What is a foreseeable injury?

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According to Florida case law as of the date of this article, a foreseeable injury is one which a careful person would expect to likely result from a given action; the exact injury or manner in which it happens doesn’t need to be foreseen, but rather it only needs to be foreseeable that some injury could result from the negligent act.

See: Guyton v. Colvin, 473 So.2d 266, 267 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985)

Loss of an Eye from Shotgun Blast in Frat Initiation

In Guyton, a fraternal organization named the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South America, Inc., was holding an initiation ceremony.  James Guyton was one of the individuals being inducted into the organization.

One of the traditions of the ceremony was the use of a shotgun.  The ritual involved not only the display of the firearm, but its repeated use.  All the members were aware that the ceremony would include the shotgun being discharged. James Guyton, initiate, was not.

During the initiation rites for James Guyton, a man named David Mitchell came into the organization’s building with a shotgun.  Mr. Mitchell repeatedly discharged the firearm.

Frat members testified that David Mitchell was performing an assigned role in a ritual, alongside other members of the “initiation team” who were responsible for the initiation ceremony. Mr. Mitchell was furnished with blank ammunition to use in the shotgun.  He testified that he personally inspected what was to be used in the ceremony.

Mr. Mitchell was careful to point the shotgun at either the floor or ceiling, out of safety concerns.

James Guyton testified that at the first blast from the shotgun, he received a minor burn on his thigh.  When Mr. Mitchell shot a second time, Mr. Guyton received the injury to his left eye.

Since Mr. Mitchell was shooting blanks, it was suggested that there may have been a disintegration of a plastic shotgun shell casing that expelled during the blast and ricocheted into Guyton’s eye.

After their claim for damages did not result in a settlement, James Guyton and his wife, Dolly, sued the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order of Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South America, Inc., along with several individuals for damages sustained in the accident.

The couple alleged in their complaint that the members were “engaged in a joint venture performing the initiation ceremony….” and they were aware “that the initiation ceremony … regularly included the use and discharge of a shotgun in close proximity to the initiate,” which “negligently and carelessly caused the shotgun to discharge so that a projectile from the shotgun struck [Guyton] in the left eye, causing the loss of the eye.”

The defendants aside from Mitchell successfully moved the trial judge for a “summary judgment” that they were not liable, and it was granted.  The Guytons appealed, asking for the case to be returned for trial and won.

Foreseeability of the Frat Members to Harm from Shotgun Ritual

The frat members named as defendants other than David Mitchell, argued they could not be liable for what had happened. They argued they could not have foreseen that Mr. Guyton would be seriously hurt in the ceremony.

While the trial judge agreed, his decision was reversed.

It was held that it could have been foreseeable that some type of projectile would be expelled when blank ammunition is discharged.  It was far from being bizarre or unreasonable to think this might happen when a shotgun was blasting blank plastic shells.

According, Mr. Guyton’s injury is within a “scope of danger” created by the initiation ritual.

Scope of Danger

Under Florida law, an individual can be liable for damages when his conduct sets in motion a chain of events that culminate in a foreseeable injury within the created “scope of danger.”

It is not necessary that the exact nature and extent of the injury, or the precise manner of its occurrence, be foreseen.  The frat members may not have anticipated or imagined an initiate could lose his eye.

The only thing that is essential is that injury occurs in a generally foreseeable manner as a likely result of the negligent conduct. Gibson v. Avis Rent-A-Car System Inc., 386 So.2d 520 (Fla. 1980); Crislip v. Holland, 401 So.2d 1115 (Fla. 4th DCA 1981).

From the Florida Supreme Court in Stevens v. Jefferson, 436 So.2d 33 (Fla. 1983):  “… [i]f the harm that occurs is within the scope of danger created by the defendant’s negligent conduct, then such harm is a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the negligence.”

Although appellees may not have foreseen the precise manner in which the injury occurred, the circumstances nevertheless raise a sufficient question of foreseeability to present a factual issue for a jury to decide.

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