Florida Appellate Court Finds Conflicting Evidentiary Ruling Prevented Plaintiff from Getting a Fair Trial

Earlier this month, a Florida appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida personal injury lawsuit brought by a woman who developed lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) after smoking cigarettes manufactured by the defendant. The jury was tasked with answering:  “Was [Plaintiff] addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine and, if so, was her addiction a legal cause of her lung cancer and/or COPD?”During the trial, the plaintiff called her treating pulmonologist. The plaintiff’s attorney attempted to ask the pulmonologist if the plaintiff was addicted to cigarettes; however, the defense objected. The court sustained the objection, preventing the pulmonologist from answering the question.

When it was the defendant’s turn to cross-examine the witness, the defense attorney asked the pulmonologist if he thought that the plaintiff would have been able to quit smoking once she was “sufficiently motivated to do so.” The plaintiff objected, but the court overruled the objection, and the pulmonologist was allowed to respond. He agreed that the plaintiff was able to quit when she was sufficiently motivated to do so.

At the conclusion of the evidence, the defense attorney focused on the fact that the plaintiff’s own doctor believed that she could quit whenever she was motivated to do so and that the addictive quality of cigarettes was not the legal cause of the plaintiff’s decision to smoke for all those years. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Case Is Reversed on Appeal

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court made conflicting evidentiary rulings regarding the pulmonologist’s testimony. The plaintiff claimed that if the pulmonologist was not permitted to testify that she was addicted to cigarettes, he should not have been able to testify that she could quit when she was sufficiently motivated to do so. The court agreed, stating that “[i]f the pulmonologist was unqualified to opine that the plaintiff was addicted to nicotine, he was equally unqualified to opine concerning the plaintiff’s motivation to quit, as evidence of the absence of addiction.”

From there, the court had to determine if the trial court’s evidentiary error was prejudicial to the plaintiff’s case. The court determined that the plaintiff did suffer prejudice and that a new trial was the proper remedy. The court explained that the defense was able to exploit the fact that the plaintiff’s own physician thought that she could quit smoking, which essentially destroyed the basis of her case against the defendant.

Have You Been Injured in South Florida?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of situation caused by a dangerous product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The importance of the early stages in a personal injury case cannot be overstated because this is when many of the evidentiary decisions are made. The skilled South Florida personal injury attorneys at the law firm of Friedman, Rodman & Frank have extensive experience representing clients in a wide range of cases, including product liability, motor vehicle accidents, and medical malpractice cases. Call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated South Florida personal injury attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Limits Truck Owner’s Liability, Finding that He Loaned Truck to At-Fault Driver, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published July 6, 2017.

Who Is Responsible in Florida When Someone Causes an Accident Using a Borrowed or Stolen Car?, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published June 19, 2017.

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