Fabre Defendant in Florida Quick Facts

Feb 22, 2021

fabre defendant florida

Car accidents can be very complicated, and there is no guarantee that a plaintiff can name every at-fault party in a lawsuit. In these situations, named defendants can shift some liability to one of these unnamed parties, called a Fabre defendant.

Florida law allows jurors to apportion liability to a Fabre defendant to avoid unfairly blaming a named defendant.

The Fabre doctrine can have a significant impact on the outcome of a negligence case; if a negligent party successfully names a Fabre defendant, it can reduce a plaintiff’s total recovery. Accordingly, it is important to understand a Fabre defendant’s role in a lawsuit.

What Is a Fabre Defendant?

In a lawsuit, the plaintiff names one or more defendants from whom the plaintiff seeks compensation. A Fabre defendant is a third party who may be partially responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries but whom the plaintiff did not “name” in the lawsuit (most likely because the plaintiff was unaware of the Fabre defendant’s involvement).

The term “Fabre defendant” comes from a 1993 case called Fabre v. Marin. In that case, the plaintiff, Ann Marin, was injured in an accident while riding in a car driven by her husband. Mrs. Marin sued the Fabre family, alleging that they caused the accident by negligently changing lanes. Despite a jury finding that Mrs. Marin’s husband was 50% at fault, the court did not reduce the Fabres’ liability.

Consequently, the ruling held the Fabres liable for more than their fair share of damages. The Florida Supreme Court created the Fabre Doctrine to resolve this unfairness. Following Fabre, juries can apportion liability to unnamed Fabre defendants.

Apportioning Liability in Florida

In a car accident or other negligence case, the jury must determine the level of fault of each party involved. Usually, the jury expresses fault in terms of what percent each party contributed to the accident.

When it comes to damages, each state follows one of several different models for apportioning liability. Florida is a pure comparative negligence jurisdiction, meaning a plaintiff can still recover damages even if they were partially at fault. However, the plaintiff’s percent of fault will reduce their total recovery. Unlike some other jurisdictions, plaintiffs in pure comparative negligence jurisdictions may recover damages even if they were more than 90% at fault.

Can I Recover Damages from a Fabre Defendant in Florida?

The short answer is no, at least not in the same legal proceeding. Due process prevents a court from deciding the rights or liabilities of parties not named in a lawsuit.

If a plaintiff does not name a Fabre defendant, Florida courts may not order them to pay any damages. Nevertheless, a defendant who successfully pleads the existence of a Fabre defendant can significantly reduce their own liability and the total damages recoverable by the plaintiff.

How Does a Fabre Defendant Affect a Plaintiff’s Recovery?

As an example, consider a plaintiff attending a party at a friend’s house. While there, the plaintiff slips and falls on the friend’s unfinished patio, then sues the patio builder for damages. With pure comparative negligence, if the jury awards $100,000 and finds the plaintiff 20% at fault, the plaintiff can still recover $80,000 from the patio builder.

The existence of a Fabre defendant can significantly reduce these damages even further. In the same scenario, consider that the patio builder names the friend as a Fabre defendant.

This time, the jury still finds the plaintiff 20% at fault. However, the jury also finds the friend 50% at fault. Even though a majority of the fault lies with the friend, the plaintiff cannot recover those damages because the friend isn’t named in the lawsuit. As a result, the plaintiff can only recover 30% of the total damages based on the level of fault apportioned to the patio builder.

How Defendants Use the Fabre Doctrine as an Affirmative Defense

In the example above, the defendant patio builder reduced their liability from $80,000 to just $30,000. As you can see, proving that someone outside the lawsuit was more responsible is an effective way for a defendant to reduce their overall liability. Accordingly, it is not too uncommon to see defendants “point the finger” as part of their defense strategy.

The best way to avoid these issues is to make sure your lawsuit properly names all potential defendants. Plaintiffs should hire a personal injury lawyer to make sure they’re filing the lawsuit against the right people.

Need Help with Your Personal Injury Case?

Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon has helped clients with their personal injury cases for over 100 years. If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one because of someone’s negligence, our attorneys will handle your case with the compassion and care you deserve. Contact us today online or by phone at 850-444-4878 to schedule a free personal injury consultation.