In Manfre, the plaintiff was severely injured when her vehicle flipped
several times after hitting a dead horse lying on the roadway. Approximately
an hour and a half prior to the accident, two horse escaped their confines,
and where spotted roaming along the side of a road. Police were called,
and a Sheriff's deputy was dispatched. The deputy's car lights
prompted the horses to run up a driveway and back into a pasture. The
deputy never got out of his car, and cleared the dispatch by contacting
the property owner. One of the horses later reemerged from the pasture
and was struck and killed by a motorist. The plaintiff sued the Sheriff
of Flagler County. and a jury later returned a verdict in favor of the
plaintiff. The Sheriff appealed, arguing no duty existed.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the Sheriff owed a common law or statutory
duty of care under the public-duty doctrine, or alternatively, a special
tort duty of care, or also in the alternative, a duty of care pursuant
to the undertaker's doctrine.
The Fifth District began with background as to sovereign immunity, and
noted that there can be no governmental liability unless a common law
or statutory duty of care was owed to the injured party. The Fifth District
first addressed the public-duty doctrine. It noted that in Wallace v.
Dean, the Florida Supreme Court explained that where questions of duty
arise in connection with potential governmental liability, the Florida
Supreme Court has provided a rough general guide concerning the type of
activities that either support or fail to support the recognition of a
duty of care between a governmental actor and an alleged tort victim.
This is generally referred to as the public-duty doctrine, and consists
of four general categories. The relevant category for this case is the
enforcement of laws and protection of the public safety. Notably, government
liability may only be established when there is a common law or statutory
duty of care owed by the government to the individual rather than to the
general public. Courts addressing the relevant category here have found
that because the duty to enforce laws and protect all citizens is owed
to the public, law enforcement officers do not owe those duties to injured
victims such as the plaintiff in this case. The plaintiff additionally
argued that the Sheriff owed a duty under Fla. Stat. 588.16, of the Warren
Act, which the court rejected.
The Fifth District then addressed the special tort duty exception to the
public-duty doctrine. A special tort duty arises when law enforcement
officers become directly involved in circumstances which place people
within a zone of risk by creating or permitting dangers to exist, by taking
persons into policy custody, detaining them, or otherwise subjecting them
to danger. The defendant's conduct must create or control the risk
before liability may be imposed. Here, the Fifth District found that the
Sheriff's deputy did not take control over any situation or individual
so as to place anyone, including the plaintiff, within a zone of risk.
Therefore, no special tort duty was owed to the plaintiff.
Lastly, the Fifth District addressed the undertaker's doctrine, which
provides that one who undertakes an act, even when under no obligation
to do so, thereby becomes obligated to act with reasonable care. Here,
the court found that the plaintiff could not have relied on the deputy's
undertaking because she had no contact with the deputy prior to her accident,
and therefore, could not have known of the deputy's actions. Thus,
no duty was created pursuant to the undertaker's doctrine.
Accordingly, the Fifth District found that no duty was owed to the plaintiff,
and therefore reversed the judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff.