Articles Posted in Personal Injury

In a recent Florida brain injury case, a teenager suffered permanent brain damage after her treatment for hydrocephalus at a Medical Center and Children’s Hospital. The teen had been diagnosed with hydrocephalus at 12 years of age, caused by a tumor creating a build-up of excess cerebral spinal fluid in the brain. To assist with the blockage, she underwent surgery, which went well. Another procedure was Expanse of brainscheduled two years later to address the scar tissue left by the first procedure and remove the blockage building back up.

Before she could undergo surgery, she began vomiting and experiencing painful headaches. The girl’s parents called the children’s hospital, which advised them to take her to the nearest hospital for a CT scan, if they could not make it to their facility. The daughter arrived by ambulance and was labeled as an “urgent” status rather than emergent or non-urgent status. The treating doctor in the medical center ordered a CT scan and examined the teen. The physician noted a normal pupillary exam with no deficits to her eyes. Another eye exam was performed, which again showed her pupils reacted to light and were equal to each other. When the CT scan results came out, the radiologist determined the teen’s hydrocephalus was worsening based on a comparison to a scan taken six months earlier. Despite this, the treating physician at the center called the teen’s pediatrician and reported her condition as “stable.”

Transit from the medical center was arranged between the children’s hospital and the medical center. Within the hour and twenty minutes between the call from the treating physician and the estimated pick-up time by the helicopter, the teen began vomiting and experiencing a low heart rate. This was relayed to the children’s hospital and medical center staff. The teen was then placed on the helicopter 25 minutes after the estimated arrival time and examined by medical staff onboard. The nurse determined she had a decrease in speech but was able to respond to her mother by nodding her head. The teen was taken straight to the ER, but she arrived in critical condition and had to undergo an emergency ventriculostomy. Even though the procedure saved her life, the teen suffered permanent brain damage with great mental impairment. The teen is no longer able to feed herself, nor is she able to live or work independently.

Section 627.727, Florida statutes delineates the requirements for (UM) uninsured motorist coverage – specifically how an insurer must document the rejection of coverage. The insured can select UM coverage lower than the bodily injury liability limits of the policy or reject coverage entirely, but she or he must do so through writing. In a recent Florida car accident case, No. 4D17-332, the court looked at whether an insurance company failed to follow the UM statutory guidelines. The insured purchased uninsured motorist (UM) coverage for two vehicles. He filled out an online form, which did not allow him to sign anything, nor did it provide the ability to reject or deselect non-stacked coverage. The signing page also did not have warning language, as required by law. The appellate court determined the insurer failed to comply with the written notice carprovisions, and as a result, the insured did not knowingly reject stacked coverage or accept non-stacked UM coverage.

The trial court judge found the documentation used by the insurance company did not comply with the specificities of Florida statute 627.727. The written notice with warning language was to be in a 12-point font and signed by the insured. The warning page did not have a signature line for the insured and was not signed by the insured. A different page had a signature but only incorporated the required warnings by reference. The judge also noted the online form did not allow a user to un-select the automated waiver of stacked coverage. The judge granted the insured’s motion for summary judgment, and the insurer appealed. The insurer did not argue against any of the judge’s findings on appeal, instead claiming the policy-holder orally rejected the stacked UM coverage. The case went on to be tried on the oral rejection issue alone, with a jury verdict in favor of the insurance company.

Section 627.727, Florida statutes is filled with very specific requirements preceded by the word “shall,” strictly limiting the interpretation to what is within the body of the statute. The appellate court noted this was all written with the intent to promote UM coverage and avoid costs borne by the taxpayer after car accidents. The court stated the legislature understood the short attention span of the average consumer and the need for essential information to be relayed efficiently and prominently, thus coming up with the specific requirements. Various appellate courts and the state’s supreme court reviewed these statutory mandates and found them to be acceptable. The legislative history shows this to be a compromise between keeping drivers adequately covered in the event of a UM accident and the insurance companies’ competition.

A Florida personal injury judgment against an aesthetician and a spa was recently upheld by the Fourth District Court of Appeal. In Case No. 4D16-2530, a woman was injured after a facial at a spa went very wrong. The injured customer filled out a form advising she had the skin condition rosacea, which is a chronic inflammation of the face. Prior to the treatment at the spa, the condition was mild with only a rosy flush in Covered faceher cheeks. The aesthetician performing the facial admitted she did not read the form before the procedure, and if she had been aware of the condition, she would have used a different product or performed a test on a part of her face.

