Cases that go to trial are generally left in the hands of the jury. However, in some cases, judges can take the decision out of juries’ hands and make a decision on their own. In one recent case, a Florida appellate court considered the limits of a trial judge’s ability to take the decision away from the jury, even when only one side presented testimony on an issue.
In this Florida car accident case, a woman and her husband brought a claim against the insurance company for uninsured/under-insured motorist coverage after the woman was injured in a car accident. The case proceeded to trial, but before the trial began, the court prohibited three of the insurance company’s experts from testifying, leaving only the plaintiff and her surgeon to testify on the issues of causation and whether she sustained a permanent injury.
The jury found the accident caused the plaintiff’s injuries but did not find that she had suffered a permanent injury. However, the plaintiffs moved for a directed verdict, and despite the jury’s verdict, the court found in the plaintiffs’ favor on the issues of causation and permanency. The insurance company appealed, arguing that even though their experts were barred from testifying, the court should have allowed the jury’s verdict to stand.
The appeals court agreed. It explained that at trial, the plaintiff’s doctor testified that the accident aggravated her preexisting neck problems and that it was “possible” that she might need future surgery and “probably” had about a 15-20 percent added risk because of the recent surgery. However, the doctor did not review the woman’s prior medical records, even though she had prior injuries involving her back.
In addition, the court pointed out that the woman provided conflicting testimony about the accident. She first said that she did not remember anything about the accident, but she later said that she remembered someone banging on the window and being on a stretcher. An EMT also testified that the woman was “up and walking around” at the scene and said she did not have any neck or back pain.
The court explained that since the doctor did not have the woman’s complete medical history, the jury could have rejected his opinions on causation and the permanency of her injury. The jury also could have rejected her claim because of the woman’s inconsistent testimony. For these reasons, the trial court should not have entered a directed verdict on causation and permanency. The appeals court sent back the case to reinstate the jury’s verdict.
A party to a case can move for a directed verdict if “there is no reasonable evidence upon which a jury could legally predicate a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.” If the judge finds this to be the case, the judge can grant the motion and find in favor of one party despite the jury’s verdict. However, a directed verdict should not be granted if there is conflicting evidence on an issue, such as causation.
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See Additional Blog Posts:
Florida Court Refuses to Consider Insurance Company’s Argument Raised for the First Time in a Post-Trial Motion, South Florida Injury Attorneys Blog, November 8, 2017.
Florida Court Discusses the Difference Between a Traditional Negligence Case and a Medical Malpractice Case, South Florida Injury Attorneys Blog, December 13, 2017.