Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Accident

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Although the law is fundamentally concerned with justice, justice often requires that a party take timely action to redress her harm. Indeed, negligence cases are subject to various statutes of limitations, and many would-be litigants have gone to court only to find that their claims, irrespective of their merits, have been lost because of the passage of time. Although many statute of limitations cases relate only to a plaintiff’s failure to take timely action, a recent decision from the First District Court of Appeals, Russ v. Williams, involved an intriguing situation when a defendant’s “mischief” helped assure that a plaintiff’s claims would be time-barred.

Although the merits of the claims were ultimately not reached in Russ, the case arose from a motor vehicle crash on May 15, 2009. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s negligence led to the accident and filed the complaint in this case in November 2012. The complaint was served on the defendant on March 1, 2013. On May 23, 2013, one week after the statute of limitations had elapsed, the defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that his wife was actually the one operating the vehicle at the time of the crash and was the sole owner of the vehicle. The plaintiff moved to amend the complaint in order to add the defendant’s wife as the proper party. The defendant opposed the motion, arguing that the defendant’s wife was an entirely new party and that any claims against his wife were time-barred because the statute of limitations period had passed. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint but reserved judgment on any statute of limitations issues. The claims against the original defendant were dismissed.

Continue reading

One of the most common arguments on appeal following a trial is whether evidence was erroneously presented to the jury. Although inappropriate evidence can affect a jury’s determination, appeals courts are wary to allow a new trial in every case that involves an evidentiary ruling with which it disagrees. Accordingly, the “harmless error rule” limits overturning a jury verdict to only those situations when the evidence is shown to have had some material impact on the jury’s ruling. Courts have different standards for harmless error, and the Supreme Court of Florida recently clarified its pre-existing harmless error jurisprudence for civil cases in Special v. West Boca Medical Center. In West Boca, which arose from the appeal of a Fourth District Court of Appeal decision, the Supreme Court of Florida held that harmless error in civil cases requires that “the beneficiary of the error must prove that there is no reasonable possibility that the error contributed to the verdict.” 39 Fla. L. Weekly S676 (Fla. Nov. 13, 2014). The Fourth District previously applied a “more likely than not” standard for harmless error and has been forced to revise several of its decisions in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Among these decisions is Hurtado v. DeSouza, which involved prejudicial evidence introduced in an automobile accident trial.

The plaintiff in Hurtado filed suit after being rear-ended by another driver while stopped at a traffic light. Prior to trial, the defendant stipulated to liability, leaving only causation and damages to be determined by the jury. At trial, the plaintiff’s attorney stated in his opening statement that immediately following the accident the defendant didn’t check in on the plaintiff or apologize. The defendant’s counsel called for a sidebar with the judge, who ruled that the statement could be admitted. Afterward, the plaintiff’s counsel made another statement on the defendant’s possible effort to flee, to which the defense counsel objected. A third comment was subsequently made, and the defendant’s counsel moved for a mistrial or a curative instruction to the jury, both of which the trial court denied. In his testimony, the plaintiff noted the defendant’s failure to check on him or his family and the defendant’s desire to leave the scene of the accident. The trial judge permitted the testimony but ultimately directed a verdict in favor of the defendant on the plaintiff’s mental anguish claims. Following the directed verdict, the trial judge read a curative instruction to the jury, directing them to ignore references to the defendant’s failure to admit negligence sooner as irrelevant given the court’s determination on mental anguish damages. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict for over one million dollars for permanent injury. The defendant appealed the jury verdict.

Continue reading

In a recent decision, Jones v. Alayon, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal addressed several questions arising from trial in an auto accident negligence case. At trial, the jury found that the decedent was, in part, responsible for his death because the evidence established he had not been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. Among various arguments the decedent’s estate raised on appeal was whether the trial court erred in not directing a verdict in favor of the estate on the defendant’s seatbelt defense because the undisputed evidence showed that the seatbelt was actually inoperable.

Alayon was brought by the daughter of the decedent as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. The defendant in this case was the driver of the vehicle that rear-ended the decedent’s vehicle, which caused it to strike a guardrail and turn over. The decedent was ejected from the vehicle. The decedent died as a result of either ejection from the vehicle or being struck by other oncoming cars. The defendant was a off-duty police officer, who fled after striking the decedent’s vehicle and falsely reported that it had been stolen. At the time of the civil trial, the decedent was incarcerated on charges related to the hit-and-run. The defendant conceded liability but contended that his negligence didn’t result in the decedent’s death. Instead, the defendant argued that the decedent was comparatively negligent because he failed to wear a seatbelt.

Continue reading

Following the initiation of a personal injury suit, many defendants will start to conduct covert surveillance of the plaintiff in hope of uncovering evidence that can later to used to impeach inconsistent testimony. Beyond obvious privacy concerns, the production and use of surveillance footage raises numerous legal issues related to authenticity. Accordingly, it is well settled that defendants are required to turn over surveillance footage that they intend to use at trial during the discovery process. However, there is often an argument about when the defendant must turn over this footage. These timing issues are at the core of the discussion in a recent decision from Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, Hankerson v. Wiley.

