Losing More Than Four Fingers

This week, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal dismissed the case of Ernesto Vallejos, a forklift operator who was injured while working at Miami International Airport as an employee of Professional Aviation Management, Inc., which provided workers to load and unload cargo for Lan Cargo. On the day of the accident, Mr. Vallejos was driving his forklift.  When he was asked by a Mr. Robaina—who worked for Infinity, another subcontractor and who was not Mr. Vallejos’s supervisor—to assist in the transfer of a small dumpster to a large dumpster by using a makeshift rope that would allow the operator to dump the hopper without having to exit the cab of the forklift. The contraption was designed by employees to be used when a dumpster needed to be moved by someone who did not have the security clearance to perform the task. Mr. Vallejos then wrapped one end of the rope around his hand, but because the other end was dragging on the ground, it got tangled in the forklift, yanking Mr. Vallejos from the cab, injuring his shoulder and back, and amputating four fingers. Mr. Vallejos filed a worker’s compensation claim against his employer and received $267,729.84 after signing a broadly worded release. Two years later, he sued Lan—who owned the hopper and failed to purchase the safety retaining chain, rope cleat, and instructions and warnings in Spanish—along with Infinity for gross negligence and intentional tort for their conduct in wrongfully modifying the hopper and failing to provide the adequate safeguards, instructions, and warnings to Mr. Vallejos when Mr. Robaina asked him to perform the task. He did not...

Miami Business Owner Shot by Police

In the middle of the night, Miami business owner Jose Lazaro Rodriguez got a call from his security company that the burglar alarm at his store had gone off. They informed him that the police had been notified and were on their way. Mr. Rodriguez grabbed his licensed handgun and headed to his business. He arrived at his store a few moments ahead of Miami-Dade Police Officer Hernandez, and noticed a person attempting to crawl through a hole in the glass of the front door.  As Mr. Rodriguez was getting out of his truck, Officer Hernandez rushed upon the scene and unloaded four bullets into Mr. Rodriguez’s back. A video surveillance camera at the business recorded portions of the event but did not capture the actual shooting. Mr. Rodriguez filed a personal injury negligence complaint against Miami-Dade County, based upon the wrongful shooting and retention and supervision of Officer Hernandez.  Mr. Rodriguez claimed he exited his truck, gun in hand, with the sole intent of detaining the intruder until the police arrived.  He added that Officer Hernandez never identified himself as the police or yelled “Freeze” before the shooting. Mr. Rodriguez hired an expert, a retired lieutenant from the City of Miami Police Department, to review the case; the expert found that Officer Hernandez himself created the dangerous situation by rushing upon Mr. Rodriguez without his partner, thereby placing himself in a position where he might have needed to use deadly force. The County moved for summary judgment, which would dismiss this case before it ever got to a jury, arguing that the County is protected from suits on...

Sexually Assaulted in Hotel’s Spa

Rabie Cortez, a California woman on a vacation in Mexico, was sexually assaulted during a complimentary massage.  She was in Cancun as part of a carefully orchestrated sales and marketing package tour commonly used by the timeshare industry to seduce potential customers into purchasing prepaid vacation plans.  She filed a lawsuit against the Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort in Cancun as well as three Miami, Florida-based corporations that promoted, marketed, and sold the vacation package. The corporate headquarters in Miami also handles all customer complaints and employs dozens of employees who coordinate the sales and marketing efforts for the property in Cancun. Her lawsuit for sexual assault and negligent hotel security was filed in Florida state court in Miami-Dade County, where it was summarily dismissed based on “forum non conveniens,” meaning the location where the lawsuit was filed was not the “most convenient” location to litigate it, and that it would be more suitable to file it in Mexico. When considering a defendant’s motion to dismiss a case to another country for “convenience,” Florida law is supposed to give the plaintiff all the benefit of the doubt that the location where the plaintiff filed the lawsuit is appropriate. The trial court stated that since Ms. Cortez was not a Florida resident and the events transpired in Mexico, her choice to file the case in Miami should be given “less deference” than the Florida defendants’ desire to have the case moved to Mexico. Not surprisingly, based upon the recent string of pro-defendant/anti victim opinions I have read coming from the Third District Court of Appeal, the trial judge’s ruling...

