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Goldberg v. Fla. Power & Light Co.

Supreme Court of Florida

April 7, 2005, Decided

No. SC03-1942

Opinion

 [*1107]  We have for review Florida Power & Light Co. v. Goldberg, 856 So. 2d 1011 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002), which expressly and directly conflicts with this Court's decision in Martinez v. Florida Power & Light Co., 863 So. 2d 1204 (Fla. 2003). We have jurisdiction. See: art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const. As more fully discussed further herein, we quash the decision of the Third District  [*1108]  Court of Appeal and remand the case for reinstatement of the remitted final judgment as [**2]  initially ordered by that court.

BACKGROUND AND FACTS

The instant action arises from a decision of the Third District Court of Appeal reversing a judgment entered against Florida Power & Light (FPL) in connection with the wrongful death action concerning the death of the Goldbergs' 12-year-old daughter, Jill Goldberg. FPL terminated power to a traffic light which resulted in a motor vehicle collision and the resulting death. Initially, a Third District panel affirmed the trial court's order denying FPL's alternate motions for directed verdict and a new trial, but determined that the $ 37 million in damages awarded by the jury was excessive, and remanded the case for remittitur to $ 10 million. Thereafter, sitting en banc, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed the initial panel's decision and remanded the case with instructions to direct a verdict and enter judgment in favor of FPL. We quash this decision and reinstate the decision of the original Third District panel.

The Goldbergs' action arose from a traffic accident that occurred in the Village of Pinecrest on Friday, September 12, 1997, shortly after 5 p.m., which resulted in their daughter's death. Much earlier that [**3]  day, weather had caused an electric line to come down in the rear of the Fishbein residence, a private home located on a side street (Southwest 122nd Drive), which intersects with 67th Avenue in Pinecrest. The Fishbein residence is a large, walled home with a motorized gate in front. The concerned homeowner notified law enforcement and Officer Laricci of the Pinecrest police department responded to the scene at approximately 2 p.m. Ray Woodard, an FPL repairman, who had responded to a call from the same residence approximately two weeks before this date, also responded and established that there was no power flowing through the downed line at this location. Shortly after Woodard arrived on the scene, the Fishbeins left the residence. At approximately 3 p.m., FPL through Woodard informed Officer Laricci that he was no longer needed at the scene and that he could leave the area.

Ultimately FPL dispatched six trucks and seven repair personnel to the Fishbein residence and immediate area. To prevent an occurrence referred to as "backfeed," the FPL crew determined that they should deactivate power on an adjacent line which was connected to the same utility pole as the downed line. To [**4]  accomplish this task, the crew decided to de-energize the adjacent line by opening a fuse on the utility pole which was located near the Fishbein property, and positioned approximately 100 to 150 feet from the traffic light that controls the intersection of Southwest 67th Avenue 1 and 120th Street, a major intersection in Pinecrest. At 4:42 p.m., Woodard proceeded to the utility pole in question, opened the fuse and terminated power to the parallel line, rendering the traffic signal totally inoperable. Despite numerous contrary factors, Woodard claimed that he did not actually know that the fuse also controlled the traffic signal at this intersection.

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899 So. 2d 1105 *; 2005 Fla. LEXIS 613 **; 30 Fla. L. Weekly S 224

WALTER GOLDBERG, etc., et al., Petitioners, vs. FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT COMPANY, Respondent.

Subsequent History:  [**1]  As Corrected April 14, 2005.

Prior History: Application for Review of the Decision of the District Court of Appeal - Direct Conflict of Decisions Third District - Case No. 3D00-63 (Dade County).

Fla. Power & Light Co. v. Goldberg, 856 So. 2d 1011, 2003 Fla. App. LEXIS 14819 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist., 2003)

CORE TERMS

traffic signal, intersection, inoperable, motorists, repair, traffic light, drivers, foreseeable, deactivating, traffic, district court, Electric, cases, warn, traffic control, signal, collision, terminated, hazard, pole, proximate cause, relieving, scene, duty to warn, intervening, crew, superseding cause, matter of law, utility pole, emergency

Civil Procedure, Trials, Jury Trials, Province of Court & Jury, Torts, Elements, Duty, General Overview, Governments, Courts, Judicial Precedent, Judgment as Matter of Law, Appeals, Standards of Review, Affirmative Duty to Act, Creators of Foreseeable Peril, Causation, Proximate Cause, Foreseeability of Harm, Intervening Causation, Standards of Care, Reasonable Care, Reasonable Person