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The Importance of Expert Witnesses in Florida Personal Injury Cases Seeking Punitive Damages

The Third District Court of Appeals recently addressed a defendant’s appeal following a jury trial awarding the plaintiff compensatory and punitive damages. According to the facts, the cause of action arises from a car accident when the defendant crossed over the center line and slammed into the plaintiff’s vehicle, causing it to flip over nearly two times. The plaintiff and her children survived, and she filed a negligence lawsuit against the defendant. The plaintiff amended her complaint and added a claim for punitive damages, arguing that the defendant was high on heroin at the accident.

Before trial, the parties provided a list of witnesses and any potential expert testimony. The defendant filed an “expert disclosure” for a CPA to testify regarding the plaintiff’s economic damages. Later the same day, the defendant filed a supplemental disclosure for the CPA, indicating that the expert would testify to the defendant’s net worth and the amount he needs to sustain himself. Further, the defendant claimed that the expert would testify about the effect that punitive damages would have on his livelihood. The plaintiff moved to strike the disclosure, arguing it was untimely; the court agreed and limited the CPA’s testimony to economic damages. The defendant testified to his limited financial resources at trial, but he did not call the CPA as a witness. The defendant appealed the jury’s award of punitive and compensatory damages to the plaintiff.

Under Florida law, courts can exercise discretion when determining whether to allow an untimely disclosed witness. Courts should make their decision primarily based on whether the testimony will prejudice the objecting party. Prejudice refers to the objecting party’s surprise, not to the adverse nature of the testimony. Some factors that a trial court should consider including:

  • The objecting party’s ability to cure the prejudice
  • The objecting party’s knowledge of the witness
  • The calling party’s potential bad faith or noncompliance and
  • Potential disruption of the efficient trial of the case

A reversal will occur if a trial court fails to address or analyze these factors before exercising discretion. In this case, the trial court failed to review these factors or make any findings regarding potential prejudice. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the punitive damages award and remanded the case for a new trial on those damages.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a Florida Accident

If you or someone you love has been hurt or died because of another’s negligence, the Florida attorneys at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada can help you determine your rights and remedies. The injury lawyers at our office have extensive experience successfully obtaining compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of our clients. Our firm handles Florida cases involving car, truck, motorcycle, and boat accidents, premises liability, dangerous products, medical malpractice, nursing home abuse negligence, dog bites, and construction accidents. Our clients have recovered damages for their medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Contact our office at 877-448-8585 to schedule a free, no-obligation legal consultation with a Florida personal injury attorney on our team.

 

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