Florida Supreme Court Finds Florida Man Liable for Drinking Buddy’s Injuries in the Case of Dorsey v. Reider
Three guys walk into a bar . . . is the start of many jokes, but things didn’t turn out so funny for Dennis Dorsey after a night out drinking with Robert Reider and Russell Noordhoek. These three men were drinking together in a Florida bar in late August of 2007 when Reider became belligerent, saying that he wanted to fight everyone in the place. Dorsey told Reider he was “acting like an a***hole” and left the bar. Reider and Noordhoek followed him out and Reider then trapped Dorsey between the bed of his truck and an adjacent car and demanded an explanation for Dorsey’s comment. As Dorsey and Reider argued, Noordhoek grabbed a tomahawk from Reider’s truck. Upon seeing Noordhoek approach with the tomahawk, Dorsey attempted to escape by pushing Reider to the side, but Reider prevented him leaving. Noordhoek then bashed Dorsey in the head with the tomahawk, knocking him unconscious. Noordhoek and Reider immediately fled the scene. Dorsey eventually regained consciousness and drove himself to an emergency room for treatment.
Dorsey eventually filed a lawsuit against Reider, alleging that Reider owed him a duty of care to prevent Noordhoek from attacking him. Following a trial, the jury found that Reider was liable for Dorsey’s injuries and awarded him over $1.5 million. The case was appealed and overturned by the Third District Court of Appeals which found that Reider owed no duty to Dorsey to prevent the independent act by Noordhoek and there was no duty under Florida law to control the conduct of a third party or to prevent a third party from physically harming another person.
The case ultimately came before the Florida Supreme Court which reversed the appellate court’s decision and reinstated the jury verdict. In its ruling, the Supreme Court held that although there is no general duty to prevent an assault by a third person, such a duty of care can be created if one’s actions create a “zone of risk” whereby it is foreseeable that injury could result. Applying the foreseeable zone of risk test, the Supreme Court determined that hindering someone’s “ability to escape an escalating situation created a foreseeable zone of risk posing a general threat of harm to others.” In this case, the Court believed that Reider’s actions – trapping Dorsey between the cars and holding him while Noordhoek obtained his tomahawk – created such a zone of risk and resulted in Reider’s damage.
A few things to take away from this case: First, never drink in a bar with a man that carries a tomahawk in his truck and likes to fight; Second, if your “friend” is telling you he wants to fight everyone in the place, it is time to seek out smarter friends; Third, when being accosted in a parking lot by drunks, it is always best to leave yourself a clear point of escape; and last, but not least, choose your “friends” wisely. A stupid friend might do more harm to you than a smart enemy.
Be safe out there.
Clay Morgan, Melbourne Lawyer, Partner & Esquire
Morgan and Barbary,
Personal Injury, Criminal Defence and Family Law Attorneys