Defendants in Florida car accident cases often seek to dismiss a lawsuit on a number of grounds, including jurisdiction and failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Fraud is a lesser used basis for dismissal, one that not only challenges a plaintiff’s case, but also essentially accuses the plaintiff of lying. In Chacha v. Transport USA, Inc., the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently held that a trial court granting a motion to dismiss a case for fraud must make specific written fact findings supporting its conclusion that a plaintiff perpetrated or attempted to perpetrate a fraud on the court.
Plaintiff Ronald Chacha sued Defendants Transport USA and Juan Carlos Guzman for permanent physical injuries sustained in a 2004 car accident. Chacha was previously injured in a 1999 work accident, which caused a number of injuries. He indicated at a deposition that he did not sustain back injuries as a result of this accident or at any time before the 2004 car accident. Later in the discovery process, Chacha stated that 2004 car accident caused lower back, and other injuries in addition to aggravating those from the 1999 accident.
One week before trial, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case for fraud on the court. Specifically, according to the Fourth District, Defendants claimed that “Chacha lied about his prior back injuries and concealed his past medical history from his treating physicians.” Defendants claims were based on information from two doctors who treated Chacha: Dr. David B. Ross and Dr. Steven Gelbard. Dr. Ross, who treated Chacha after both the 1999 and 2004 accidents, provided medical records indicating that Chacha complained of lower back pain during at least two visits prior to the 2004 accident. His notes from another four pre-2004 visits, however, do not mention Chacha complaining of such pain.
Dr. Gelbard, a neurosurgeon who began treating Chacha roughly three months before the 2004 accident, testified at a deposition that Chacha suffered permanent injury as a result of the 2004 accident and that Chacha did not tell Dr. Gelbard about any back injury prior to that accident.
Following a hearing that did not include witness testimony or the presentation of other evidence, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss without explanation. In a later written order, the judge stated simply that based on clear and convincing evidence Chacha committed fraud concerning his medical history with the intent to interfere with the Court’s review of the case.
On appeal, the Fourth District noted that “[a] trial court has the inherent authority to dismiss a plaintiff’s entire case when there is clear and convincing evidence that the plaintiff has committed a fraud on the court which permeates the entire proceedings.” In this case, however, the Court found that it could not determine whether the trial court’s order was based on clear and convincing evidence because the Court failed to explain the basis for reaching its decision. “The order offers us no guidance in reviewing whether the trial court carefully balanced the equities before granting this ultimate sanction,” the Court noted in reversing the dismissal and remanding the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident, the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are ready to investigate your case and represent you in and out of the courtroom. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or fill out and submit an online Contact Us form to schedule a free consultation.