In Gautreaux v. Maya, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals explains that a simple disagreement about a person’s medical history is not enough to warrant that the person’s car accident lawsuit be dismissed for fraud on the court.
Ms. Gautreaux sued Mr. Estrada for negligence, alleging that she suffered continuing migraine headaches as a result of a car crash. Estrada filed a motion to dismiss the claim, arguing that Gautreaux perpetrated fraud on the court by lying in a deposition – and to a neurologist who treated her after the accident – that she had never suffered headaches prior to the crash.
Maya obtained a number of documents via discovery which showed that Gautreaux had a previous history of headaches. On a medical history form completed more than two years before the accident, Gautreaux said she had suffered frequent headaches. In addition, hospital records showed that she visited an emergency room a year before the accident complaining of a headache and eye pain. A physician’s report from this visit indicated that Gautreaux complained of a migrane headache that started three days earlier and which was similar to previous episodes.
During a second deposition after Maya filed to motion to dismiss, Gautreaux claimed that she had been confused by the attorney’s use of the term “headaches” – as opposed to one single “headache” – during the previous questioning and that she “remembered now” being treated for a headache in one single incident. A trail court dismissed the action with prejudice, finding that Gautreaux had committed fraud on the court.
The Fifth District reversed the decision on appeal. “Fraud on the court means that a party has sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier of fact or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party’s claim or defense,” the court explained, quoting its 2008 decision in Cox v. Burke. “Because dismissal sounds the death knell of the lawsuit, courts must reserve such strong medicine for instances where the defaulting party’s misconduct is correspondingly egregious.”
Here, the court said that the “testimonial discrepancy” concerning Gautreaux’s previous headache history was not enough to warrant dismissal for fraud. Specifically, the evidence did not clearly indicate that Gautreaux had engaged in a scheme designed to perpetrate fraud on the court. As a result, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.
This case is a good example of the evidence disputes that often arise in car accident litigation. Medical history and other related documentation is key to a car accident lawsuit in that it can establish the full extent of any injuries suffered due to a crash. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, contact the South Florida car accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine. From offices in Ft. Lauderdale, we serve clients throughout the area, including in Hialeah, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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