Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Accident

As a general rule, litigants in Florida car accident cases must raise any issues they have with the trial court’s decisions at the moment a decision is made. Similarly, when responding to a claim or allegation, a party should be sure to make all relevant arguments at that time. Otherwise, a court may consider the argument waived.

The purpose of the waiver rule is to encourage efficient resolution of cases. If, for example, a party were able to raise any issue at any time, courts would find themselves dealing with a never-ending series of motions and requests as the parties came up with new versions of old arguments. Instead, Florida court rules require that parties bring everything they have upfront so that the judge can make one informed decision that will not need to be revisited, absent a legal error. A recent Florida personal injury case illustrates this concept.

The Facts

The plaintiff was injured when another motorist struck her vehicle. The other motorist did not have sufficient insurance coverage to fully compensate the plaintiff for the injuries she sustained. The plaintiff, however, was covered under two other insurance policies:  an Allstate policy in her mother’s name and a Geico policy in her father’s name. The Allstate policy provided $5,000 more in coverage than the Geico policy.

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I was twelve when I first rode a motorcycle. It was just a small dirt bike that belonged to an acquaintance, but riding it gave me an incredible sense of freedom. Like many people, I wistfully remember that bike and the joy it gave me.

I still have numerous friends with motorcycles, and I frequently warn them about the dangers they face on the roadways. As an attorney, I know that that danger doesn’t come from road debris or from faulty bikes. Most accidents involving motorcycles happen not because of any fault of the driver of the motorcycle, but because the drivers of cars don’t see the motorcycle. These drivers change lanes into them, stop suddenly, or take other actions that leave the motorcycle driver unable to avoid an accident.

These are riders doing nothing wrong, but who end up with medical bills, damaged property, and even lost wages thanks to negligence by a driver of a car who simply failed to take due care on the roadway. These drivers need to be held accountable for their actions, and they need to compensate victims for the damage they caused.

Earlier this month, one Florida teen was killed and four others injured when they were struck by an allegedly drunk driver as they crossed the street after exiting the school bus. According to a local news report covering the tragic accident, the collision occurred in Polk County.

Evidently, the driver of a Kia Rio was driving near Poinciana when he started to learn forward onto the steering wheel. As he did so, the car drifted off the right shoulder and struck the students, who had just recently gotten off the school bus and were walking home. After the initial collision, the driver regained awareness and then left the scene. A motorist who witnessed the accident followed the driver, who eventually crashed into an SUV before coming to a stop.

Authorities arrived on the scene a short time later and believed the man to be under the influence of alcohol. They administered an alcohol-content test, which revealed that the driver’s blood-alcohol content was nearly twice the legal limit. Sadly, one of the boys who was struck by the driver passed away in the hospital later that day. Another teen was admitted to the intensive care unit with a broken orbital bone.

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Under Florida law, it is presumed in rear-end collision cases that the driver of the rear vehicle was negligent. Although this presumption can be a useful tool for litigants, the presumption is not absolute, and those seeking to make recourse to this presumption must be able to show that no possible negligence on their part contributed to the collision. Questions regarding the application of this rear-end collision presumption were at the core of a recent decision from the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Padilla v. Schwartz, involving a rear-end collision on the Florida Turnpike.

As stated above, the accident at issue occurred along a stretch of the Florida Turnpike where construction was taking place. The plaintiff was driving on the turnpike when he struck the back of a vehicle being operated by the defendant. At his deposition, the plaintiff testified that he was driving within the speed limit and that he did not observe any vehicles near him until immediately before the collision. The plaintiff further testified that only shortly before the accident did he see the defendant’s vehicle, which he asserted appeared suddenly before him, and that although he applied his brakes, it was not enough to avoid striking the rear of the defendant’s vehicle. Following the accident, the plaintiff brought a negligence lawsuit against the defendant. At the conclusion of discovery, the defendant moved for summary judgment, asserting that he was entitled to the rear-end collision presumption and that the plaintiff had failed to adduce evidence to rebut the presumption that his negligence, rather than the defendant’s, caused the accident. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.

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In American legal culture, the determinations of juries are afforded considerable deference. Nevertheless, juries do make mistakes, and courts then must step in and order new trials in the interest of justice. However, those who benefit from an initial jury’s ruling are generally not amenable to a trial court ordering a new trial. Indeed, the propriety of a trial court order directing that there be a new trial was at the center of Botta v. Florida Power & Light Co., a recent decision from Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal that involved a collision between an FPL truck and the vehicle of another motorist.

The events at issue in Botta were set in course by a nighttime power outage. After receiving a report of the outage, FPL sent out a truck to investigate. The technician sent to investigate the outage parked his truck along the side of a road but did not set up any reflective markers behind the truck to indicate its presence. In addition, there was disputed evidence as to whether the truck’s warning lights had been activated. Some time after the technician parked, a car being operated by the plaintiff in this case collided with the truck. The plaintiff testified that he believed the truck was in motion at the time of the accident and that he attempted to brake prior to the collision. However, a witness to the accident testified that he did not see the car decelerate before the collision. In addition, there was a dispute of fact regarding whether the headlights of the plaintiff’s vehicle were illuminated at the time of the accident. The plaintiff was severely injured as a result of the crash and needed to have his arm amputated.

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In a recent decision from Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal, Manfre v. Shinkle, the court examined whether a jury correctly found that the defendant, a local sheriff, was liable for injuries arising from a motor vehicle accident. Although the accident at issue occurred at night on an unlit, rural road, the lack of light only played a marginal role. Instead, the crash was principally caused by the plaintiff’s collision with a dead horse, which the plaintiff claimed was in her path because of a local deputy’s negligent investigation of a report of roaming animals.

