Florida Fifth District Affirms in Part and Reverses in Part Uninsured Motorist Car Accident Verdict

Personal injury litigation involves a lot of strategic anticipation. Even if a plaintiff is successful at trial, a defendant can ask for an adjustment, arguing the evidence did not support the amount of of damages awarded to the injured person. A Florida District Court of Appeal recently assessed a trial court’s refusal to grant remittitur for a jury verdict awarding $100,000 for future medical expenses in an underinsured motorist (UM) car accident case.

The plaintiff was injured after a Florida car accident with an underinsured motorist. Even though the other driver admitted fault, her own insurance company refused to provide the requested UM coverage from the injured woman’s policy, arguing the alleged injury was not necessarily caused by the accident. The injured woman filed suit against her insurer for the benefits, and the jury awarded her $685,800, which included $158,000 for past medical expenses and $100,000 for future medical costs.

On appeal, the insurer argued the expert’s testimony was not properly disclosed prior to trial, that a treating physician should not have been able to testify as to why he referred the injured woman to a neurosurgeon, and that the comments made by the injured woman’s counsel during closing arguments were unfairly prejudicial. Upon review, the Court of Appeal did not find the trial court to have abused its discretion and affirmed the lower court’s rulings. However, the appellate court found the refusal to grant remittitur to be problematic.

The Fifth District appellate court determined the trial court erred by refusing to reduce the award of damages based on the testimony provided at trial. The injured woman provided the testimony of her treating physician to help explain the expected medical costs she would incur. The physician testified that his patient would need routine follow-up visits on a schedule similar to one she followed after the accident. The doctor stated the prior billing of $35,947 would reflect the probable costs in the future. The doctor also testified the injured woman may need different types of treatment, which may include trigger point injections.

The court of appeal did not feel this testimony reached the requirement under Florida law for future medical expenses to be “reasonably certain.” The court found the physician’s testimony included too many hypotheticals of care. Prior Florida case law held that testimony or evidence that certain treatments might possibly be obtained in the future cannot merit an award of future medical expenses. (See Gen. Emps. Ins. Co. v. Isaacs, 206 So. 3d 62, 63 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016)). The appellate court found the allowance of future medical expenses to be inappropriate because there was no specific or general dollar amount stated.

The court also did not believe the jury was provided with a reliable method to calculate the cost of the potential additional future care. Volusia City v. Joint, 179 So. 3d 448, (Fla. 5th DCA 2015) previously held there must be an evidentiary basis upon which the jury can determine the amount of future medical expenses with reasonable certainty. Since the physician’s testimony was limited to routine follow-ups, the court felt the award of $100,000 could not have been based on competent evidence, as required by Florida law. The final judgment dealing with remittitur was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court to either grant the defendant insurer’s motion or conduct a new trial limited to a determination on future medical expenses.

Insurance companies will try to find any way to lessen or avoid the payment of benefits. Responsible Florida residents with UM coverage should not be restricted financially when an accident happens. The Florida car accident attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the personal injury experience you need to aggressively pursue all of the damages available to you. 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