Florida Appellate Decision Looks at Protective Order for a Child Eyewitness in a Car Accident Case

Eyewitness testimony in a car accident case can determine whether a defendant is held liable for negligence and the extent of the damages related to the injury. Courts can summon, or require, a person to appear in court or at a deposition to provide a statement and answer questions. However, sometimes a witness becomes unavailable or is incapable of providing testimony. Courts have long recognized that small children may not be able to provide any sort of meaningful testimony and have measures in place to help determine whether a child is mature enough to participate in the litigation process.

The role of a child eyewitness became a central concern in a recent decision (Case No. 2d16-4018). The plaintiff-mother was rear-ended at a gas station by another vehicle while waiting to turn onto a road. The injured person’s son was the only other passenger in her car and was not a party in the case. At the time of the accident, he was eight years old. After the mother filed suit, the defendant driver raised two affirmative defenses, alleging that the injured mother was negligent and that she failed to use a fully operational seatbelt. As part of the proceedings, the defendant driver sought to depose the injured mother’s son but was rebuffed by the mother. The mother claimed that the son could not provide any meaningful testimony relevant to the proceedings, and submitting him to deposition would cause unnecessary embarrassment, burden, annoyance, and expense.

The mother testified at her deposition that her son remembered the details of the accident at the time, but they had not spoken about it recently. She asserted she was at a complete stop when the accident occurred and using a seatbelt. The injured mother described the pain she continued to suffer in her neck and shoulder as a result of the accident. The mother also revealed that since the accident, she and her son had gone to Busch Gardens and ridden adult rollercoasters.

Following her deposition, the trial court conducted a hearing on the mother’s motion for the protective order for her son. The son by this time was 11 years old. At the hearing, the mother argued that minors are especially susceptible to intimidation during a deposition, and she questioned what the son would be able to provide in addition to her own statements. The defendant driver countered that the minor was an eyewitness to the accident, since he was sitting in the front passenger seat. The defendant argued that the minor could provide statements as to the forces of impact and the moments before the accident. The defense also stated the son could testify about his mother’s general health after the accident, since he lives with her full-time. The mother’s motion was granted, and the defendant sought certiorari relief from the pretrial discovery order.

The appellate court did not agree with the trial court’s ruling, noting that the trial court did not hear any evidence regarding the son’s lack of experience or maturity, nor did it hear how the deposition would be detrimental to him. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to seek a protective order denying or restricting discovery for “good cause shown.” If none is produced, the trial court departs from the essential requirements of law if a protective order is granted. The appellate court found that without any evidence regarding the child’s lack of maturity or inability to handle the deposition, no good cause was shown. The court agreed with the defendant that the child was a material witness and would help establish or dismantle positions as an eyewitness to the accident and an individual familiar with the plaintiff’s daily routines. The appellate court determined the trial court erred in granting the mother’s motion, reversing the protective order.

The Florida rear-end collision attorneys at Donaldson & Weston are here to help you with your car accident case. For a free, confidential consultation, call today at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

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