Court of Appeal Reinstates Verdict for Insurance Company in Florida Uninsured Motorist Coverage Case

When serious injuries are litigated in a car accident case, the injured party must show the jury the connection between the injury suffered and the accident. The injured person must also demonstrate the types of care needed to treat the long-lasting effects of the injury, along with the associated costs. This is often accomplished through the testimony of expert witnesses. The Fifth District recently assessed the testimony of experts in a Florida uninsured/underinsured motorist accident case to determine whether or not the trial court should have awarded a directed verdict.

In this case, the plaintiff suffered injuries to her neck and spine after a car accident. The injured person and her husband sought UM coverage from their auto policy, which was denied. The case proceeded to trial, at which the injured woman and her neurosurgeon testified to the cause of the injury and its permanency. At the end of the insurance company’s case, the plaintiffs moved for a directed verdict, which was eventually granted after the jury verdict. The jury found the plaintiff suffered injuries, damages, and losses, granting $7,000 in lost wages. It did not find the woman suffered permanent injuries. The trial court granted the injured person’s motions for a directed verdict and a new trial.

Florida case law previously established a motion for directed verdict should only be granted when there is no reasonable evidence on which a jury can rely for its verdict in favor of the non-moving party. If there is any conflicting evidence, a directed verdict is not appropriate because factual determinations are to be made by the jury. This includes determinations of the permanency of an injury. A directed verdict for permanency based on expert testimony is disallowed when it is rebutted by another expert, the testimony is impeached, or other conflicting evidence is provided.

During the trial, the treating neurosurgeon testified he performed a cervical fusion on the injured woman. He stated the accident aggravated the injured woman’s pre-existing neck problems caused by degenerative disc disease. He additionally opined his patient would possibly need future surgery and probably had a 15-20 percent increased risk of degenerative change as a result of the procedure. The insurance company noted the expert’s own testimony included doubt as to causation. The physician did not treat her prior to the accident, he did not know how long the compression in the cervical discs had existed, and he was not aware of how long the injured woman had degenerative disc disease. The injured woman’s expert did not review any of her prior medical records or diagnostic studies. The insurer’s expert contradicted the operating neurosurgeon’s opinion that the plaintiff suffered nerve compression in her neck. The insurer’s expert testified she suffered from a degenerative disc disease, which is a common source of neck pain.

The injured woman’s testimony was also problematic to the appellate court. She did not remember what she said immediately after the accident. She testified she only remembered sitting in the emergency room with a bad headache, but then she insisted she remembered someone banging on the car window after the accident, asking if someone hit them. The Court of Appeal determined this contradicted the EMT’s testimony, which described the injured woman as walking around after the accident, denying she had back or neck pain.

The appellate court, after reviewing all of the testimony, concluded the jury could have rejected the operating neurosurgeon’s opinion regarding causation and permanency. The court ruled the trial court erred by entering a directed verdict. The finding was reversed and remanded for reinstatement of the jury’s verdict.

This case demonstrates how expert testimony can greatly affect the outcome for an injured party. The Florida uninsured motorist accident attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the litigation experience you need to help you with your personal injury case. Call our office today at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 for a free, confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

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