There are often facts that accident victims hope do not come out in litigation. In some cases, depending on what those facts are, a skilled plaintiff’s attorney may be able to get the evidence excluded. In other cases, the court will allow the evidence, and the attorney must work to minimize its effect.
The Third District recently examined whether a trial court properly excluded evidence in the case of Maniglia v. Carpenter. The parties to the case had been involved in an automobile accident in September 2009. The parties disputed the extent of the accident, with the defendant and his passenger claiming it was just a bump and the plaintiff alleging it was a severe sideswipe.
The plaintiff saw a chiropractor the day after the accident for neck and back pain. According to the doctor’s testimony, the x-rays showed “normal wear and tear,” but no evidence of acute injury.
Although the plaintiff initially denied involvement in any subsequent accident, he had been involved in a collision between a golf cart and a car less than a month after the wreck. In October, the plaintiff drove a golf cart onto the road, ran a red light, and hit a car. The plaintiff fell out of the cart. He was then involved in a physical altercation with the police. There was evidence that he had been intoxicated, had driven the golf cart without permission, had yelled profanity at the police, and had kicked the window of the police car. There was also evidence that he had been arrested for battery on a law enforcement officer.
The defendant also had evidence that the plaintiff did not tell the chiropractor about the golf cart accident and the altercation with the police officer when he saw the chiropractor two weeks after the golf cart accident. The defendant also had evidence that the MRIs that the surgeon based his recommendation for surgery upon had not been taken until after the golf cart accident.
The plaintiff moved the trial court to exclude the evidence relating to the golf cart accident, arguing that the surrounding facts were too prejudicial to allow even a “sanitized version” to be presented. The court granted the motion to exclude the evidence.
The court allowed evidence that the plaintiff had played in the golf tournament and had played “bumper cars” with the golf cart. The plaintiff also used intoxication as the reason he was able to play after he was allegedly injured in the car accident. The jury was not told of the golf cart wreck, the plaintiff’s fall from the cart, or his altercation with the police. The jury also did not learn of the evidence that the plaintiff had not told his chiropractor about the golf cart crash and the physical altercation.
The jury awarded the plaintiff $182,429.39. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial, and he appealed.
Florida case law recognizes that most evidence will be prejudicial to one of the parties. Under the rules of evidence, relevant evidence will be inadmissible on the grounds of prejudice only if the risk of unfair prejudice substantially outweighs the probative value. § 90.403, Florida Statutes.
Here, the golf cart accident was relevant to both the plaintiff’s credibility and causation. The appeals court found that the probative value of this evidence was not outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice. Based on that evidence, the jury could have received instructions on intervening causes and subsequent injuries.
Since the appeals court found it was error that the evidence had been excluded, the plaintiff had to prove that the error did not contribute to the jury’s verdict. The plaintiff was not able to make that showing, so the appeals court reversed the trial court’s judgment and order denying the new trial and remanded for the new trial.
In this case, the apparent efforts by the plaintiff to hide the existence of the subsequent accident, not just from the defendant but also from his medical provider, raised the issue of his credibility. If you have been hurt in an automobile accident, you need an attorney you can trust to advise you on what information you should share. It is important to seek an attorney right away and to provide your attorney with all of the information needed to present your case. Call the South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine at (800) 747-3733, or submit an online contact form.
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