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Understanding the “Fabre Doctrine” in Florida


Florida is a pure comparative negligence state, which means that parties pay damages based on their degree of negligence.

For example, let’s say that three cars were involved in an accident. One car ran a stop sign, a second car was speeding, and the third abided by all applicable traffic laws. Fault will likely be apportioned between the first two drivers based on how much they contributed to any injuries sustained by the third driver, and to any injuries sustained by each other.

But what happens if the third driver only files a personal injury lawsuit against the first driver? Or if the second driver fled the scene of the accident and no one can identify him? Will the first driver be responsible for all of the damages?

The “Fabre Doctrine”

In 1993, the Florida Supreme Court considered Fabre v. Marin, a case where the plaintiff was injured in an accident while riding as a passenger in a car that her husband was driving. Even though the jury found the husband 50 percent at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries, the jury did not reduce the defendant’s liability. (The husband was immune from liability because of interspousal immunity.)

The Florida Supreme Court did not like that outcome, holding instead that defendants should not be forced to pay for damage they did not cause. The court reasoned that there “is nothing inherently fair” about forcing defendants “to pay more than their fair share of the loss.” Moreover, if the driver had been the plaintiff’s friend and not her husband, the friend would not have been immune from liability. The court’s goal was to level the playing field for all defendants.

Problems with the “Fabre Doctrine”

But is the “Fabre doctrine” fair for plaintiffs?

Consider the example above, where the second driver fled the scene of the accident. In that case, the first driver could conceivably argue that he was only partially at fault — or not at all to blame — for the accident and point to the unknown second driver as a responsible party. If the jury apportioned fault between the first driver and the unknown second driver, or determined that the second driver was completely at fault, the injured third driver might not receive full compensation.

In most cases, the defendant must identify the nonparty who is supposedly responsible, or partly responsible, for the plaintiff’s injuries. But that requirement may be waived if the defendant can prove he has no way of knowing the identity, like if the nonparty fled the scene of the accident.

An experienced attorney will examine the facts of your case and help you identify the parties responsible for your injuries.

Contact Us Today for Assistance

Contact a Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorney at The Pendas Law Firm today for a free consultation if you were injured by a negligent actor or by multiple negligent actors. Our experienced attorneys will help recover the compensation that you deserve.

The Pendas Law Firm also represents clients in the Fort Myers, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Daytona Beach and Bradenton areas.



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