Articles Posted in Car Accident

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If you get into a car accident due to a visual obstruction, you may wonder who is responsible for the injuries or damage caused by the accident. The Florida Third District Court of Appeals addressed this topic in a recent decision. It held that in this case, the people responsible for the foliage that the plaintiff alleged caused the obstruction could not be held responsible for damages from the accident. If you are injured in an accident, it may be difficult to know who can be held responsible for the conditions that caused the accident. That’s why it’s important to hire a skilled Florida car accident attorney to help you hold the appropriate parties responsible after an accident.

The Facts of the Case

A man riding a motorcycle was killed when he was hit by a car. The driver of the car blamed the fact that there were shrubs planted near the intersection and they obstructed her view. Thus, she sued the city of Hialeah, R.J. Behar & Company, Williams Paving Co., Inc., and Melrose Nursery. R.J. Behar & Company was the designer of the project that planned the layout of the intersection, including the shrubs. Williams Paving Company was the general contractor who was responsible for building the road and the swales, and Melrose Nursery actually planted the shrubs. The paving company, planner, and nursery moved for summary judgment. Summary judgment is granted when there are no genuine issues of material facts and one of the parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. That means that if the court grants the motion for summary judgment, the claims against the planner, paver, and nursery will be dismissed.

Florida car accidents not only cause new injuries for those involved in the accident, but aggravate pre-existing medical conditions as well.  Regardless of whether the injuries were old or new, all must be tied to the accident in order to recover damages.  A recent appeal examines the presence of pre-existing conditions in a rear-end collision between a bus and another vehicle that pulled out in front of it.  The case went to trial with a $1.5 million verdict in favor of the injured passenger.  The defendant appealed, arguing the instructions referring to pre-existing conditions were faulty.matthew-henry-14221-unsplash-300x200 

The plaintiff in the suit fell from his seat as a result of the impact and was taken to the hospital immediately after the accident for treatment.  The injured was treated and released the same day, but continued to seek treatment for lower back pain and stiffness.  X-rays revealed arthritis and a degenerative disc condition in his back.  A later MRI showed he had a three-level disc herniation in his lower back and that he suffered from diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH).  He filed suit against the defendant driver, alleging she caused the disc herniation in his lower back. 

The defendant admitted she was negligent, but denied she caused the disc-herniation and requested amount of damages.  The defendant asserted the bus passenger’s complaints of pain stemmed from his preexisting conditions.  To counter, the injured offered the testimony of a medical doctor who stated there was a reasonable degree of medical certainty the herniation was caused by the accident.  The doctor came to this conclusion after a review of his own records of examination, the MRI, and his patient’s own statements that he did not have any back problems before the collision.  The physician testified there was no way to tell from an MRI if the herniation occurred  before, during, or after the accident.  The doctor did note the injured suffered from DISH and that the injured had been dealing with DISH for a long time, which causes pain, spasms, stiffness, and other complications.  The plaintiff’s expert testified the DISH was located above the herniated discs and were unrelated to one another.

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In any personal injury case, the injured person must connect the accident to the alleged injury in order to receive damages.  The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal recently assessed in a Florida car accident case, No. 4D17-1900, whether it was an error for the trial court to allow an expert witness for the injured person to testify about causation and permanency in violation of a trial preparation order.  The plaintiff driver's wheelsought damages for the bodily injuries she sustained due to an accident.  The driver of the other vehicle admitted fault but denied the accident caused the victim’s alleged injuries.  The case moved forward to trial to determine whether the accident did cause her injuries, whether those injuries are permanent, the reasonableness and necessity of medical bills, and damages.

The defendant objected to one of the injured person’s expert witnesses, an orthopedic surgeon, but the court allowed the expert to opine on the causation and permanency of the plaintiff’s injuries.  The surgeon testified the injured person’s shoulder was damaged as a result of the car accident and required surgery.  The physician described his course of treatment and provided copies of the total bill of $58,000 from his practice group.  The injured person also testified, discussing the multiple treatments she received to remedy the injuries from the accident.  The injured person went to an urgent care facility on the day of the accident to address pain and stiffness in the back of her neck and a numbing sensation starting at her shoulders and reaching through her arm to the fingertips.  The injured person additionally described seeking help for several months when she went to physical therapy and underwent an MRI.  Eventually, surgery was recommended by two separate physicians.  The injured person testified she underwent the procedure and had to follow up with additional post-surgical care to improve her strength and ability. 

