In Health First, Inc. v. Cataldo, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reviews a $2 million verdict in a Florida rear-end car accident case.

Cheryl Cataldo was injured in a car accident when hers was rear-ended by another car owned by Health First and driven by one of the company’s employees. She was diagnosed with cervical strain and underwent surgery five months later. Cataldo claimed that she was no longer able to work as a dental hygienist following the accident.

Cataldo sued Health First and the employee, alleging that the employee’s negligence caused the accident, which in turn resulted in her injury. She decided to withdraw claims associated with brain and dental injuries she allegedly incurred in the accident shortly before trial was set to begin. According to the Fifth District, “[t]hese claims had been areas of particular dispute, as defense counsel believed Cataldo had been caught in lies during discovery that impacted these claims.” The trial court also ruled that Health First would not be allowed to present evidence related to the withdrawn claims in an attempt to impeach Cataldo.

The trial court denied Health First’s request for continuance, in which the company’s attorney argued that he needed extra time to prepare because the defense had been predicated on the withdrawn claims, Cataldo’s medical records all included references to the dropped claims and defense counsel had planned to cross examine Cataldo based her alleged false statements to health care providers. The court also denied subsequent motions for mistrial on the same grounds.

At trial, Cataldo presented evidence of her spine injuries as well as bouts with depression stemming from those injuries. An expert testified that Cataldo was unable to work as a result of the injuries. The jury returned a verdict for Cataldo “in excess of $2,000,000,” according to the Fifth District.

On appeal, the court rejected Health First’s argument that it was entitled to a new trial because the trial court allowed Cataldo to drop the brain and dental injury claims shortly before trial. “The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure expressly recognize Cataldo’s right to withdraw any claim without an order by the court, at any time both prior to and during trial,” the court noted, citing Rule 1.420(a). While Health First’s request for a continuance after the claims were withdrawn “very well might have been warranted,” the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the request, the Fifth District ruled.

Furthermore, the trial court properly prohibited Health First from presenting evidence that Cataldo misrepresented herself in the dropped claims because the evidence related to a collateral issue no longer before the court once the claims were dropped. “While there might be circumstances under which the evidence in this case might be relevant and thus admissible, none were established,” the court ruled.

Rear end accidents are among the most common types of automobile collisions in the United States. As this case shows, they can result in life-altering physical and mental injuries. The South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine work hard to zealously represent clients throughout the area, including in Pompano Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton. Anidjar & Levine’s lawyers commonly represent individuals who were injured in rear end collisions, and persevere to get the best possible results for our clients.

Related blog posts:

The Presumption of Negligence in a Multi-Car Rear End Accident – Shirey v. State Farm

Florida Court Limits Medical Examiner Testimony in Rear End Car Accident Case – Cascanet v. Allen

Florida Court Explains Liability in Rear End Accidents – Jiminez v. Faccone

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