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Florida Court of Appeal Reverses $25M Nuclear Verdict in ‘Spice’ Related Car Crash

Author: Amy Chambers

Guest Editor: Raymond K. Wilson Jr.

July 8, 2020 12:00pm

Trial Court Proceedings

In 2018, a Leon County jury awarded the families of three motor vehicle accident victims $37 million in damages in a wrongful death suit. The victims were killed when defendant Chrostopher Generoso, who was under the influence of a synthetic marijuana product, also known as “spice,” crashed his car into the victims’ vehicle. The wrongful death suit named both Generoso and DZE Corp., the manufacturer of the synthetic marijuana, as defendants.

At trial, DZE Corp. moved for a directed verdict arguing that the plaintiffs could not establish proximate cause because Generoso’s intoxicated driving was the sole proximate cause of the deaths. The court denied the motion, and the jury then returned a verdict against both Generoso and DZE. The jury apportioned 65% of the responsibility to DZE Corp., and 35% to Generoso, resulting in a total judgment of approximately $25 million against DZE Corp.

DZE Corp. appealed the court’s order denying the motion for directed verdict to the First District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida, which issued its opinion reversing the trial court on June 8, 2020.[1]

Appellate Decision

On appeal, the Court considered whether DZE Corp.’s failure to warn was the proximate legal cause of plaintiffs’ injuries. Ultimately, the Court held that Generoso’s criminal conduct was the sole proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries as a matter of law. In support of its decision, the Court relied on Department of Transportation v. Anglin, 502 So. 2d 896, 89 (Fla. 1987), where the Florida Supreme Court held that “even where an actor’s conduct creates a dangerous situation, the law will not allow a jury to find proximate cause where an unforeseeable, intervening act is responsible for the injuries.”

The Court explained that in order to conclude DZE’s Corp.’s failure to warn was the proximate cause of the car crash, it would require the trier of fact to speculate that DZE Corp. could foresee Generoso would: 1) disregard the warning on the product and consume the potpourri; 2) become voluntarily intoxicated; and 3) drive recklessly in violation of the state’s criminal laws and cause an accident.” The Court further explained that it’s decision is supported by Florida law, which does not permit a jury to consider proximate cause where a person responsible for the injury is voluntarily impaired or intentionally misuses a product.[2]

Takeaway

This case exemplifies that when a juries’ emotions and biases are stirred, they will disregard the law and issue astronomical verdicts, particularly against those with the perceived deeper pockets. Here, Genoroso was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 22 years in prison, and yet, the jury still apportioned only 35% of the responsibility to him. There is no dispute that what happened to the crash victims in this case was anything less than tragic. However, justice is not truly served when non-responsible parties are left holding the bag.

The attorneys at Tyson & Mendes are committed to justice for all, and utilize tried and true methods for successfully limiting its insured clients’ exposure to large damages claims in high stakes litigation by using methods to reduce juror anger.

 

[1] DZE Corp. v. Vickers, case number 1D18-5081 (Fla. 1st DCA 2020)

[2] See Barnes v. B.K. Credit Service, Inc., 461 So. 2d 217, 219 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984).

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