Florida Supreme Court Rules on Liability in an Alcohol-Fueled Fight

May. 9th, 2014   /  

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The legal saga that has been the history of Dorsey v. Reider just recently came to an end with a final judgment confirmed by the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of a man who was hit in the head with a tomahawk wielded by a friend of his friend in the midst of a bar fight.

According to the Florida High Court’s ruling, in 2007, Dennis Dorsey, Robert Reider, and Robert’s friend Russell Noordhoek, had been at a bar; all three had been drinking to a point of excess. At one point, Reider became rowdy and obnoxious, at which point Dorsey called his friend an “a**hole,” and left the bar. Reider and Noordhoek, bothered by the name-calling, followed Dorsey outside. The three engaged in a short scuffle, during which Dorsey tried to escape, but was prevented by doing so by Dorsey who blocked him in between two parked cars.

During the fight, Dorsey heard the door to Reider’s truck open and saw Noordhoek remove a tomahawk, which Reider used for his work, from the car. Dorsey, unaware of what was about to happen, attempted to escape by pushing Reider, who had been restraining him, to the ground. After fifteen seconds of fighting, Noordhoek struck Dorsey in the head with the tomahawk, at which point he lost consciousness, before eventually waking up and driving himself to the hospital.

Dorsey subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against Reider in Miami-Dade circuit court, and the case went before jury. Dorsey was awarded $10,342 for past medical expenses, $40,855 for past lost wages, $669,600 for past pain and suffering, and $850,000 for future pain and suffering, after the court denied Reider’s motion for judgment. Reider, displeased with the verdict, filed an appeal in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals; this time, he was successful. The Court agreed with Reider, that he did not owe a relevant duty of care to Dorsey and could not be held responsible for the actions of a third party (Noordhoek, who as you’ll recall actually hit Dorsey in the head with the tomahawk). Thus, the trial court’s ruling was reversed.

In response, Dorsey appealed the Third Circuit Court’s decision to the Supreme Court of the State of Florida. The Highest Court in the state disagreed with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and explained that they had misapplied the standards of duty of care in the case. The Supreme Court articulated in their ruling “that Reider’s actions created a broader zone of risk that posed a general threat of harm to others,” specifically that Reider “left a dangerous tool in his unlocked truck, fully accessible to his friend Noordhoek, who obtained the tomahawk and injured Dorsey while Reider was present and blocking Dorsey’s escape.”

The Court reasoned that not only did Reider have control over the instrumentality in the incident (the tomahawk), but also that he had “actual control” over the area in which Dorsey was trapped and injured. Thus, the Supreme Court “quashed” the Third Circuit Court’s decision and reinstated the trial court’s judgments in favor of Dorsey, the victim.

Complex cases like these demonstrate the necessity of skilled legal representation. If you believe that you have been injured due to the recklessness or negligence of another, please contact us at the Law Offices of Aronberg, Aronberg & Green. To schedule a free consultation, you can call us at 561-266-9191 or email us at daronberg@aronberglaw.com

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