Oct 17

Not according to Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal.  In a case of first impression, the Fourth DCA considered this issue in the case of Lenhart v. Basora. In Lenhart, the Plaintiff was seriously injured in a collision which occurred because the Defendant abruptly turned left in front of a scooter upon which the Plaintiff was riding.  At the time of the crash, the Plaintiff was not wearing a helmet.  Prior to trial, the Defendant admitted fault, but maintained a “helmet defense” which allowed  jury to consider whether  the failure to wear the helmet caused or substantially contributed to Plaintiff’s injuries.  Under Florida law, the helmet defense is considered a matter of comparative negligence which requires a jury to apportion the fault of the parties.  As such, the attorney for the Plaintiff attempted to introduce evidence in the case that the Defendant never had a valid drivers license, had only driven once before, may not have been wearing glasses and had failed to take prescribed medication for depression and anger management on the day of the crash.  The trial Court ruled that evidence of the Defendant’s alleged bad conduct was rendered irrelevant by the admission of fault in causing the crash, and excluded it from the trial.  The jury returned a verdict apportioning  67% of the fault to the Plaintiff and 33% to the Defendant.  The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial Court’s decision, ruling that “comparative Fault means comparison,” and that without the excluded evidence, the Defendant shielded the extent of his negligence from the jury while exposing all of the Plaintiff’s blameworthy conduct.  As such, the Defendant was able to make the Plaintiff’s failure to wear a helmet the dominant feature of the trial.  This, according to the Fourth DCA, transformed the comparative negligence defense into a failure to mitigate damages; a concept that has been previously rejected in Florida jurisprudence.