On appeal, the defendant asserted the trial judge erred in the dismissal of his motions because there was insufficient evidence about the reasonableness and necessity of past services provided for the injured person’s medical care.  Florida requires an injured party to produce more than the mere bill for expenses to prove whether the amount was reasonable.  The defendant argued the physician’s testimony was unnecessary to show the necessity and reasonableness of the bill, but the injured person’s lay testimony was acceptable.  The defendant claimed that since there was no testimony from the injured person connecting each bill to the accident, there was no testimony meeting the burden set by Florida statutes and case law. The appellate court was unpersuaded by this argument and concluded the plaintiff sufficiently proved the reasonableness through her testimony and her expert’s testimony. 

The Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law is designed to help all of the parties involved in a Florida car accident.  The statute attempts to provide available funds through the purchase of mandated auto insurance to an injured driver or passenger under a policy while minimizing costs to the auto insurer and the insured public at large and adequately paying medical treatment providers.  The statute requires an insurer to reimburse a percentage of reasonable expenses for medically necessary services.  An insurer may choose to limit its payment by utilizing a schedule of maximum charges delineated in section 627.736(5)(a)(1).  If an insurer uses this limitation, it must provide notice to the insured of the policy.

The Second District Court of Appeal reversed a summary judgment for a medical center fighting to receive larger Personal Injury Protection (PIP) payments than the schedule of maximum charges in section 627.736(5)(a)(1)–(5), Florida Statutes (2013).  The appellate court Taking Moneyfound the language in the auto insurer’s policy clearly and unambiguously elected to limit reimbursement payments and should have been upheld.  The appellate action stems from 19 PIP claims made by parties injured in car accidents in 2013 who were using the same auto insurer.  The insureds all assigned their auto insurance benefits to the medical facility, which then submitted bills to the auto insurer.  The insurer paid a portion of the 19 submitted bills, following their schedule of payment in the policy.  The medical facility disputed these amounts. 

The auto insurer chose to file an action seeking a declaration of rights under the policy and the PIP statute, section 627.736 of the Florida Statutes.  The medical facility countersued, also seeking a declaration of rights and obligations under the auto insurance policy and an injunction to prevent the auto insurer from continuing to limit its payments for charges.  The policy stated they would pay reasonable charges for bodily injuries, in accordance with the PIP statute.  The insurer advised in this policy it would limit the payment of medical expenses described in the insuring agreement to 80% of a properly billed and documented reasonable charge.  The ceiling on the payment was 80% of the schedule of maximum charges, including the use of Medicare coding policies and payment methodologies.

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The Fifth District Court of Appeal reached an interesting conclusion in Case No. 5D16-2794 in a Florida wrongful death case involving a corporate pizza chain, its franchisee, and a widow who was not married to the decedent at the time of the accident.  The decedent was first injured in a serious car accident after he swerved into the median to avoid another car that pulled in front of him.  This move caused his car to drift back over into his lane and flip a couple of times.  The driver became a quadriplegic as a result.  The other car was driven by a pizza deliveryman.  A month after the accident, the injured person filed suit against the driver, the owner of the pizza shop, and the pizza corporation, claiming the driver was negligent and the franchisee and corporation were vicariously liable for the deliveryman’s negligence. 

Within a year of the accident, the injured person married his girlfriend, who was a passenger at the time of the accident.  Soon after that, he died, and his wife became the personal representative of his estate.  She continued with the original action and included a claim for wrongful death damages as the injured person’s surviving spouse.  The franchisee settled its part of the claim with the deceased’s Highway Speedingspouse for $1 million.  The pizza corporation filed many motions for summary judgment that argued the widow was not a surviving spouse under the Wrongful Death Act because she was not married to the decedent at the time of the injury, that it was not vicariously liable because it did not exercise control over the franchisee’s day-to-day operations, and that all but one claim for medical and hospital expenses were barred because no claims had been filed in the probate proceeding.  All of the motions but the medical expenses were denied, limiting the surviving spouse to only recover $1,165.67 for the expenses claimed.

