State Appellate Court Sets Aside Dismissal of Injury Case After Attorney Admits to Mistake

A panel of the California Court of Appeals recently published an opinion in which they affirmed a state district court’s decision to set aside the dismissal of a personal injury case, which was previously dismissed after the plaintiff’s attorney failed to pay a change-of-venue fee and did not respond to the defendant’s motion to dismiss or attend the hearing that resulted in the dismissal of the case. On appeal, the defendant argued that the plaintiff’s motion to set aside the initial dismissal was procedurally inappropriate, and she was not entitled to the relief that had been granted. In disposing of the appeal, the appellate court emphasized that procedural rules governing applications for relief or reconsideration of an order or judgment are designed in part to protect litigants from the undeserved harms that can result from attorney mistakes, and to give each person their day in court.

The Plaintiff Is Injured as a Passenger on a Private Bus Line

The plaintiff in the case of Gee v. Greyhound is a woman who was injured when the Greyhound bus on which she was riding was involved in a crash, According to her initial complaint, the bus driver was traveling at an excessive rate of speed and lost control of the vehicle, causing it to crash into other vehicles on the road and resulting in the plaintiff and at least 20 other passengers and commuters suffering serious injuries. After the accident, the plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the operator of the bus line as well as the bus driver, seeking damages as compensation for the expenses and loss she suffered in the crash.

According to the facts discussed in the most recent appellate opinion, the defendant subsequently requested that the venue of the plaintiff’s case be changed to the county where the crash occurred. (The case was initially filed in the county where the plaintiff and bus driver lived.) The defendant’s motion was granted. Along with the venue change, the trial court entered an order for the plaintiff to pay fees related to the change of venue before proceeding with the case.

The plaintiff’s attorney failed to pay the fees as ordered, and the case was eventually dismissed. After noticing the mistake he made, the plaintiff’s attorney requested that the court set aside the dismissal because he had mistakenly failed to respond to the motion to dismiss the case and also misunderstood the order that his client needed to pay the fees related to the venue change. Based on California state law, the trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion, finding that the law required the court to protect the plaintiff’s right to be heard.

The Defendant Appeals, Arguing that the Plaintiff’s Attorney’s Conduct Was Not Excusable

The defendant appealed the court’s decision setting aside the dismissal of the case, arguing that the plaintiff’s attorney’s failure to pay the fee as ordered or oppose the motion to dismiss was not excusable and should not be forgiven by the court. The state court of appeals rejected the defendant’s arguments without much consideration, reiterating that the law used by the trial court to set aside the initial dismissal was a mandatory provision upon a showing that an attorney made a mistake that cost their client their right to be heard.

The appellate court did not consider the defendant’s attempts to distinguish what is excusable attorney neglect from what is inexcusable attorney neglect, since under California law, even inexcusable attorney neglect is to be forgiven under the circumstances. As a result of the appellate ruling, the plaintiff’s case will proceed as if her attorney had not made the mistake that caused it to be dismissed in the first place.

Florida Law Is Not So Forgiving

Unlike the law applied in the Gee case, the law in Florida does not allow final orders to be set aside in cases in which an attorney makes an inexcusable mistake that dissolves the rights of their client. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540(b) does allow a final order to be set aside under several circumstances, including mistake, inadvertence, and excusable neglect by a party or their attorney, but unlike the law in California, a court or appellate court in Florida may find that an attorney’s mistake was not excusable and that their client is out of luck. Since the law in Florida is stricter than in California or other states, it is important for South Florida injury victims to retain a skilled and competent attorney immediately after they suffer an injury to preserve their right to relief.

How to Contact a South Florida Personal Injury Attorney You Can Trust

If you or a loved one has been involved in a South Florida car accident, the Miami accident attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank can competently handle your case to seek damages from the parties who are responsible for your loss. Our skilled attorneys know the substantive and procedural laws that apply to South Florida injury claims, and we can ensure that you have your day in court. Contact us now to schedule a meeting with a Miami injury attorney. The consultation is free, and there is no obligation to hire us after we discuss your case. Call today at 877-448-8585 or contact us online to schedule a no-cost consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Dismissal of Rollerblading Injury Case Affirmed by Appellate Court, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published December 1, 2016.

School Authorities Received Multiple Complaints About Bus Driver Prior to Tragic Fatal Accident, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published December 6, 2016.

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