The stakes are often very high in Florida car accident lawsuits. As the Sixth District Court of Appeal’s recent ruling in Adams v. Barkman shows, there are a number of legal issues arising prior to trial that can make or break a case.
Laura Barkman and Randall Hobbs were injured in an accident when the motorcycle Hobbs was driving, and on which Barkman was a passenger, was struck by an SUV driven by Kara Adams. They sued Adams for negligence, alleging that the accident happened after she made a quick lane change. Adams, meanwhile, argued that she did not make a lane change. Instead, she argued that the motorcycle simply plowed into the back of her car.
Before trial, the trial judge granted Plaintiffs’ motion in limine, in which they asked the court to bar Defendant from presenting as evidence the report by a highway trooper who responded to the scene of the accident as well as evidence related to Barkman’s consumption of alcohol prior to the accident. The court ruled that the trooper was not competent to determine whether Adams had suddenly changed lanes prior to the accident because he was not there. His testimony at trial, therefore, was to be limited to his observances after arriving at the scene. Furthermore, the court found that evidence showing that Barkman was intoxicated prior to the accident was irrelevant because she was not driving. No evidence was presented showing that Hobbs was also intoxicated.
The court further ruled that in the first part of the trial, intended to determine whether the accident was caused by negligence (but not whether negligence also caused Plaintiffs’ injuries), the parties could not address the issue of whether Plaintiffs were wearing helmets at the time of the crash.
At trial, Defendant’s lawyer – Mr. Fischer – appeared to be determined to cover issues excluded by these rulings, according to the Sixth District. He asked prospective jurors whether they wore helmets while riding bicycles. On cross-examination of Plaintiffs’ first witness, he asked the witness – who had been drinking with Barkman prior to the accident – about these activities. Fischer also asked the witness, who was riding a motorcycle nearby at the time of the accident, whether he was wearing a helmet during that ride.
The attorney further violated the court’s rulings in examining the trooper. “Despite the fact that the court had advised the trooper, moments before he testified, that he was not to give his opinion as to the direction that Adams’ vehicle was traveling,” according to the Sixth District, Fischer nevertheless proceeded to ask the trooper precisely that. Based on this violation, the trial court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for mistrial and imposed sanctions.
After a hearing on sanctions, the trial judge took the severe step of striking Adams’ pleadings as a result of what the Sixth District later called “attorney shenanigans.” The second trial thus proceeded directly to the issue of damages without requiring Plaintiffs to prove negligence. A jury returned a $1.3 million verdict in Plaintiffs’ favor.
On appeal, the Sixth District found that the sanctions were appropriate and affirmed the decision.
As this case makes clear, there are a number of issues that a person injured in an accident in Florida must consider before deciding whether to file suit. Among those is selecting experienced and professional legal representation to guide you through the complex and often contentious process of seeking redress for any injuries. If you were injured in a car accident, the experienced South Florida auto accident attorneys of Anidjar & Levine can help. We have helped many car accident victims throughout Florida obtain the compensation they deserve.
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