Civil courts have the power to sanction parties if actions taken or not taken during a litigation period are egregious to the process. A recent Florida uninsured motorist accident appeal heard in Florida’s Fifth District Court dealt with a sanction issued by the trial court to the party. The appellate court felt dismissing the action with prejudice was too harsh a penalty for the concerning behavior.
The plaintiff was injured by an uninsured motorist on a highway in 2014. The injured person’s policy provided $250,000 worth of uninsured motorist coverage. His insurance company denied his claim for benefits, and the injured person filed a breach of contract claim against his insurer. During the discovery phase, the insurance company subpoenaed the injured person’s medical records and history, insurance claim history, and employment history.
As a courtesy, the injured person advised the defendant insurer that he was scheduled for surgery within a few weeks. The insurer asked for a compulsory medical examination (CME) prior to the scheduled surgery, and it offered two dates for this to occur prior to the procedure. The injured person advised he could not make either date. The insurer then asked the court to mandate the injured person to undergo the CME, asserting there was insufficient time for it to conduct one before the injured person’s surgery. The trial court granted the motion, ordering the injured person to undergo the CME or delay the procedure. The trial court also required the insurer to provide two more dates for the CME.
The insurer only gave one additional date before the scheduled surgery for the CME, allowing less than 24 hours for the injured person to confirm the appointment. The injured person attempted to make time and asked off from work to attend the CME. Before it was approved by his employer, the date was withdrawn by the insurance company. The insured then gave three more dates for a CME appointment, but all of those fell after the scheduled procedure. A week prior to the surgery, the injured person requested the court to allow him to undergo the operation as scheduled. In support, he argued the insurer failed to show that it would be prejudiced by a post-op CME. The plaintiff noted the insurer already had other medical records to utilize. The court denied the injured person’s motion and ordered him to reschedule the surgery for a different date.
The plaintiff chose to have the surgery on the originally scheduled date. The insurer moved to have the plaintiff sanctioned, alleging the injured person had willfully disregarded the court’s order. Despite the documented attempt to follow the court’s mandate and the lack of discovery abuses, the court found the plaintiff’s refusal to postpone the surgery was inexcusable and granted the defendant insurer’s request. The court additionally found the refusal to have prejudiced the defendant insurer by preventing the pre-surgical CME and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.
This appeal followed, with the plaintiff arguing the dismissal with prejudice was too severe for the action taken. The injured person maintained the insurer failed to show how noncompliance with the pre-operative CME was prejudicial to its case. Case law has established dismissal with prejudice should only occur in extreme circumstances. The appellate court pointed out sanctions were created to ensure parties follow the rules of civil procedure. There is not an intention to punish. If a less severe sanction would fail to be fair, dismissal with prejudice is appropriate. The Court of Appeal ultimately concluded the circumstances in this uninsured motorist case did not rise to this level of sanction, finding the court abused its discretion to order a dismissal with prejudice. The plaintiff was not required to disclose the surgery, and the defendant also failed to comply with the court’s order. The court additionally found the defendant allowing the CME date to lapse while the plaintiff attempted to gain approval for leave with his employer to be problematic. The trial court’s decision was reversed and the case remanded, allowing the injured person once more to pursue his claim.
If you’ve been injured in an uninsured motorist accident, call the Florida personal injury attorneys at Donaldson & Weston today. Our office can be reached at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.
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Florida District Appellate Court Reviews Future Medical Expenses in Multi-Car Accident Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 28, 2016
Federal Circuit Court of Appeal Declines to Find Equitable Tolling in Slip and Fall Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 21, 2016
Florida Court of Appeal Allows Injured Motorist to Pursue Additional PIP Payments to Medical Providers, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, May 18, 2017