The plaintiff stated her face felt like it was burning during the procedure and continued to burn afterward. The injured woman’s face oozed and remained bright red. During the trial, the injured woman’s face was bumpy and easily turned red whenever the temperature increased or she was out in the sun. The pattern of bumps and redness were in the exact shape of the burn to her face. The woman testified at trial that before the injury, she had smooth skin and never wore makeup. After the incident, people would inquire if she was all right any time her face became red, asking what was wrong. The plaintiff stated that she now has to wear makeup to feel comfortable in public, and she has become more shy and awkward as a result of her appearance.

At trial, the injured woman presented several expert witnesses to the jury to help document the history and worsening of her skin condition. Her treating dermatologist related that her condition was mild and had been improving prior to the facial. Following the peel, he diagnosed her with severe irritant contact dermatitis, prescribing an antibiotic cream. The dermatologist tracked the continued inflammation and hyper-pigmentation in the months after the peel. A plastic surgeon also testified, describing his examination of the plaintiff after the chemical peel. He stated that her face had been permanently damaged because the peel removed the skin’s protective barrier. He opined that the disfigurement and scarring were permanent and that she’d need a lifetime of dermatological care to control the outbreaks of her skin. He stated she could never return to her appearance before the peel.

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Florida car accidents are often caused by poor choices made by other drivers or bad weather conditions. Occasionally, they are caused by hazards created by construction zones or the design of a roadway. The Third District Court of Appeal recently issued an opinion in a negligence action filed against a gas station. The plaintiff alleged a cut across a median requested and promoted by the gas station caused the errant car to strike the plaintiff’s car, causing her bodily injuries.  gas pumpThe claims made by the injured woman against the gas station were dismissed by the trial court, which was affirmed in part and reversed in part by the Court of Appeal.

The car accident happened on a four-lane road with two lanes of traffic on each side of a concrete median. The plaintiff stated another car pulled out of the gas station, went across the cut in the median, and joined the lane of traffic she was occupying. The injured woman claimed the car from the gas station caused her to lose control of her car and hit a palm tree. She did not allege any obstruction in her view.

The gas station purchased the property near the accident after making a deal with the city several decades ago. The gas station petitioned for a cut in the median so that traffic could enter and exit from both eastbound and westbound lanes. During the application process, the gas station submitted a traffic study. The plaintiff alleged that this was done improperly and that the gas station did not make necessary adjustments to their signage to deal with the foreseeable dangers to the public.

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In all civil litigation, the right to appeal an order of the trial court is essential to the judicial process. Incorporating tiers of review injects a system of checks and balances. If one suffers an injury in an accident, files suit, is dealt an unfavorable ruling, and feels the court ruled incorrectly, one can appeal the decision by the trial court judge. Since there are statutory timelines for filing suit, there are timelines for an issue or verdict to be appealed. Statutory time limitations help establish finality and closure for litigants or potential parties. Even with these measures in place, it is not always clear when all appellate options are truly exhausted.  time movesThe Third District recently assessed whether an issue involving Personal Injury Protection benefits (PIP) could be re-examined in light of a state Supreme Court decision issued early in 2017.

The underlying legal issue in this Florida car accident case asked whether or not the PIP automobile insurance policy contained the required specific language to limit provider reimbursements. Section 627.736(5)(a)2.f. Florida Statutes (2013) allows a reduction of 80% of the maximum charges, but the insurer must provide notice it is choosing to elect this reduction to the insured. The medical provider, dissatisfied with the PIP payments issued to them by the auto insurer, filed suit in 2013 for what they considered to be the full amount of PIP payments obligated under the law. The trial court issued a directed verdict for the medical provider, based on its conclusion the auto policy language wasn’t specific, as required by the Florida statutes.

The insurer appealed to the appellate division of the circuit court but did not seek a stay pending review. The medical care provider also did not seek execution or other enforcement of the trial court’s judgment. In 2015, the circuit court appellate panel affirmed the final judgment against the insurer, based on the case law at the time of its decision. The circuit court panel noted in its decision that appeals in other district appellate courts addressed this issue but were in conflict with one another on what constituted sufficient notice. The Third District Court of Appeal did not have a decision at that time to follow.

