Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal Takes a Look at Witness Credibility in Auto Accident Appeal

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.

The defendant principally argued that the testimony was inappropriate because it improperly implied the existence of insurance. Indeed, under Florida law, a party is generally not permitted to present evidence of insurance in a negligence case, since knowledge that a party is insulated from direct financial liability may prejudice the jury to that party’s position. See, e.g., Herrera v. Moustafa, 96 So. 3d 1020, 1021 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012). Nevertheless, “[a] jury is entitled to know the extent of the financial connection between the party and the witness, and the cumulative amount a party has paid an expert.” Allstate Ins. Co. v. Boecher, 733 So. 2d 993, 997 (Fla. 1999). Here, the Fifth District reasoned that the existence of the insurance had not genuinely been disclosed because the evidence was limited to references about “representatives” or “agents” of the defendant and did not directly indicate the defendant’s insurer. The Fifth District found that this evidence furthered the purpose of permitting evidence of the financial connection between an agent and the defendant—exposing a possible bias—without prejudicing the jury by revealing the existence of insurance coverage.

However, to the defendant’s benefit, the Fifth District didn’t end its inquiry about the jury verdict at this stage. Under Florida law, a party may only recover for future medical expenses that are reasonably certain to be incurred, and there must be an evidentiary basis from which a jury could reasonably ascertain the amount of those expenses.  Loftin v. Wilson, 67 So. 2d 185, 188 (Fla. 1953). At trial, both expert witnesses agreed that the plaintiff did not need future surgery or treatment. They stated that she might seek chiropractic or physical therapy but that such therapy would be of uncertain benefit. Based on this testimony, the Fifth District concluded there was no evidentiary basis for the jury’s 50,000-dollar award for future medical expenses, and it reversed that portion of the jury’s verdict.

Even though a rear-end collision is a common type of auto accident, litigation is often far from straightforward. Competing expert witnesses, proper assessments of loss, and the admissibility of evidence undermining credibility are just some of the issues that can arise in any negligence case. Indeed, anyone considering pursuing litigation should strongly consider finding competent counsel to assist with the pursuit of the claim, irrespective of the complexity of the underlying acts at issue. The South Florida rear-end collision attorneys at FK Legal have represented numerous injured Floridian drivers, and they are prepared to help you assess the viability of a possible claim or provide zealous representation in an arbitration proceeding, an administrative hearing, or a courtroom. If you have a prospective claim and are interested in learning more about our services, feel free to contact us for a free case consultation.

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