Case Dismissed for Man Killed at a Florida Apartment Complex

A Florida court dismissed a lawsuit brought by the family of a man killed while operating an illegal “chop shop” out of an apartment complex. Freddie Smith was fatally shot while dealing in stolen property in violation of Florida Statute §812.019. His family sued the owners and property managers for inadequate security that directly caused his death. The family claimed that the shooting was completely unrelated to the chop shop. The trial court dismissed the case based upon Florida’s Trespasser Immunity Law §768.075 (4). This law protects apartment complex owners, management companies and their agents from any legal responsibility if a person is injured or killed while committing a felony on their property. The family argued that the law should not apply since Mr. Smith’s shooting was unrelated to his chop shop. Both the trial court and appellate court disagreed. The court’s opinion states that there is no ambiguity or confusion to the law, “the statute bars recovery for any person committing a felony on the property whether or not the injury arises out of the commission of a felony.” I disagree with this opinion. When suing a Florida apartment owner or agent, or manager for an injury or death, they must be held responsible for maintaining their property in a safe and secure manner. The Court’s opinion simply punishes those for committing a crime completely unrelated to their injury or death. In Mr. Smith’s case, his family was deprived justice simply because he was allegedly selling stolen car parts. In order for this law to be fair, I believe there must be a causal nexus between the felony...

Suing a Florida Hospital For Not Preventing a Suicide

The unexpected suicide of a friend, coworker or loved one leaves many wondering why? New research in the American Journal of Public Health reports suicides have surpassed car crashes as the nation’s leading cause of injury-related death. According to the CDC’s latest published report, there were 34,598 reported suicide deaths in the United States with more than 60% successful on the first attempt in one year alone. Suicide rates are the highest in certain Appalachian counties of Kentucky and West Virginia, southern Oklahoma and northern Florida. Today, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office released their official findings in the autopsy of director Tony Scott who jumped to his death from the Vincent Thomas Bridge last August. The toxicology report revealed that Scott, 68 had a “therapeutic” amount of anti-depressants and a sleep aid. Like many suicides, the motive remains a mystery. As a lawyer who has sued Florida doctors and hospitals for improperly treating people who have either attempted or committed suicide, the more important question is: “how can suicides be prevented?” SUING FLORIDA DOCTORS AND HOSPITAL FOR FAILING TO PREVENT SUICIDE Recently, a Florida Circuit Court dismissed a law suit filed against a doctor and behavioral health clinic that was sued by a woman who was shot by her own husband who then shot and killed himself. She believes that the clinic’s doctor negligently failed to asses her husband’s risk for suicide before discharging him. The court opined that even though the practice of psychiatry had come a long way since “ancient times,” psychiatrists are still unable to predict with any degree of precision an individual’s propensity to...

Family Sues Apartment Complex For Inadequate Security

For many people injured in car accidents, slip and falls or on a cruise ship the thought of filing a law suit can be terrifying. And it is. Depositions are taken, medical records are scrutinized and peoples lives are often turned inside out. When personal injury cases cannot be resolved, they are brought before juries. Trials can take anywhere from a day to several months. They are expensive, stressful and often tedious. When an apartment complex or condo is sued in Florida for wrongful death case a jury of six people who do not know and often do not care about the parties render a verdict. Rarely is either side pleased with the results. Most of the time people think that is the end of their case based upon what they see on television and in movies. In reality, personal injury cases rarely end with a jury’s verdict; it is usually just the beginning. Most cases are appealed by one and sometimes both sides. An appeal in Florida of a personal injury case or medical malpractice claim often takes several years. Florida has five different appellate divisions. They are called the First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth District Courts of Appeal. Decisions of the district courts of appeal represent the final appeal for most litigated cases. However, if a person is unhappy with a district court’s decision, they can ask for the Florida Supreme Court or even the United States Supreme Court to accept their case. Neither tribunal is actually required to accept any case for further review. In fact most of the time they do not. Appellate courts...
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