Is Failing to Report a Prior Accident Fraud Upon the Court in Florida?

In a recent case, a Florida appellate court considered a personal injury case in which it was alleged the plaintiff had committed a fraud upon the court. The plaintiff had sued the defendant after a car crash in January 2010, claiming injuries to his neck and back. He had a laser surgery in his lower back late that year.

During discovery, the defendant had propounded discovery requests upon the plaintiff, including an interrogatory that asked him to list and describe in detail all prior car accidents, slip and falls, and workers’ compensation claims he had reported over the past decade. Among other things the plaintiff had to provide a disability rating and explain what part of the body this applied to. The plaintiff answered none to this interrogatory.

A request for production to the plaintiff sought copies of his medical records and other related treatment reports. One document produced by the plaintiff was a treatment note regarding his visit on the date of a crash; the noted stated the plaintiff had one prior accident with no injuries claimed.

At his deposition, the plaintiff answered that he hadn’t been involved in a car accident before the 2010 accident and that he didn’t have prior injuries to his lower back or neck. He also testified that he previously attended a particular university. The defendant subpoenaed that university’s records and in the records found a note that disclosed the plaintiff had considered a chiropractic evaluation.

The defendant hired an investigator to find out about the plaintiff’s prior accident. The investigator found out he defendant had been a passenger in a car that skidded off-road and overturned when he was sixteen. He had denied pain and the patient care report said he declined transportation.

The defendant did not look into whether the plaintiff had actually gotten chiropractic care. Instead it brought a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint for fraud on the court.
There was no evidentiary hearing. The trial court granted the motion with the finding that the plaintiff’s failure to disclose the accident prevented the defendant from defending himself.

The plaintiff appealed. The appellate court explained that dismissal for fraud on the court must be established by clear and convincing evidence that one party has knowingly put into motion an unconscionable scheme that is intended to prevent the judicial system from impartially deciding a case. Alternatively, the moving party must show he or she was prevented from presenting a claim or defense.

A party’s conduct has to be egregious to rise to the level of fraud on the court. Lying or forgetting can be managed through cross-examination. The appellate court found that in this case there wasn’t clear and convincing evidence the plaintiff had schemed to subvert the judicial process. His deposition answer was false, but in response to an earlier request for production he had produced a document reflecting he had previously been in an accident.

The note in the school records had not reflected that the plaintiff had gotten chiropractic treatment or to what extent. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed.

If you are seriously hurt in a car accident, contact the knowledgeable Florida automobile accident attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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