The purpose of a jury trial in a civil personal injury action is to allow a group of ordinary citizens to, based on the evidence presented at trial, determine what actually happened in a particular case. Accordingly, Florida Courts are generally loathe to grant a new trial after a jury has returned a verdict. The First Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in Schmidt v. Van is simply one more example of this.
The case concerns an October 2007 Florida auto accident in which Plaintiffs Charles and Rilla Van were allegedly injured, the former requiring cervical spine surgery two years later. Defendant Daniel Schmidt admitted that he caused the accident. However, he argued that the accident did not cause Mr. Van’s injuries, noting that Mr. Van underwent a similar surgery in 1991 and was later injured in an accident in 1998. Following trial, the jury entered a verdict in Defendant’s favor, finding that Mr. Van’s injuries were not the result of the 2007 accident.
Unsatisfied with the decision, the trial court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial, disregarding all lay testimony on the issue of causation and holding that the jury verdict “was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence in light of the testimony of the three expert medical witnesses, one of whom was a defense witness,” all of whom testified that they believed the 2007 accident was at least partly responsible for Plaintiff’s injury and resulting surgery.
On Appeal, the First District found that the trial court abused its discretion and as a result reversed and remanded the action for the trial court to reinstate the jury verdict. It stated that a trial court that grants a new trial because the jury verdict is “contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence” abuses its discretion where the evidence doesn’t support the trial court’s ruling or the ruling is based on an incorrect legal conclusion. In this case, according to the court, the decision to grant a new trial was based on an incorrect legal conclusion. Namely, the trial court incorrectly determined that there was no basis on which the jury could rule in Defendant’s favor.
The court further held that a jury is free to disregard expert testimony – like that of the three doctors who testified that the 2007 accident caused Mr. Van’s injuries – even if it has not been contradicted. The court also noted that lay testimony on the causation issue contradicted that of the experts in this particular matter and, therefore, the trial judge should have deferred to the jury to weigh the evidence.
An overwhelming number of South Florida car accidents are caused by negligent driving. High speed driving, failing to obey traffic signals and distracted driving are some of the unsafe driving behaviors that can lead to injury in an auto collision. All drivers have the duty to drive safely and reasonably on the road, and when unreasonable driving leads to an accident, injured parties may be entitled to compensation.
The South Florida auto accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have the experience and ability necessary to help you brave the legal system after a serious accident. If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident, call the personal injury lawyers at Anidjar & Levine at 800-747-3733 today.
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