Second District Court of Appeal Allows Florida Victim to Keep Underinsured Car Accident Defendants in One Lawsuit
In a Florida car accident case, an injured person can be owed damages from multiple parties for a variety of reasons. One example is a chain reaction car accident, in which all of the acts of negligence happen almost simultaneously. A passenger could file suit for the negligent acts of the driver of her car and the drivers of other vehicles involved. Another example may be a construction accident in which an injured party is injured in one accident, but the cause of the accident stems from the negligent acts of other subcontractors preceding the accident. The injured person may seek recovery from his own employer under workers’ compensation and file personal injury lawsuits against the contracting companies.
A recently issued decision (Case No. 2D16-4642) looks at the due process surrounding an underinsured (UM) automobile accident with three separate claims of relief. The injured plaintiff suffered serious injuries after an intoxicated driver hit the car in which she was a passenger. The injured person filed suit, asking for 1) damages for the impaired driver’s negligence, 2) UM coverage from her own auto insurer, and 3) punitive damages from the impaired driver for his wanton conduct. The insurer moved to remove itself from the claims against the intoxicated driver, citing section 627.4136(1), Florida Statutes (2014). This statute dictates the non-joinder of insurers. The specific subsection states that a cause of action against a liability insurer by a person not insured under the policy must first obtain a settlement against the person insured under the policy before pursuing any cause of action against the insurer.
The insurer also claimed it was entitled to a separate trial from the driver under the rule of civil procedure FRCP 1.270(b) to avoid prejudice. The insurer claimed it was worried the jury would unfairly increase the verdict amount after hearing of the intoxicated driver’s behavior and the fact that the injured person was insured. The trial court agreed with all of the insurer’s arguments for severance and granted its motion.
The appellate court stated the injured person’s claims against her UM carrier and the impaired driver involve more than interrelated factual issues. The court noted the injured person’s case for recovery against her insurer for UM benefits is basically the same cause of action against the underinsured driver for damages for bodily injuries. The court felt that severance could result in inconsistent outcomes, in which one defendant points to the presence of the other defendant as the one who should bear the most financial liability, and the injured person receives less than she should, due to the separate trials. In this scenario, the court is unable to correct the material injury to the plaintiff on a post-judgment appeal.
The insurer pivoted from its original argument, acknowledging joinder is permitted under the circumstances. However, the insurer argued that joinder is not required, and the court had discretion under FRCP 1.270(b) to sever because the prejudice to them outweighed the injured person’s preference to try everything together. The court disagreed with the insurer’s interpretation of the civil rule, pointing out it is actually a departure from the goals of personal injury statutes and case law to allow claims to be severed when they are inextricably interwoven. The goal to make injured parties whole would be at risk with the possibility of the inconsistent verdicts described above. The appellate court also disagreed with the insurer that severance would nullify any prejudice it may receive. By the nature of an underinsured claim, the jury will know the injured person was insured. While the injured person must produce additional facts for the punitive damages claim, the heart of her argument will be the same against the impaired driver and the insurer. The petition for certiorari was granted, and the trial court’s order to sever the action was quashed.
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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