In trying economic times, a serious accident can do a number on a family’s finances, especially when it results in medical bills and missed work. In Montes v. Mastec, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals explains that a person who files for bankruptcy is generally required to list any pending or potential personal injury lawsuits he or she may be pursuing.
Mr. Montes was working for Mastec North America as a condo security guard when he was injured in an accident after a ladder fell on him in April 2008. He and his wife later sued the company in March 2011, alleging that Mr. Montes incurred medical expenses of roughly $100,000 stemming from the accident.
The Third District explained the events between the accident and the filing of the lawsuit as follows. After consulting two law firms, Montes secured legal representation for his claims against Mastec in October 2009. The firm sent a letter to the condo the same month, advising that Montes would be filing claims against both the condo and DirectTV, the company whose worker was using the ladder at the time of the accident. The firm sent a similar letter to the condo’s insurance carrier in March 2010. One month later, a separate law firm filed a bankruptcy petition on behalf of the Montes family. An attached schedule of assets didn’t include Montes’ potential claim against Mastec. A bankruptcy court later approved a Chapter 13 restructuring plan for the family in July 2010.
In response to Mastec’s motion for summary judgment in the accident case, Mr. and Ms. Montes filed an amended asset schedule in bankruptcy court in July 2012. This time, they listed the claims against Mastec as pending and said any money gained from the suit would be assets subject to bankruptcy order. Nevertheless, a trial court granted Mastec’s motion for summary judgment on the claims against it in September 2012. The trial judge held that the claims were barred by judicial estoppel because the family didn’t originally list the claims on their asset schedule in the bankruptcy action.
Estoppel is a legal principle barring a party from denying or alleging a certain fact, if doing so would be inconsistent with the party’s previous conduct. It is intended to prevent injustice related to fraud or inconsistency. In Blumberg v. USAA Casualty Insurance, for example, Florida’s Supreme Court held that a person suing his insurer was estopped from asserting that his insurance agent negligently failed to procure residential coverage because he had previously admitted in another suit that the was actually covered and had obtained a verdict in his favor in that case.
Here, however, the Third District said the present matter was easily distinguishable from Blumberg. First Montes and his wife didn’t obtain a prior verdict against Mastec, the Court explained. More importantly, the Court found that the couple’s bankruptcy filings weren’t inconsistent with the claims they made in their suit against the company. “At the time they filed their bankruptcy petition, it was unclear that a lawsuit would be filed at all,” the Court said. “They had a bankruptcy lawyer for their bankruptcy petition, and a different lawyer evaluating their tort claim.” In addition, the Court noted that the family amended the bankruptcy schedule after being made aware of the omission when the company filed for summary judgment.
As a result, the Court reversed the trial court’s ruling.
If you have been injured in an accident in Florida, it is important to seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer in order to understand your rights and options. The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have vast experience bringing negligence claims on behalf of injured clients throughout the area, including in Boca Raton, Coral Springs and Pompano Beach. If you or a loved one was injured in an accident, call our Ft. Lauderdale office for a free consultation.
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