At trial, the jury found against the pizza company, finding the franchisee was an agent of the corporation, the driver’s negligence was 90% of the cause of the deceased’s injury and eventual death, and the total expenses for the home renovations necessary to accommodate the deceased’s injuries were over $100,000.  The jury also awarded the widow $10 million for loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering as a result of her husband’s death.  The company sought a directed verdict and a new trial, arguing the closing argument was improper. 

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Many Florida car accident cases do not make it to a trial in front of a selected jury. Often, the parties can reach a settlement agreement before a lawsuit is even filed, ideally to the satisfaction of both parties involved. The Fourth District recently reviewed a settlement agreement between an auto insurer and a plaintiff injured in a car accident. The injured person appealed the enforcement of a Signing Paperssettlement agreement, arguing they did not have a “meeting of the minds,” or a mutual understanding of what was agreed upon, thus voiding the contract.

The defendant in the lawsuit was insured under a policy with a $25,000 limit for bodily injury per person, a $50,000 limit for bodily injury per accident, and a $10,000 limit for property damage. The injured person’s counsel submitted a demand letter to the insurance company, asking for the policy limits of $50,000 for bodily injury and $10,044 for property loss. The letter also requested an affidavit from the at-fault driver to establish she had no other insurance coverage available, along with a copy of the insurance policy. No release was included with this letter.

The auto insurer accepted the offer and provided the injured person with all of the requested documents. The insurer provided a proposed release and asked that it be signed by the injured person and his mother. The letter specified signing the release was not required for the case to settle and was not a counter offer or new terms. The injured person rejected the proposed release and requested a “standard” release. A second letter was issued by the insurer with two proposed releases. One was an edited version of the first release, and the other was a standard release created by a section of the Florida Bar.

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Before a trial, there are many instances of communication that occur between the injured party and the defendant’s auto insurer. Sometimes a defendant’s insurer will offer to provide the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Benefits or an amount within the policy limits early in the negotiating phase of the process. These settlement agreements often come with language requiring the party accepting funds to waive their right to pursue a civil action related to the matter at hand. A recent Third District Court of Appeal decision (No. 3d17-891) covers the considerations an party injured in a Florida car accident should make when discussing a settlement.

In this lawsuit, a party injured in a car accident filed suit against the policy holder. The defendant’s auto insurer sought permission to intervene so that it could seek enforcement of a settlement agreement it believed Desk fileshad been reached between the injured person and the defendant before a personal injury action was filed. The plaintiff was injured on December 24, 2013, treated at a hospital, and discharged in January. Soon afterward, the defendant’s auto insurer sent a letter to the injured person’s counsel, offering to provide the $10,000 bodily injury policy limit to settle the claim against the insured. The letter included a check and a standard release payable to the injured person, his attorney, and the treating hospital. The insurer provided an explanation for its inclusion of the hospital, stating it noticed a lien for the provided medical services. The injured person and his counsel did not respond, nor did they cash the check.

In the following year, the injured person retained a new attorney, who notified the insurer he was the counsel of record and presented a demand for the full policy limits. The attorney requested a settlement draft to his office by the end of the month, and the insurer indicated its willingness to comply and accept modifications to the letter. Another letter was sent, similar to the first one, with a check payable to the injured person, the attorney, and the hospital. The new attorney believed the payment to be a counteroffer, since it included the hospital as a joint payee, and rejected the settlement payment. The insurer and attorney continued to exchange communications, debating about whether or not a settlement had been reached. The insurer issued two more checks with the hospital removed as a co-payee. The injured person rejected both payments. The insurer then filed a motion to enforce the settlement. The matter was heard, and the insurer’s motion was granted to dismiss the lawsuit against the at-fault driver with prejudice, subject to the terms of the settlement agreement. The injured person appealed.

