$1 Million Florida Jury Verdict Overturned After Irrelevant and Prejudicial Evidence Admitted in Car Accident Case

In Hurtado v. DeSouza, a man filed a personal injury claim against another driver after the motorist allegedly struck his stopped vehicle from behind at a traffic light.  Following the apparently minor crash, the man filed a personal injury action in a Florida court against the driver who hit his car.  Although he initially denied liability, the motorist eventually admitted liability immediately prior to trial.  As a result, only the issues of causation and damages were submitted to a jury.

At trial, the court allowed certain irrelevant and prejudicial evidence suggesting the defendant attempted to flee the scene of the crash to be admitted.  Over the defendant’s objections, the court also allowed the plaintiff to offer evidence that the defendant’s delay in admitting liability for the accident caused him mental anguish, even though Florida law did not support a claim based on that theory.  The court also allowed the plaintiff to testify that the motorist never apologized to him and that he suffered significant financial hardship, including home foreclosure, as a result of his injuries.  Next, the trial court refused to declare a mistrial or issue a curative instruction.  The following day, however, the court issued a directed verdict on the issue of mental anguish and read a curative instruction to the jury without objection from the plaintiff.  Ultimately, the jury issued an award of more than $1 million in favor of the plaintiff.

The defendant then appealed the award to Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal.  According to the defendant, the trial court committed reversible error when it allowed the plaintiff to present irrelevant and prejudicial evidence.  The appellate court stated the financial status of a party to a lawsuit should not be referenced during trial in order to prevent prejudice against a party.  Although the appellate court initially ruled that the lower court committed harmless error, Florida’s Fourth District vacated its original opinion in light of recent Supreme Court of Florida case law in Special v. West Boca Medical Center.  After reviewing the applicable case law, the Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff failed to meet his burden of demonstrating the trial court’s error in his favor did not contribute to the verdict.  Additionally, the appellate court stated the man could not meet this burden on appeal.

Since the plaintiff did not prove there was no reasonable possibility that the irrelevant and prejudicial evidence offered at trial did not have an effect on the jury’s large damages verdict, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s award and remanded the case for a new trial.

If you were injured in a South Florida auto accident, a hardworking personal injury attorney may be able to help you recover damages for your harm. To schedule a free consultation with a seasoned Miami car wreck lawyer today, give the skilled personal injury advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. a call at (305) 448-8585 or contact us online.

Additional Resources:

Hurtado v. DeSouza, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2015

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Florida Appeals Court Overturns Denial of Legal Fees in Workers’ Compensation Case, April 15, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

Southern District of Florida Rules Cruise Ship Passenger Failed to Establish Negligence Following Injury Accident, April 9, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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