$1.1 Million Jury Award in Florida Auto Accident Case Upheld: Zelaznik v. Isensee

$ Car- Ching $The Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland has affirmed a damages award in a Florida car accident case. In Zelaznik v. Isensee, a woman was injured when her vehicle was rear-ended in an automobile wreck. Prior to trial, the driver who struck the woman’s vehicle apparently admitted fault for the crash but claimed she was not responsible for the woman’s physical harm. Following trial, a jury awarded the injured woman more than $1.1 million in damages. The at-fault driver and her insurance company then appealed the jury’s verdict to Florida’s Second District.

On appeal, the defendants argued the damages award should be overturned as a result of three evidentiary rulings made by the trial court. The defendants claimed that the testimony of an expert witness and a police officer were improperly excluded and a video of the injured woman’s surgery should not have been published to the jury. According to the appeals court, any error committed by the trial court with regard to the excluded testimony was harmless as the jurors were provided with the evidence by other witnesses and there was no reason to believe the jury would likely have returned a different verdict if provided with the testimony.

The Court of Appeal also disagreed with the defendants’ argument that the video was gruesome and only offered to inflame the jury. The court said relevance is the test for whether or not photographic evidence should be submitted to jurors in a trial. Still, Florida law states evidence that may result in confusion, unfair prejudice, or that might otherwise mislead a jury is not admissible. Because the trial judge viewed the 15 minute video excerpt for appropriateness prior to allowing jurors to view it and the defendants offered no evidence that the video was gruesome, the appellate court held there was no abuse of discretion regarding admission of the evidence. Since the trial court did not abuse its discretion and any evidentiary errors were harmless, the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the jury’s verdict.

In Florida and elsewhere, a person who was hurt in an automobile or other personal injury accident must demonstrate the person or entity who caused their harm had a legal duty to exercise reasonable care, failed to exercise the level of care a prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation, and the injured party’s harm directly resulted from that failure. For example, a motorist has a duty to obey traffic laws. If a driver fails to do so and injures another person in a car accident, that driver likely committed negligence. As this case demonstrates, preserving the right evidence for trial is a critical factor in achieving fair compensation in a negligence lawsuit.

If you were hurt by a negligent motorist in South Florida, please contact the dedicated lawyers at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website or give call us at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Zelaznik v. Isensee, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 2014

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