The accident at the heart of Manfre occurred shortly before sunrise on a dark road in rural Flagler County. The plaintiff was traveling at about 45 miles per hour when her vehicle struck a dead horse and flipped. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered a variety of physical injuries. About an hour and a half before this accident, the county’s Sheriff’s Office received a call that reported two horses were roaming on the side of the road where the accident occurred. A deputy responded to the scene, where he saw the horses returning to the pasture. Evidence presented at trial indicated that the horses may have been spooked by the sheriff’s headlights. Satisfied that the horses’ return to the pasture settled the issue, the deputy cleared the call and left the scene without either ensuring that the horses were now safely enclosed or contacting the property owner. Following the deputy’s departure, at least one of the horses returned to the road, where it was struck by a vehicle and killed. It was the dead horse with which the plaintiff’s vehicle collided.

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Although the end of a trial often means finality, seasoned litigators understand that, at least in some cases, it may simply be a precursor to protracted appellate battles. Indeed, a favorable ruling for a plaintiff is often not secure, for dissatisfied defendants will often take the case to an appellate court, seeking reversal on any ground possible. As the plaintiff in Ortega v. Belony, a recent case before Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal, now knows, a trial court victory is often just the beginning.

Ortega arose from a motor vehicle accident in Miami-Dade County. As a result of the collision, the driver of one of the vehicles involved, who is the plaintiff in this case, suffered a broken neck. The plaintiff was hospitalized for eight days following the accident. Rather than undergoing surgery to repair the injury, the plaintiff elected to wear a “halo” for three months. During his rehabilitation, the plaintiff had difficulty sleeping and needed assistance with ordinary tasks such as bathing. Following the three months, the halo was removed, and the plaintiff only complained of residual back pain. His neck had almost fully healed, but the plaintiff sought additional treatment from an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon recommended surgery. However, the plaintiff again declined and instead opted for an injection treatment. The treatment was successful, and by the time of the trial, the plaintiff did not have difficulty performing daily activities and had not returned to the surgeon for any additional treatments.

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In addition to determining fault, juries are often tasked with the responsibility of setting damages, the amount an injured party may recover from a liable party. Obviously, most jury members are not experts who are perfectly capable of setting a damages amount with mathematical certainty, and even though expert testimony is often enlisted to help guide juries, jury verdicts are often hotly disputed.  Although damages awards, like all jury determinations, are entitled to deference, a court does have discretion to alter a damages award it determines is too high or low. However, when a court exercises this power, disputes regarding the damages award are often just as bitter. Indeed, in a recent decision, Arnold v. Security Nat’l Ins. Co., the Fourth District Court of Appeal needed to address whether it was proper for a trial court to reduce a jury verdict the trial court considered excessive.

Arnold began with a car accident that left the plaintiff in this case seriously injured. The other driver did not have motor vehicle insurance, and the plaintiff brought suit against his personal uninsured motor vehicle insurance provider. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that he suffered physical, emotional, and financial damage as a result of the uninsured driver’s negligence. The case ultimately proceeded to trial, at which the plaintiff produced expert testimony related to the past and future medical expenses he would likely incur as a result of a herniated disc resulting from the accident. His insurance company argued, however, that the plaintiff’s injuries were a result of prior injuries and dissociated, natural degenerative conditions.

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In certain legal areas in which expert testimony is of importance for determining liability, litigators will often form relationships with particular experts who provide testimony in their cases. However, a familiarity between experts and attorneys can raise issues regarding the propriety of the testimony provided. Indeed, many may question whether the testimony being provided by a purported expert is genuine or merely the function of an established course of prior dealings. This dynamic was addressed in a recent decision from Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal, Vazquez v. Martinez.

Vazquez arose from a 2007 rear-end collision. The car of the plaintiff in this case was stopped at a red light when her car was rear-ended by a vehicle being driven by the defendant. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant for damages arising from the collision. The case proceeded to trial. At trial, the plaintiff sought to introduce evidence that payments that totaled over 700,000 dollars had been made by the defense or its agents to the expert witness testifying on behalf of the defendant over the past three years. The trial court permitted this evidence, and ultimately the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. On appeal, the defendant argued that admission of the testimony was improper. The Fifth District disagreed.

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It’s often difficult for a driver who rear-ends another vehicle to avoid some form of liability. Indeed, although many other types of car accidents can occasion genuine discussion about apportioning fault between parties or determining whether a particular driver was in fact negligent, accidents involving one car rear-ending another almost invariably lead to liability for the driver who strikes the other in the back. In fact, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently reversed part of a trial verdict that, in its judgment, inappropriately apportioned fault to the driver in a stationary vehicle that was rear-ended by another.

As noted above, this case, Bodiford v. Rollins, arose from a rear-end collision. The plaintiff was waiting to make a left turn at an intersection when the defendant’s car rammed into the back of his vehicle. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result and brought suit against the driver of the other vehicle. The case proceeded to trial, after which the jury awarded the plaintiff more than one million dollars in damages. However, the jury also found the plaintiff to be 13% at fault, and the court reduced the damages award by that percentage. The defendants appealed, asserting various arguments against the jury’s ruling. In addition, the plaintiff cross-appealed, asserting that the jury erred in apportioning any fault to him and that the trial court, therefore, should have granted his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

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