In any personal injury case, facts may emerge proving less-than-favorable to a plaintiff. All participants must nonetheless adhere to court orders and deadlines in production of certain information, or else risk sanctions up to and including dismissal of a case.
This is what happened in Comstock v. UPS, and it’s a good example of why cases need to be carefully vetted by plaintiff lawyers before ever reaching the discovery (evidence production) phase.
On the surface, plaintiff – later substituted by his daughter – appeared to have a strong case for compensation of damages suffered after plaintiff was rear-ended by a UPS truck. However, defendants contended plaintiff’s health may have at least been a contributing factor in the crash and sought documents from plaintiff to support this theory.
Plaintiff produced just one name of a physician he saw prior to the crash. He died a year later. His daughter, named estate administrator, was substituted as plaintiff and, when prompted did release some but not all medical record information requested by defense. The court ordered plaintiff to produce all requested items by the end of September 2012. She did not do so until December 2012, at which time she turned over some 3,000 documents, many of which reflected very poorly on decedent’s case.
As our truck accident lawyers understand it, the evidence showed plaintiff’s father suffered from vision problems, as well as dizziness, paranoia and hallucinations while driving. In fact, he’d been instructed not to drive at night, and was hospitalized just hours before the crash. Plaintiff had even contacted police that night, concerned because she learned her father set off on an overnight trip out-of-state.
Of course, none of these issues were favorable to plaintiff’s case, but they weren’t necessarily going to ruin it entirely. Even with these issues, it does not excuse the commercial truck driver’s negligence in failing to maintain a safe distance/speed to avoid a rear-end collision.
In a state like Florida, which recognizes comparable fault, such revelation may reduce the overall damage award, but would not bar the claim entirely.
Unfortunately, what resulted in the claim’s dismissal was the fact plaintiff failed to meet the deadline to turn over documents. Trial court, in a decision later affirmed by the Eighth District Court of Appeal, ruled this amounted to misconducted.
Plaintiff asserted she was not aware of her father’s poor health prior to the accident, but the court found this “strained credulity,” particularly because she’d called police the night of the crash to check on her father.
Further, plaintiff hired an accident reconstructionist as an expert witness to conduct various tests on the scene. However, those test results were not all turned over to UPS, presumably because they weren’t favorable to her position.
Through these actions, the court found plaintiff intentionally violated federal rules of civil procedure. It granted defendant’s motion for dismissal.
Upon appeal, justices were not swayed by plaintiff’s argument that while defendant was prejudiced by her actions, the prejudice was curable. At no point did plaintiff contest she had engaged in misconduct or acted to hamper defendant’s ability to conduct depositions or obtain certain key information.
Given all this, justices found trial court was within its discretion to dismiss the personal injury lawsuit with prejudice – meaning it may not be refiled.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Comstock v. UPS, Dec. 30, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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Report: Minivan Crash Test Reveals Safety Deficiencies, Dec. 19, 2014, Tampa Truck Accident Lawyer Blog