Hankerson started with an alleged act of auto negligence, which ultimately led the plaintiff in this case to bring suit against the other driver. During the course of pre-trial discovery, the defendant acquired surveillance footage of the plaintiff, which the plaintiff then sought to acquire prior to her deposition. The trial court granted an order that would permit the plaintiff to view the surveillance footage prior to her deposition. Following issuance of this order, the defendant sought immediate certiorari review by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, arguing that permitting the plaintiff to view the footage prior to having an opportunity to depose her would lead to irreparable harm that warranted immediate review by the appellate court. Thus, there were two issues before the Court of Appeal:  1) whether the harm attendant to turning over footage is of a degree that warrants immediate appellate review; and 2) whether the defendant could be ordered to turn over work product surveillance footage prior to deposing the plaintiff.

Continue reading

We generally associate vehicular accidents with the negligence of one of the drivers, but in certain circumstances fault may be attributable to the acts or omissions of a third party. Third-party liability for a death resulting from a Pembroke Pines auto accident is the central topic in a recent decision from Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, McIntosh v. Progressive Design and Engineering, Inc..

In McIntosh, the son of a deceased driver brought suit against the company that designed the traffic signal at the intersection where his father was injured. The intersection where the accident occurred is situated at the exit from a local trailer park. The traffic signal at this intersection allowed a driver exiting the trailer park to rely on a traffic signal further out in the intersection that was intended for other traffic while neglecting the closer traffic signal intended to control traffic exiting the trailer park. While the deceased person was exiting from the trailer park, he collided with a truck traveling southbound on the cross street. The signal design and interconnect plans were developed by Progressive Design and Engineering, Inc. with the input and approval of the Florida Department of Transportation. The plans were eventually approved and sent out for contractor bidding. The construction team generally constructed the intersection per Progressive’s plans. The accident occurred 15 days into the burn-in period, a warranty period when the contractor maintained the traffic signals in case a problem arose. During this period, only the Florida Department of Transportation could order necessary changes.

Continue reading

Although a defendant’s ability to pay or otherwise satisfy a plaintiff’s judgment is always of paramount concern in litigation, this issue can be further complicated when the defendant files for bankruptcy during the pendency of a case. Indeed, although a defendant’s motor vehicle insurer is often obligated to pay all or some of a plaintiff’s recovery, the specter of a defendant’s insolvency and the legal rules that apply when bankruptcy proceedings are initiated can nonetheless still create confusion for plaintiffs. This sort of confusion is highlighted in the Second District Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Whritenour v. Thompson (PDF-embedded link).

The Whritenour case was commenced following a motor vehicle accident in July 2011. The plaintiff sustained bodily injury as a result of the accident and promptly brought a negligence action against the defendant in January 2012. The defendant had bodily injury liability insurance coverage that was capped at $300,000. The insurer obtained defense counsel, who advised the defendant to file for bankruptcy. Heeding the advice, the defendant filed for bankruptcy in September 2012 and listed the plaintiff’s personal injury claim in the bankruptcy petition. The bankruptcy court then issued an automatic stay of the negligence proceedings. In October, the plaintiff filed an emergency motion for relief from the stay of proceedings in the bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy court granted the motion and amended to the stay to permit the plaintiff to “to commence, prosecute, complete […] through final judgment […] claims against [the defendant], for the purpose of pursuing [the defendant’s] insurance carrier and not for the purpose of pursuing personal liability against [the defendant].” Thereafter, the personal injury litigation continued until the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which argued that the she had no personal liability, that the plaintiff’s maximum recovery was limited to the $300,000 policy limit, and that, despite an absence of sworn testimony to that effect, the bankruptcy trustee had no intention of pursuing a bad-faith action against the carrier that could increase the scope of the insurer’s possible obligation. The trial court granted the motion, holding that the plaintiff was not entitled to proceed to trial and, by effect, a determination of damages because the plaintiff failed to file an action for bad faith prior to the defendant being discharged in bankruptcy. The plaintiff then brought the current appeal.

Continue reading

Although a driver having an unanticipated seizure and slamming her vehicle into the vehicle of someone else sounds more like a TV drama than the facts of an actual case, the facts underlying the Second District Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Marcum v. Hayward show that situations that sound imaginary can indeed happen in reality.

The Marcum litigation was set into motion by a motor vehicle accident in Central Florida. One of the defendants in the case was driving a vehicle owned by her employer, Artistic Pools of Florida, Inc., and testified that while she was driving she felt she had temporarily lost consciousness, regained it, and then lost it again before she saw paramedics. A fellow employee riding in the car similarly testified that the driver stated she felt she had lost consciousness and that she didn’t feel well. Apparently, she had asked her passenger where they were headed and soon thereafter lost consciousness. The coworker also testified that after the driver lost consciousness he tried to use his hand to engage the brake but was prevented by the seat belt from doing so. After the driver lost consciousness, the vehicle collided with the vehicle of the victim, who said that she found the defendant suffering from a seizure when she walked to her car after the crash. Following the accident, the victim brought suit against the driver, Artistic Pools, and the driver’s auto liability insurer, asserting claims of negligence.  The driver moved for a directed verdict, arguing that she could not be found negligent because she had suffered a sudden, unforeseeable seizure, and the time between the onset of this seizure and the crash was insufficient for preventative measures to be taken. The trial court denied the motion for a directed verdict.

Continue reading