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In Florida, an injured car accident victim can only recover future medical expenses if the care and cost are “reasonably certain” to be incurred. This is accomplished by meeting her burden to provide the fact finder with competent, substantial evidence that future medical expenses are more likely than not to be incurred. An injured party often uses treating physicians and medical administrative staff to relate the need for care and the cost of care. The Fifth District recently reviewed these types of damages in Case No. 5D16-533, in which a Gavel Restingjury awarded a large sum of money for several past and future intangible damages to a woman seriously injured in a Florida car accident, including $250,000 worth of future medical expenses.

The defendant driver appealed, and the court affirmed most of the verdict in favor of the injured woman, but it ordered a new trial or adjustment to the amount of damages, known as remittitur. The court emphasized that past medical expenses by themselves are not enough for a jury to use to calculate future medical expenses. In this lawsuit, the $5,365 for surgery was uncontested. The only testimony provided was about the previous medical bills and household goods and services used before the accident. The appellate court found this to be insufficient to meet the standards established by Florida case law precedent, and it reversed the award. The court allowed the parties to either enter a remittitur under section 768.043 of the Florida Statutes or be granted a new trial for the sole issue of the loss of future economic damages.

The Fifth District also assessed the collateral damages in Case No. 5D17-575 following a jury verdict in favor of a woman who was injured in a rear-end car accident case. The injured woman suffered shoulder, neck, knee, and low back pain as well as depression as a result of her injuries. The injured woman alleged she was unable to work due to her injuries, therefore losing a lot of income and the ability to earn income in the future. The defendant driver conceded fault but challenged the cause of the alleged injuries by the plaintiff and their respective costs. The jury returned a verdict awarding $50,000 for past medical expenses, $25,000 for future medical expenses, and $50,000 for past lost earnings. The jury declined to award any damages for future lost earnings.

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Personal injury litigation involves a lot of strategic anticipation. Even if a plaintiff is successful at trial, a defendant can ask for an adjustment, arguing the evidence did not support the amount of of damages awarded to the injured person. A Florida District Court of Appeal recently assessed a trial court’s refusal to grant Rear-ended carremittitur for a jury verdict awarding $100,000 for future medical expenses in an underinsured motorist (UM) car accident case.

The plaintiff was injured after a Florida car accident with an underinsured motorist. Even though the other driver admitted fault, her own insurance company refused to provide the requested UM coverage from the injured woman’s policy, arguing the alleged injury was not necessarily caused by the accident. The injured woman filed suit against her insurer for the benefits, and the jury awarded her $685,800, which included $158,000 for past medical expenses and $100,000 for future medical costs.

On appeal, the insurer argued the expert’s testimony was not properly disclosed prior to trial, that a treating physician should not have been able to testify as to why he referred the injured woman to a neurosurgeon, and that the comments made by the injured woman’s counsel during closing arguments were unfairly prejudicial. Upon review, the Court of Appeal did not find the trial court to have abused its discretion and affirmed the lower court’s rulings. However, the appellate court found the refusal to grant remittitur to be problematic.

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Many legal discussions about time and deadlines in a personal injury action revolve around filing or answering something too late. Sometimes, an action can be filed too early. If a claim is added too early or too late, the litigation can either be dismissed or derailed. This is seen in a recent car accident case from the Third District Court of Appeal (No. 3D17-1086), which determined a third-party bad-faith action was filed prematurely against the defendant’s insurance company.

The plaintiff sustained an injury as a passenger in a vehicle after another woman struck the car. The Passing of timedefendant driver was insured with a bodily injury policy that provided coverage for $10,000 per person and $20,000 per occurrence. The injured passenger filed suit against the woman within a year of the accident but moved to amend the complaint to include the defendant’s insurer. In the amended complaint, the injured person added a third-party bad-faith claim against the defendant’s insurer.

The insurance company moved to dismiss, arguing the bad-faith claim had not accrued and was premature. Section 627.4136 of the Florida Statutes requires a person seeking an action of liability against another party’s insurance company to obtain a settlement or verdict against the insured of the policy first. The trial court did not dismiss the claim against the insurer, instead choosing to abate the action until the negligence case against the driver was resolved. The insurance company appealed.

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