Florida car accident cases, like a wide variety of other legal matters, are often settled among the parties before or during trial. In Bern v. Camejo, the state’s Third District Court of Appeals explains that one party’s settlement of claims against it should not be considered by a jury in assessing similar claims against another party.
Ms. Bern was injured in a three-car accident in Miami when the car she was driving collided with cars driven by Ms. Acevedo and Ms. Perez. She later sued Acevedo and Mr. Camejo, the owner of the car Acevedo was driving, as well as Perez and Mr. Martinez, the owner of the car Perez was driving. Bern settled her claims against Perez and Martinez prior to trial and dismissed the claims against them.
Also prior to trial, it became clear that Acevedo and Bern intended to argue that it was Perez who caused the accident by driving negligently. The trial judge partly denied Bern’s motion in limine seeking to exclude the defendants from telling the jury that Perez had originally been party to the suit. The judge agreed with the defendants that the jury had the right to know that Perez was still a party to the suit when she gave a deposition in the matter because it was relevant in weighing the credibility of the testimony she gave. The trial court granted a portion of the motion in limine, however, prohibiting the parties from mentioning or introducing evidence that Perez had settled with Bern.
Although the jury ultimately returned a verdict in Bern’s favor, it found that she was 60 percent liable for the accident and that Perez was 30 percent responsible. Under the “comparative negligence” system in place in Florida, a person who is injured partly due to his or her own negligence can hold another party liable only to the extent of his or her proportionate responsibility. As a result, the jury found that Acevedo was only liable for 10 percent of Bern’s damages stemming from the accident.
On appeal, Bern argued that the trial court erred by allowing Acevedo and Camejo to repeatedly introduce evidence and remind the jury that Perez was originally named in the suit, leading the jurors to conclude that she was ultimately dismissed from the action because she settled the claims against her. The Third District agreed.
“The fact of . . . a release or covenant not to sue, or that any defendant has been dismissed by order of the court shall not be made known to the jury,” the Court explained, quoting Section 768.041(3), Florida Statutes (2012). It said this law was intended to promote a policy favoring the settlement of claims. Here, the defendants didn’t specifically indicate that Perez had settled the claims against her or that those claims had been dismissed from the case. Nevertheless, the court held that the repeated references to Perez’s original involvement in the case lead “the jury logically and reasonably to conclude Bern had settled her claim against Perez prior to trial.”
The Third District reversed the jury verdict and remanded the case back to the trial court for a new trial.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, contact the South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Ft. Lauderdale, Hialeah and Coral Springs. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or fill out and submit an online Contact Us form to schedule a free consultation.
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