Wrongful Death Claims in Florida: Freak Accident Kills Pregnant Wife at Fort Lauderdale Hotel

The tragic death of Alanna Demella at one of Fort Lauderdale’s most iconic hotels has left her family without compensation, and Florida personal injury lawyers shaking their heads after an appeals court dismissed the wrongful death claim brought against the hotel by her family.
According to court records, the Riverside Hotel was sued after Mrs. Demella was killed by a drunk driver who recklessly drove her car into a wall of the hotel’s pool cabana causing a collapse of the structure killing Mrs. Demella and injuring her husband. The driver’s blood ` limit was found to be three times the legal limit at the time of the accident. Mrs. Demella was married and pregnant at the time. She was a registered guest of the hotel.

The case against the hotel was based upon the legal theory that the cabanas were placed too close to a nearby curvy road; and that it, therefore, should have been anticipated or “foreseeable” to the hotel that a car could lose control in the curve and drive up and through the cabanas.

Experts testified for the family claimed that the road was known to be unreasonably dangerous because drivers routinely sped through it. However, there was no evidence that prior to this incident anyone had ever lost control driving down the street and hit the cabanas. This lack of evidence would later come to undue the plaintiff’s case.

Wrongful Death Claims Against Hotels

The wrongful death case went to a trial against both the hotel and the driver. At the close of the plaintiff’s case, the hotel moved for a directed verdict, which is a legal request that the trial judge dismiss the claim before the jury is asked to decide the outcome. The judge denied this request and ultimately the Broward County jury returned a verdict in the family’s favor finding that the hotel was partly at fault for her death.

The hotel appealed the verdict, arguing amongst other things that the trial judge erred by failing to dismiss the entire case when it argued its motion for a directed verdict because the family was unable to prove that it had any prior notice of a dangerous condition; and therefore could not have prevented the tragedy. The appellate court agreed with the hotel’s argument and reversed the entire verdict- sending the family away with no compensation.

Directed verdicts are supposed to be analyzed by the trial judge in “the light most favorable to the nonmoving party” in this case the family- and should be granted only when it is shown that a jury could not reasonably differ about key facts of the case- here whether or not the hotel could or should have foreseen that an accident like this could have reasonably occurred.

In order to win a case against a property owner, business or landlord for personal injuries one must prove all the following four elements:

(1) There was a legal duty owed by the property owner to conform to a certain standard of conduct;

(2) The property owner breached that duty;

(3) That the breach of the duty caused an injury to the plaintiff; and

(4) The plaintiff suffered a loss or damage.

Under Florida law, when a Plaintiff cannot prove all four elements- his or her personal injury cases should be dismissed.

In a premises liability cases such as this, the property owners have no duty to exercise any care to warn or guard against the harmful acts of third parties-such as a drunk driver crashing into a cabana– unless that third party’s harmful behavior is reasonably foreseeable. Foreseeability is defined as whether or not the property owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition which caused the loss.

The appellate court, in this case, found that the curvey road was not a “dangerous condition” giving rise to a duty to people who were inside the hotel’s cabanas. Primarily because the evidence in the case demonstrated that in more than forty-nine years, a car had never swerved off the road involving a severely intoxicated and reckless driver. And statistically speaking, the chances of a crash were “as close to zero as you can get in a roadway transportation system.” And simply because an accident possible does not necessarily make it reasonably foreseeable.
Adding insult to injury the appellate court described what occurred as an improbable “freak accident” that the hotel could have never foreseen.

This case highlights the difficulty that those who are injured or killed at a Florida business have to hold the premise owner legally responsible for damages face. After more than 25 years of investigating and litigating slip and fall, trip and fall and other premise liability cases I can authoritatively state that Florida’s premises laws are clearly very pro-defendant. This family had a very talented group of plaintiffs personal injury attorneys representing them as is evidenced by the substantial verdict. But like most personal injury lawsuits, the case does not end with the verdict, it is only the next stop until the appeal.

Wrongful Death Claims in Florida

If you have been injured at a Florida business it is important to consult with an experienced slip and fall or trip and fall law firm. Our Florida personal injury law firm has over 30 years of combined legal experience representing the injured and their families across the State of Florida in all sorts of personal injury cases. We offer free initial consultations to anyone who may have a potential claim via telephone 1-866-597-4529, local 305-441-0440 or email at newcase@aronfeld.com. Call us today we are ready to help you obtain the justice and compensation that you deserve.