Law School Case Brief
Sanders v. Am. Body Armor & Equip. - 652 So. 2d 883 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1995)
The feasibility of apportioning fault on a comparative basis does not render an indivisible injury divisible for purposes of the joint and several liability rule. A concurrent tortfeasor is liable for the whole of an indivisible injury when his negligence is a proximate cause of that damage. In many instances, the negligence of a concurrent tortfeasor may be sufficient by itself to cause the entire loss. The mere fact that it may be possible to assign some percentage figure to the relative culpability of one negligent defendant as compared to another does not in any way suggest that each defendant's negligence is not a proximate cause of the entire indivisible injury.
The decedent, Warren C. Sanders, was law enforcement officer and was killed while participating in an undercover investigation that resulted in heavy gunfire and loss of life. Although the decedent was wearing a bullet-proof vest, a fatal bullet entered his body at an unprotected point in the vest area. The other fatal bullet entered his abdomen at a point below and outside of the vest area. Plaintiff Adriana Sanders, as personal representative of the decedent's estate ("Estate"), filed a lawsuit in Florida state court against defendant American Body Armor and Equipment, Inc. ("American"), which manufactured and sold the decedent's bullet-proof vest. The compliant alleged that American was negligent in failing to warn that its bullet style vest provided limited protection at its edges and abutment areas. After trial, the jury returned a verdict for the Estate based upon the theory of failure to warn. American then moved for a directed verdict and, alternatively, a new trial. The trial court granted the motion, finding the bullet to the decedent's chest in the abutment area was not the proximate cause of his death, because he would have died nevertheless from the bullet to his unprotected abdomen. In addition, the court found that the absence of protection at the sides or abutment area of the vest was open and obvious and, therefore, no warning was required as a matter of law. The Estate appealed.
Was American required to warn the decedent about its vest?
The court affirmed the trial court's order granting American's motion for a directed verdict. The court agreed with the trial court the absence of protection in the abutment area of defendant's vest was open and obvious, and thus a warning was not required as a matter of law. The court rejected the trial court's reasoning that, regardless of bullet to the chest, the decedent would have died from the other gunshot wound. The court noted that the two fatal bullets, fired split seconds apart, were concurrent causes of a single injury—the decedent's death—which could not serve to absolve American from liability.
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