Claiming your opponent has committed a fraud on the court is a serious accusation in Florida lawsuits. In a recent car accident case, the plaintiff sued the defendants alleging permanent injuries that included aggravation of a previously existing condition. During his deposition, he testified that he had previously been injured when two glass plates landed on his face at work. He testified that the resulting injuries did not affect his back. He also claimed that he hadn’t complained about back pain to a physician who had treated him for that accident.
In responses to written interrogatories, he claimed there that as a result of a 2004 car accident, he had hurt various body parts including his lower back. However, when asked in written interrogatories whether any part of his body that he claimed was injured in the latest car accident had been injured before, he only listed his neck and head injuries from the work accident. He claimed the same treating physician had treated him for both car accidents.
The defense subpoenaed the physician’s records. The records showed that the plaintiff may have complained about back injury before the second car accident. The doctor had noted that the plaintiff’s lumbosacral spine showed a reduced range of motion and made other notations on just a couple of occasions indicating that the plaintiff had complaints about his back. The final report made no mention of spine pain.
Two weeks before trial, the neurosurgeon treating the plaintiff for the injuries related to the second car accident testified at deposition that he’d performed surgery on the plaintiff for a bulging disc. In his opinion, the plaintiff suffered a permanent injury in the car accident. The plaintiff had not told the doctor about any back injury before the second car accident.
The doctor also testified that just before the deposition he’d been advised by the plaintiff’s attorneys that the plaintiff might have complained of back pain before the second accident. After looking at the records, the doctor testified he would need to know more to see whether the back injury was a pre-existing condition, but ultimately concluded that the reported back complaints before the second accident were different from those reported after the car accident.
The defense made a motion to dismiss the case for fraud on the court. They argued the plaintiff had engaged in a fraudulent scheme by denying his prior back complaints and failing to tell treating physicians about his prior medical history. The trial court dismissed without hearing any evidence–a trial court is permitted to dismiss a plaintiff’s case if there is clear and convincing evidence that the plaintiff committed an unconscionable fraud upon the court.
The plaintiff appealed. A dismissal for fraud on the court is a serious decision and should not be granted lightly. The appellate court explained that a trial judge must give detailed reasons for the dismissal and balance the equities, not just draw the conclusion that there was a fraud.
The appellate court also explained that the trial judge should express written findings that show it balanced the equities and to support its conclusion of fraud. In this case, it reversed and asked the trial court to reconsider its ruling and make express findings if it still found fraud.
The experienced South Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank can help you with cases like the one above. Call us toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.
Florida Appellate Court Reviews Issue of Privacy in Auto Accident Case, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, May 10, 2013
Florida Appellate Court Rules on Issue of Jury Selection, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, May 8, 2013