If a product causes serious injuries, the manufacturer can be held strictly liable for the injury. The manufacturer is accountable for a defective design or failing to warn of dangers. In a recent Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals lawsuit, the manufacturer of a transvaginal mesh product appealed the final judgment awarding over $6 million to a woman substantially injured by its product. The injured woman’s lawsuit originated in West Virginia but was consolidated and transferred to the Eleventh Circuit with similar Florida product liability cases. The manufacturer argued the federal district court abused its discretion by consolidating the cases. The manufacturer also claimed the court erred by denying it a judgment as a matter of law because the plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence for both the design defect claim and the failure to warn claim.

The product at the center of the litigation was a transvaginal mesh device prescribed and transplanted by doctors. The product is a mesh sheet that is implanted to prevent the uterus, rectum, or bladder from falling through the vagina. The material making up the mesh was made from a type of plastic and cleared by the FDA, based on its similarity to an equivalent device on the market. The plaintiff had the mesh implanted in 2008 after suffering from pelvic Rusted Meshorgan prolapse. Following the surgery, she experienced pain and bleeding during intercourse, pelvic pain and pressure, and incontinence. Six months after the surgery, a visit to the doctor revealed she had exposed mesh in her vagina. The doctor operated in-office to trim the exposed mesh, but that did not alleviate the discomfort. Eventually, a second procedure was needed, which resolved the pain but caused her to lose sensitivity in her vagina.

On appeal, the defendant argued the consolidation caused unacceptable prejudice. The Circuit Court was unpersuaded by this, looking at established case law in holding the decision to consolidate is purely discretionary. Many factors are considered when weighing consolidation, including the burden on the parties, witnesses, the availability of judicial resources, and the length of time to conclude several cases as opposed to one. Prejudice against the opposing party is also assessed, but courts look at available remedies to mitigate the risks of confusion and prejudice. The appellate court concluded a joint trial was appropriate because there was substantial overlap in the evidence, facts, witnesses, and issues. The district judge had also utilized jury instructions to remind the jury there were multiple plaintiffs with unique aspects to their cases.

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Many considerations are made when filing a Florida car accident lawsuit. The injured person must name and notify all parties responsible for the injury, think of the experts needed to connect the defendants’ actions to the injury, and collect documentation to show the damages amount needed to cover the incurred hospital bills and lost wages. An important decision, albeit less obvious, is where to file the lawsuit. In a car accident lawsuit, an action may be filed in the home county of the insured, the county of residence of the defendant, or the county where the accident occurred. A recent Fourth District Court of Appeal decision (No. 4D17-1546) reveals additional locations where a lawsuit may be filed when an injured person must file suit against an insurance company to receive uninsured/underinsured (UM) benefits.

This appeal stemmed from a lawsuit against two uninsured motorist insurers. The injured person was a resident of Broward County, and the uninsured defendant driver was a resident of Hillsborough County. Taking the wheelThe accident occurred on I-75 in Manatee County. UM claims were filed with his insurance companies, which were both denied. Both companies were foreign corporations. The injured person then filed suit in Palm Beach County, which contains an office for an agent of one of the insurers. One of the defendant insurers filed a motion pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.060 to transfer to a different county, which was granted. The plaintiff appealed.

Chapter 47 of the Florida Statutes provides the guidelines for determining proper venue. If the defendant is a domestic corporation, the lawsuit can only be brought in the county where the corporation usually keeps an office to handle its usual business, where the cause of action happened, or where the property in litigation is located. Similarly, lawsuits against foreign corporations are brought where the business has an agent or other representative, where the cause of action accrued, or where the property in the litigation is located. If there is more than one defendant, Chapter 47 allows the lawsuit to be brought in any county in which any defendant resides.

When responsible drivers purchase car insurance, especially additional coverage for uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) coverage, they believe they are ensuring payment when accidents occur. A recently issued opinion from Florida’s Second District Court of of Appeal presents all of the various considerations a claimant should have when seeking payment from the insurer. The plaintiff-appellant in this Florida auto accident lawsuit was injured as a passenger in her father’s car. The woman filed claims against the driver of the other vehicle, alleging the costs of her injury exceeded the policy limits of the defendant. The injured daughter was covered by two UM policies through her father and mother, each from different auto insurers. The father’s policy provided $20,000 worth of UM coverage, and her mother’s provided $25,000 of UM coverage.

