voir dire began, the trial court granted the motion in limine, undercutting the plaintiff’s entire argument and resulting in dismissal of the case.

The plaintiff appealed.

The question before the appellate court was whether the trial court erred by essentially granting a summary judgment under the guise of a motion in limine.

Florida Rules of Civil Procedure require requests for summary judgment must be served to the other side at least 20 days before a hearing on the matter. In this case, the motion for summary judgment was filed 14 days prior to the commencement of trial, and the court essentially held an unnoticed hearing on the motion.

The appellate court further held that a motion in limine can’t be a vehicle for an unnoticed motion of summary judgment.

The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s case on its merits, even though the motion in limine didn’t request this specific form of relief.

Therefore, the judgment was reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings.

If you have been injured in a bicycle accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Otero v. Gomez, July 30, 2014, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Single vs. Multiple Occurrences in Personal Injury Cases, July 25, 2014, Naples Bicycle Accident Lawyer Blog

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