Undertakings Doctrine May Apply To Injury Case

Personal Injury

In the case of Jane v. Beef O’Brady’s of DeFuniak Springs, LLC and City of DeFuniak Springs, Case Number 1D21-623 (Fla. 1st DCA September 14, 2022), Florida’s First DCA held that the undertakings doctrine could apply to a wrongful death claim when one restaurant employee murdered another.

Factual Outline of the Case

This case unfortunately involves the murder of and wrongful death of one restaurant employee by another. The plaintiff’s estate sued both the restaurant and the City of Defuniak Springs, however, the appeal only involves the city.

In short order, the plaintiff’s estate claimed that the city had voluntarily assured the victim that, following a trespass warning and complaint by the restaurant manager, security checks would be performed and that a trespass would be issued. It was further alleged that the victim relied on those representations and did not seek help from others who would have been available to assist based on that reliance.

The evidence described in the case suggests that an email was sent to the entire police department directing that security checks should be performed at the victim’s address for two weeks and to issue a trespass warning in the event of any contact with the violator. Days later, the violator was found at a Burger King by city police but no trespass warning was made. The murder occurred later that same afternoon after the restaurant employee finished her shift at work. The lawsuit claimed that if city police had escorted her home as apparently had been promised, then the killer would have been discovered inside of the employee’s home.

The trial judge dismissed the case finding that the victim’s estate failed to state a cause of action. Obviously due to the early posture of this case, the outcome of the case at a trial is not known.

Undertakings Doctrine In Florida

The undertakings doctrine in Florida is a standard of liability that states that one who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person, is subject to liability to the third person for physical harm from the failure to exercise reasonable care to protect the undertaking if (a) his failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of such harm, or (b) he has undertaken to perform a duty owed by the other to the third person, or (c) the harm is suffered because of reliance of the other or third person upon the undertaking.

This standard is outlined in Clay Elec. Coop., Inc. v. Johnson, 873 So. 2d 1182 (Fla. the 2003).

The First DCA appears to have reversed because the allegations of the complaint at least show 1) that express assurances were made to the victim to escort her home, to perform security checks, and to issue a trespass notice; 2) that there was justifiable reliance by the victim on such promises (i.e. did not seek help from others); and 3) harm was suffered because of the reliance upon the express promise or assurances. The First DCA, of course, takes no position on whether these allegations will ultimately be proven or accepted later on in the case.

The main lesson to be learned from this case is that the undertakings doctrine is alive and well in Florida jurisprudence as a legal theory. As you can imagine, in many cases, the question of whether there was any assurances as well as whether reliance upon anything said does in fact meet the legal standard described above will be disputed by the defense. Those are questions of fact that may very well only be resolved at a trial. One must also consider that claims against municipalities are capped by sovereign immunity and the opinion does not state whether the restaurant settled in this particular case.

Talk To A Personal Injury Attorney About Your Florida Injury Case

At Russo Law, we are here to help with injury cases in Florida. Part of what we do is to evaluate not only the facts of what has occurred but also to help evaluate how the law applies to what has occurred as well. We offer a free consultation to help determine how the law may apply to your case and whether we can accept your case on a contingency basis. Call us today to schedule your free personal injury consultation.

Back to our main blog page

September 14, 2022