Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal has reversed a $182,000 verdict in favor of a man injured in a nighttime car accident in I-95.
The appeals court ruled the trial court erred when it failed to allow into evidence information regarding an incident that occurred a month after the crash. Plaintiff attorneys had argued the details would be substantially prejudicial in light of the probative value to the case, and the trial court agreed. Plaintiff ultimately won his case.
Central to that win was: Plaintiff’s credibility on the nature and severity of the crash and evidence pointing to the seriousness of his injuries, as caused by the crash. On appeal, where defendants argued the trial court erred and the error was not harmless, justices with the 3rd DCA ruled jurors in Maniglia v. Carpenter could likely have come to a very different conclusion on these points had evidence of the subsequent incident been allowed in court.
Here’s what happened, according to court records:
In the fall of 2009, two vehicles – one driven by defendant and another by plaintiff – collided on the South Florida highway while defendant was changing lanes.As a result, right rear of defendant’s car was damaged, as was the left front of plaintiff’s vehicle.
Defendant and his brother, a passenger in his vehicle at the time of the crash, told police investigators and later the court that the impact was “only a bump.” Plaintiff, however, characterized the impact as a sideswipe that was “severe” in nature.
Resolution of this disputed testimony is a matter of fact for the jury to decide, and as such, the credibility of those testifying is vital.
The day after the crash, plaintiff sought treatment from a chiropractor who ordered an X-ray and ultimately ascertained no evidence of an acute injury, though there was what he described as “normal wear-and-tear.” Physician did not restrict plaintiff to certain conditions for work.
Little more than a month later, plaintiff revisited that same doctor, who based on a new MRI scan, decided his injuries had worsened and he recommended back surgery.
Plaintiff sued defendant for damages.
However during pretrial discovery, an incident came to light that involved plaintiff, a golf cart accident and a reportedly drunken confrontation with police. Plaintiff was participating in a golf tournament when he allegedly drove the cart onto a public road and collided with a car. Plaintiff fell out of the golf cart onto the street. Police arrived on scene, and authorities say the dispute turned physical, with plaintiff fighting, kicking, profanity and wrestling with officers who were trying to take him to the ground. Police reported he was intoxicated, and arrested him for felony battery on a law enforcement officer.
There was reportedly no evidence indicating plaintiff revealed this incident to his doctor before seeking a follow-up exam.
Defense argued introducing this incident to the jury could help support two key theories:
- That plaintiff’s injuries were not caused by the auto accident with defendant, but rather by the later golf cart accident and police altercation.
- That plaintiff was not a credible witness, and his testimony regarding the severity of the first crash could not be given much weight.
Trial court ruled, however, that plaintiff’s case could be unfairly prejudiced by introduction of evidence that he was drunk and fought with a law enforcement officer – two things which didn’t have anything to do with the earlier crash.
On appeal, justices ruled this was incorrect because the evidence defense sought to submit went directly to issues of causation of injuries and plaintiff credibility. Thus, the earlier verdict was reversed and the case remanded for retrial.
Our Fort Myers accident attorneys know that while not all plaintiffs are saints or sometimes even likable people, this should not impact their recovery. Trials should never be popularity contests, but we do recognize that credibility does matter. Our goal is to fight for restriction of any potentially damaging information, while arguing to present as much favorable supporting evidence as possible.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Maniglia v. Carpenter , Nov. 4, 2015, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal
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$10 Million Truck Accident Lawsuit Accuses Driver of Distraction, Speeding, Nov. 7, 2015, Fort Myers Car Accident Lawyer Blog