Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court Decision Remanding Directed Verdict in Negligence Case

Recently, the district court of appeals for the State of Florida Sixth District issued an opinion in an appeal involving a negligence claim by the appellee, the plaintiff, against the appellants, Hernando J. Lancheros and VL Auto Transport, Inc. The appellee sued the appellants claiming they negligently injured him in a car accident. The appellants conceded fault, and the matter proceeded to trial solely on the issue of causation and damages. The appellee stated that he suffered a permanent injury to his back and that the injury was caused by the car accident in question. The appellants contended that the appellee’s injuries stemmed from a pre-existing condition and were not caused by the car accident. At trial, the court improperly directed a verdict on causation. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the lower court decision, remanding the case for a new trial.

Facts of the Case

The appellee, who was twenty-four when the accident happened, testified that he had rowed crew competitively since he was a teenager. He further acknowledged that he visited a chiropractor two times before the accident for back pain due to either weight training or rowing crew. Following the car accident, the appellee did not seek treatment for his back either at the scene or in the aftermath of the accident. He did not obtain x-rays or an MRI on his back in the immediate days after the crash. The appellee waited eighteen days before going to a chiropractor for what he described as lingering back pain after the initial soreness from the accident faded.

At trial, both sides called expert witnesses. The appellants elicited testimony from their expert, an orthopedic surgeon, who testified that the car crash did not cause permanent injury to the appellee. The surgeon stated that at most, the appellee may have suffered a “sprain or strain,” which could have been healed by a few weeks of chiropractic treatment. On cross-examination, the surgeon conceded that the appellee’s post-accident treatment was related to the car crash. After both sides rested, the appellee moved for a directed verdict on causation, arguing that the orthopedic surgeon’s testimony raised “zero dispute” that the appellee had been damaged at least in some manner, and that no reasonable jury could find that the appellants had not injured him. The trial court granted his motion and the jury unsurprisingly ruled in his favor. The appellee’s appeal followed shortly after.

On appeal, the appellees argued that causation is an essential element of negligence and that a plaintiff is entitled to recovery only for injury, loss, or damage caused by a defendant’s negligence. The appeals court opinion found that the trial court deemed the orthopedic surgeon’s testimony dispositive on the narrow issue of whether the crash caused the appellee’s back soreness. However, the appellants rebutted that finding, showing that the appellee’s injury could have occurred for another reason. The opinion further stated that a reasonable jury could have disbelieved the orthopedic surgeon’s testimony. Ultimately, the appeals court found that directed verdicts in negligence cases are rarely appropriate, and held true in this case. The appellate court reversed the lower court decision, remanding the case for a new trial.

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