In Casteel v. Maddalena, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal explains that in order for a party to a car accident lawsuit to get a new trial based on fraud, he or she must show that the other party actually participated in or approved of the fraud. When relying on new evidence to support a retrial motion, the party must show that he or she couldn’t have gotten their hands on the new evidence any sooner.
John Casteel was injured in an accident while riding a motorcycle when he was hit by a car driven by Anna Maddalena. According to Casteel, he stopped at a stop sign seeking to make a left turn onto a highway. He then proceeded to cross the road’s northbound lanes and stopped the bike at the median, attempting to complete the left turn when Maddalena’s car hit him.
Maddalena, conversely, said that Casteel was not in the median and instead remained in her lane when the accident occurred. She further claimed that she hit the brakes as well as the car’s horn when she saw that Casteel was in the way and that Casteel was still moving as the car collided with him.
Following trial, a jury determined that Casteel was 55 percent liable for the accident and Maddalena was 45 percent liable. The trial centered on the location of the accident, and, as the court explained, “the issue of whether Maddalena skidded to a stop on impact became the main focus.” Maddalena argued that she did not skid and that skid marks shown in a photo of the scene were not made by her car.
Melanie Lopez, Casteel’s girlfriend, testified that she saw the skid marks when she arrived at the scene shortly after the accident and that she later returned to photograph them. Lopez lived very close to the scene and further testified that she personally knew that the road had been paved just a day earlier. Lopez was expected to testify about damages – specifically Casteel’s health before the accident – rather than liability, and her testimony apparently caught Maddalena by surprise. Maddalena’s attorney later investigated the matter, finding that the road had actually been paved somewhere between 10 days and three weeks prior to the accident.
Maddalena later filed a motion seeking a new trial based on the newly discovered evidence. The trial court granted the motion, but the ruling was not based on new evidence. Instead, the trial court said the new trial was warranted because of fraud committed by Lopez in the original proceedings.
The second district reversed the ruling on appeal, finding no evidence showing that Casteel participated in Lopez’s alleged fraud. As the court explained, Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540(b)(3) allows for a mistrial based on fraud committed by an actual party, not simply by a third party witness. “Maddalena’s allegation that Casteel intentionally used Lopez’s testimony to bolster his claims is not the same as an allegation that Casteel knew Lopez’s testimony was false but presented it anyway thereby participating in the fraud,” the court said. As a result, the jury verdict should not have been overturned on fraud grounds.
While Maddalena may nevertheless be entitled to a new trial based on the newly discovered evidence provision of Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540(b)(2), the court ruled that a hearing must be conducted on the matter. Specifically, the trial court was required to consider whether Maddalena can show that she could not have previously discovered the evidence through due diligence.
The South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine represent clients injured in auto accidents throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Hollywood and Pompano Beach. Contact our Ft. Lauderdale office at 800-747-3733 for a free initial consultation.
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