Testifying in a Personal Injury Case in Florida

During trial, it can be difficult for some witnesses to control their emotions, particularly if they believe they’ve been wronged by the other side or their insurer. A recent personal injury case illustrates the importance of controlling one’s emotions in a trial setting, particularly if a judge has expressly ruled that a witness cannot talk about a specific subject.
In the case, the plaintiff was a driver of a car that had gotten rear-ended. She experienced injuries that required surgery. She sued the owners of the other car for damages, as well as her own uninsured motorist insurance carrier, State Farm. Liability was not contested at trial, but damages and causation were.

Before trial, the insurer filed a motion in limine to prevent any evidence from coming in about the insurer’s failure to follow its contractual obligations to the plaintiff. Motions in limine are filed to keep certain information out of the trial and away from the jury.

In this case, the insurer argued its failure to live up to its contractual obligations was irrelevant evidence and it was also inflammatory. The judge granted the motion to exclude the information. However, while testifying, the plaintiff had an outburst regarding the insurer’s failure to pay for her damages.

The insurer moved for a mistrial, arguing that the harm could not be undone. The judge denied the motion and asked the jury to disregard the testimony. The attorney for the other driver asked that the plaintiff’s attorney not be able to make any “bad insurance company” arguments. The plaintiff’s attorney agreed not to do so, but during closing arguments, he made several of these arguments.

The jury found for the plaintiff in the amount of $1,777,309.59. The insurer and defendant again moved for a new trial. The judge denied the motions and an appeal was filed.

The appellate court explained that an attorney’s improper statements during a closing argument can be the basis for a new trial. The rule is that a new trial should be granted when an argument is so prejudicial and inflammatory that it denies an objecting party the right to a fair trial.

The plaintiff argued that the insurer and defendants had failed to object to the closing arguments. Since they had not argued about the closing argument in their motion for new trial, it was not a proper subject for appeal.

The appellate court reasoned that in this case, the trial court ruled improperly in denying the motions for a new trial. The plaintiff’s outburst was highly prejudicial and inflammatory. It changed the focus away from the injuries and damages that were the subject of the trial. The insurer’s possible bad faith, implied by the outburst, was not an issue in this trial.
On top of that, the plaintiff’s attorney had used the testimony to construct improper arguments.

The appellate court noted that the plaintiff had testified that the insurer “dropped her coverage”. It reasoned that the implication of bad faith should not be a part of determining liability. The trial court should have granted a new trial after her testimony as the defense and the insurer had requested. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the final judgment and the case was returned to the trial court to be tried again.

If you or a loved on has been seriously injured due to someone else’s negligence, contact an experienced South Florida personal injury attorneys 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
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