The daughter sued her mother’s insurer for UM benefits but did not sue her father’s insurer.  Pushing throughThe circuit court found she did not satisfy the condition precedent in her mother’s policy, denying her benefits of any amount. The court additionally ruled that even if the condition precedent were satisfied, she would only be able to access the difference between the policies in the amount of $5,000.00. Her mother’s insurer moved for summary judgment after this assessment, knowing the statute of limitations prevented the injured person from obtaining the father’s policy limits, so she would never be able to satisfy the preceding condition. The injured person appealed.

The insurer’s policy stated that an injured party may not sue for benefits if they have not met the terms of the policy. The relevant parts of the mother’s policy stated that when the injured person is entitled to recover damages in excess of the other policy limit, the insurer will pay up to the UM policy limit after the other collectible insurance has been exhausted. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.120(c) allows condition precedents to be generally made, but the party denying the occurrence or performance of a condition precedent must plead it with particularity and specificity.

Florida auto accident litigation has many phases after the initial lawsuit is filed. Many appellate decisions focus on summary judgments or jury verdicts, but a lot of legal process can be left after a jury trial – especially in auto accident cases in which additional claims must be pursued separately. Post-trial motions can alter jury verdicts to the point they are unrecognizable from the amounts awarded by a jury of peers. Experienced personal injury litigators can make a huge difference by aggressively pursuing different avenues of legal relief and defending the amounts awarded by a jury.

This summer, the Third District Court of Appeal issued an opinion that dealt with an award of attorneys’ fees from the injured person to the injured cyclist’s insurance company. An underinsured driver hit the injured man, who was riding his bicycle in a pedestrian crosswalk. The injured cyclist alleged the collision caused severe and permanent injuries worth over $300,000.bicycleThe injured cyclist filed suit against his own auto insurer, asking for the UM (underinsured/uninsured) coverage through his personal auto insurance policy.

Prior to trial, his insurer provided a couple of proposals for settlement. The proposals gave notice of the insurer’s attempt to resolve the claims. Attached to the proposals were releases that broadly covered all present and future claims that he or any of his heirs or representatives may have. The injured person took the matter to trial, at which the jury found the injured cyclist and the defendant driver to be equally responsible for the injuries that occurred. The jury awarded $110,000 for past medical expenses, but it declined to award future damages, past pain and suffering, and future pain and suffering. The court conducted a post-trial hearing and considered motions by both parties. Ultimately, the court entered a final judgment in favor of the injured person for $5,000. The plaintiff appealed the final judgment, which was affirmed by the Third District Court of Appeal in a per curiam decision. Following that determination in its favor, the insurer then moved for attorneys’ fees, based on its proposal for settlement.

The Florida First District Court of Appeal recently issued an opinion regarding the coverage in an auto insurance policy for a woman severely injured in a motorcycle accident.  The woman’s mother had purchased “two-parent family” auto insurance coverage for herself, her spouse, and her children.  “Dependent children” were defined in the mother’s policy as natural children who are unmarried, under 25, and qualify as legal dependents for tax exemption purposes under the US Tax code. 

The injured woman filed suit and the matter eventually went to a jury trial.  Both witness and expert medical testimony were offered, providing conflicting accounts to the fact-finder.  The insurer claimed the injured woman was not in a coma long enough to qualify for coverage.  The appellate court found there was competent substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings of the injury.  The trial court agreed the type of injuries suffered were covered within the auto policy for the coma and third degree burns.  The court, however, did not agree the injured woman was a “dependent child” under the policy.  Standing motorcycleThe court determined she was ultimately not covered and the insurer was not obligated to pay benefits for her injury.  The family appealed. 

Case law directs courts to favor the plain language of an insurance contract.  The appellate court found the policy language to be extremely clear about the definition of a dependent.  The parties agreed the IRS definition for a dependent was based on Internal Revenue Code (I.R.C.) section 152 which allows a qualifying child to be anyone who bears a relationship to the taxpayer, shares the same principal place of abode as the taxpayer, meets the age requirements (under 19 by the end of the calendar year, or under 24 and a student); and has not provided more than half of the individual’s own support.  The insurer argued the policy’s definition contradicted itself with the phrase “under age 25”, which differs from the age requirements in Internal Revenue Code (I.R.C.) section 152.  When she was injured, the plaintiff was over the age of 19 and not a student nor disabled. 

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