DO YOU HAVE THE RIGHT DEFENDANT?

Personal injury cases can be complex. One of the complexities a plaintiff faces is ensuring that the due diligence has been done to establish that the right defendant has been named in the lawsuit. Finding the right defendant may vary and often depends on the facts of the case. This issue was addressed in a recent appellate decision from Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal.

In Mauna Loa Investments, LLC v. Santiago, So.3d, 38 FLW D658 (Fla. 3rd DCA 3-20-2013) a default judgment was entered against the defendant landowner in a slip and fall case. Having learned of the default the defendant moved to vacate and void the default by presenting evidence that on the date of the injury the defendant did not own the property where the injury occurred.

The defendant was able to present a deed as evidence that in fact established he was not the landowner. The appellate court held that a default judgment may not be entered against a defendant on a complaint which wholly fails to state a cause of action against the defendant. The appellate court went on to note that the “trial court has no discretion, but is obligated to vacate the default judgment.”

In the above referenced case the plaintiff did not have the right defendant and therefore failed to state a cause of action leading to the dismissal of the case. Establishing the right defendant can pose a challenge and varies from case to case. An insurance claim is different than a personal injury claim and all plaintiff litigation requires an immense amount of due diligence.

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