Most drivers have auto insurance. In fact, it’s required by law in Florida. But as the Fourth District Court of Appeal recently explained in Herrera v. Moustafa, insurance coverage is typically something that shouldn’t be discussed in front of a jury in a Florida car accident case.
Hadeer Moustafa was injured in an auto accident when the car he was driving was struck by a vehicle driven by Alvin Herrera. The vehicle was owned by Herrera’s wife and insured through GEICO. The insurance company provided the couple’s legal defense when Moustafa later sued them for negligence.
At trial, the Herreras’ lawyer called two expert witnesses – Dr. Richard Simon and Dr. Michael Raskin – to testify regarding the extent of Moustafa’s injuries caused by the accident. Each witness was paid by GEICO for their services. The parties disputed whether Moustafa should be permitted to mention GEICO’s involvement in the case and the company’s payments to the experts.
In Florida car accident cases, evidence regarding a party’s insurance coverage is typically not admissible. Courts consider such evidence prejudicial. For example, a jury may be more likely to award significant money damages against a defendant where it knows that an insurance company is footing the bill.
While Moustafa agreed that it was not necessary to inform the jury about GEICO’s role in the litigation, he argued that he should be able to challenge the experts’ credibility by questioning them about their earnings from testifying in other cases in which the company was involved. The trial court agreed, allowing Moustafa’s attorney to ask each doctor on cross-examination about the amount of money he had earned from testifying as an expert for “defense counsel’s employer” through December 2008: $330,000 for Simon and more than $243,000 for Raskin.
Following trial, the jury entered a verdict in Moustafa’s favor, awarding him nearly $145,000 in damages. GEICO appealed, arguing that the trial court should not have permitted the questioning regarding the experts’ payments from GEICO.
The Fourth District explained that handling the issue of insurance in a car accident case requires a delicate balancing act. While evidence of insurance coverage is generally prejudicial, a jury is entitled to know about the relationship between experts and parties, including the total amount that an expert has been paid to testify on a party’s behalf. “Where an insurer provides a defense for its insured and is acting as the insured’s agent, the insurer’s relationship to an expert is discoverable from the insured,” the court said.
Here, the trial court properly walked this fine line by allowing Moustafa to discuss the experts’ financial gains from testifying as experts for GEICO without specifically discussing the Herreras’ insurance coverage or the company’s involvement in the case, according to the court. “Although the questions could have been phrased differently so as to avoid reference to the ‘defense attorney’s employer,’ the questions, as a whole, remained appropriate inquiries into bias,” the court held.
As a result, the court affirmed the jury verdict.
Cross-examination of expert witnesses is an important part of personal injury litigation and one of the many ways in which an experienced attorney can assist a person who’s been injured in a car accident win his or her case. The South Florida accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine represent clients throughout the area, including in Hialeah, Pompano Beach and Coral Springs. If you were recently injured in a car accident, call us for a free consultation today.
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