South Florida Fairgrounds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Ordinarily, the South Florida Fair is an ideal spot to take a load off.

But that was not the case for Windley Joseph, who lost an eye during an armed robbery there in 2008.

And Wednesday presented another blow for Joseph after a state appellate court capped his potential recovery in his lawsuit against the fair at $300,000. This limitation was established after the court ruled the fair qualified as an instrumentality of the state and has limited liability under Florida’s sovereign immunity and state law for personal injury claims.

Here’s the full Fourth DCA opinion: 

According to a 2010 lawsuit filed in Palm Beach Circuit Court, Joseph and his two sons were waiting in line to use the bumper cars when a group of teenagers demanded his watch and beat him up after he refused to hand it over in February 2008.

Joseph said he lost his right eye in the assault and was left with permanent mental and physical injuries.

Joseph subsequently filed suit against the South Florida Fair for negligence and alleged that the fair had failed to provide adequate security for its patrons.

Read Windley Joseph’s lawsuit against the South Florida Fair: 

Although the circuit court initially agreed and ruled in Joseph’s favor, an opinion issued in a Florida appellate court this week overturned that ruling.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s order and instead ruled in favor of the appellant, the South Florida Fair.

The fair had appealed the case maintaining the circuit court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment and rebuffing the argument that limited sovereign immunity shielded it from tort or personal injury claims.

The trial court initially found “the state did not have sufficient structural power over the South Florida Fair to render it an instrumentality of the state.”

Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Jeffrey Kuntz disagreed and remanded the case for further proceedings. Judges Carole Taylor and Dorian Damoorgian concurred.

That’s bad news for Joseph, who will now be limited to no more than $200,000 or $300,000 in damages from the fair as dictated by Section 768.28 of the Florida Statutes.

Joseph’s counsel, Marwan Emmet Porter, managing partner at The Porter Law Firm in Stuart, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Carlton Fields Jorden Burt partner Matthew J. Conigliaro, who represented the fair along with fellow Carlton Fields partner Derek Harris, told the Daily Business Review that he was pleased with the court’s ruling and what it means for his client moving forward.

“The law uses the phrase ‘essential governmental purpose,’ and that’s how it characterizes the role of the fairs. And that’s a historical role in Florida,” he said. “You can trace the local fairs back a century and the role they played and continue to play in educating the public on a variety of areas.”

While the door remains open for a rehearing, Conigliaro believes the appellate court “correctly applied the law to the facts in this case.”

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