What is Florida Courts’ “Stuart instruction?”

As if getting into a car accident and suffering serious injuries weren’t bad enough, some people in Florida find that they are further injured when they go to the hospital to treat their injuries from a car accident. In some cases, the original person or people who caused the accident and injuries are also held responsible for any harm that results when a physician improperly treats the injuries.

In such cases, an attorney may call for a “Stuart instruction,” so called because it comes from the 1977 case Stuart v. Hertz Corporation. This instruction tells the jury that “a tortfeasor is responsible for additional injuries caused by the medical negligence of a physician treating the plaintiff for the original injuries.”

A recent appellate case illustrates some of the complications that occur with this rule. In that case, a woman’s vehicle was rear-ended by a male driver. She drove to the hospital complaining of neck and back pain and was diagnosed with whiplash. Although she got follow-up care, the woman still had pain four months later and asked an orthopedic surgeon for his opinion. He diagnosed a muscular injury and disc herniation from the accident and recommended she have a surgery.

A year after the accident, he operated on her and at first the pain decreased. After a few months, her lower back pain increased, however. She sued the male driver who had rear-ended her, alleging permanent injuries. She also sued the vehicle owner under the dangerous instrumentality doctrine.

The couple challenged her claim of medical expenses related to the surgery. They called him a personal injury doctor and noted that the surgery hadn’t helped the plaintiff.

At trial, there was a conflict in medical testimony. The doctor testified the surgery was needed because of the accident and that it had helped the plaintiff. The plaintiff testified that the back surgery was needed because of the accident, but that her pain had gotten worse after the surgery. Another doctor testified that the accident caused a lumbar disc herniation and annular tear.

On behalf of the couple, a diagnostic radiologist testified that the disc herniation and tear were degenerative, not a result of the accident. A doctor who performed an independent medical examination on the plaintiff similarly testified that he didn’t relate her surgery to the auto accident. He disagreed with the surgeon’s decision to operate.

The plaintiff asked for a Stuart instruction because the jury had heard evidence that the surgery was unnecessary. The couple opposed this instruction on the grounds that they were saying the surgery was not connected to the accident; they were not arguing that the surgery was negligent.

The trial court gave the Stuart instruction to the jury, telling them that when somebody is injured because of another’s negligence and seeks competent physician care and in following the physician’s advice has aggravated injuries, the wrongdoer’s original negligence is considered the legal cause of those aggravated injuries, too.

The plaintiff’s closing argument included a statement that the doctor’s unnecessary surgery permanently injured the plaintiff and it was the defendants’ fault. The jury found for the plaintiff and found her permanently damaged.

The defendants appealed. The appellate court pointed out that the couple had presented evidence of preexisting degeneration but not that it required surgery or that she would have chosen a surgery if she had discovered problems before the pain related to the accident. The appellate court affirmed the lower court.

If you are in a serious car accident, you may want to bring a personal injury lawsuit to recover the losses you’ve suffered including medical expenses and wage loss. Contact the experienced South Florida motor vehicle accident attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

More Blogs

Florida School Sued After Student’s Sports Injury, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, June 13, 2013
Florida Appellate Court Applies Slip and Fall Law Retroactively, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, May 31, 2013

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