Can a Defendant Use Your Financial Condition as Evidence in a Florida Personal Injury Case?

A Florida appellate court recently addressed this issue in the context of a personal injury plaintiff who claimed her financial situation did not permit her to seek or receive consistent treatment for claimed injuries. The case arose out of a car crash in which the defendant claimed his car was bumped by another vehicle where it rear-ended the plaintiff’s car during stop and go traffic. The plaintiff claimed to be okay after the accident and drove home by herself.

Later she claimed she had a strain or sprain injury in her neck and back and suffered herniated discs due to the accident. She saw a chiropractor who recommended physical therapy for her symptoms: neck pain, arm pain, headaches, numbness, and impaired vision. She quit therapy because it made her feel worse.

An MRI showed bulging discs but no herniation. She complained of radiating pain to an orthopedic surgeon ten months later. A neurologist also recommended physical therapy, but she did not follow the recommendation. Over two years later, another neurosurgeon ordered an MRI, which showed herniated discs. A cervical discectomy was recommended.

Years later she had the surgery. Meanwhile, she saw two pain management doctors and needed medications that cost $1700 per month. When she brought suit, she claimed she didn’t have enough money to get treated.

When trial started, the defense attorney told the court the plaintiff might try to explain away her lack of consistent medical care and treatment by claiming financial inability to pay for them. If so, he requested that he be able to bring up a large monetary settlement she’d received less than a year before the accident for another accident.

The plaintiff objected, arguing that if the defense were permitted to bring up the settlement, she would appear litigious and this was too prejudicial. The trial court overruled her objection. When questioned about the settlement, the plaintiff claimed that she had used up the money paying her attorney, purchasing a house and trying to establish herself and her children.

The defense medical expert opined that a degenerative condition, not the accident, was the reason for the neck surgery. They showed a surveillance video in which the plaintiff was able to squat and look at the tire of her car and also able to carry packages. A doctor testified that the video showed someone who was not in pain and that he didn’t believe the plaintiff was permanently injured.

The jury returned a verdict for the defense. The plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial and claimed she had a forensic expert who would testify the video had been edited. The trial court denied the request for new trial. On appeal, she argued that the trial court should not have allowed the defense to question her about the prior settlement because it showed litigiousness that is prejudicial and inadmissible.

The appellate court disagreed. It explained that where an issue is relevant for a purpose other than impeachment regarding litigiousness, the trial court does not necessarily abuse its discretion by admitting evidence of a settlement. The appellate court affirmed the lower court, but did not preclude the plaintiff from filing a motion for relief from judgment on the grounds that the surveillance tape was doctored.

If you or a loved on has been seriously injured due to someone else’s negligence, contact an experienced South Florida personal injury attorney at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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Florida Appellate Court Reviews Issue of Privacy in Auto Accident Case, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, May 10, 2013
Florida Appellate Court Rules on Issue of Jury Selection, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, May 8, 2013

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