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 in Florida like juries can come up with completely different results on almost the same set of facts. My experience has been that virtually all the time, the results are in favor of the defendant hospital, doctor or insurance company. That means that no matter what a jury may decide at trial, it has to pass through an appellate court which more often than not takes justice away from the injured.
This is clearly illustrated in the recent case of ERP Operating v. Shandalyn Sanders as the Personal Representative of Clara Sanders and Chauncey Sanders. The Sanders were robbed and murdered in their own apartment a year after moving in. The apartment building is surrounded by a lake and a wall. It is part of a large complex of other apartment buildings located in a gated community in Broward County, Florida.
The building is owned by a large corporation that owns over a hundred apartment complexes. The Sanders’ family sued the owners of the apartment complex for failing to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition as well as protect the residents from criminal acts. This types of claims in Florida are called negligent or inadequate security cases.
The inadequate apartment security case proceeded to trial. Both sides called expert criminologist and security consultants to testify. The plaintiff’s had produced evidence that the building had inadequate security such as a malfunctioning entrance gate and prior criminal incidents including seen burglaries, two robberies and ten stolen vehicles. There was however no proof that many of the building’s failures were the cause of the crime. The Broward County jury awarded damages of 4.5 million to the family, holding the defendants 40% responsible.
The 4th District Court of Appeal has jurisdiction over Fort Lauderdale civil injury cases. The Court acknowledged the proof of negligent maintenance and security; but ruled there was no evidence that the crime was caused by anything the building owners did or failed to do. Ultimately, the Court reversed the jury’s verdict in favor of the building owner.
This is a typical example an appellate court stepping on and over a jury verdict in favor of a large company and at the expense of victims. Our Broward injury lawyers who sue apartment buildings for not protecting residents are saddened by this result. We urge everyone who lives in an apartment complex to always make sure that your building’s management maintains reasonable lighting, locks and peepholes in every unit. Never, under any circumstances, open your apartment door without first identifying who is on the other side. What happened to the Sanders is a tragedy that may have been avoided with reasonable care.