After a trial involving an automobile accident, the Second District Court of Appeals examined the issue of PIP setoffs and trial error. In the underlying matter of Moody v. Dorsett, the parties presented their cases to the jury. Ultimately, the jury determined that the defendant was negligent and responsible for the automobile accident, and it awarded the plaintiff $11,237.86 in damages. However, during the course of trial an issue arose regarding personal injury protection (PIP) proceeds that had already been paid to the plaintiff by his insurer. The proceeds, which had been paid to the plaintiff prior to trial, amounted to $5,484.96.
At some point during litigation, counsel for the parties raised the issue of how the PIP payment should affect a potential jury verdict. Known as a setoff, Florida laws provide that a defendant is entitled to redress for any damages that have been paid or are payable to a plaintiff. Counsel for the plaintiff argued that, while there was no dispute as to the setoff amount, the plaintiff did not concur with the defendant that the matter should be deferred until after a verdict had been returned.
The trial court ruled that the jury should not consider the setoff amount, but rather that it should be considered after a verdict, if any. As such, the defendant did not present any evidence at trial as to the PIP benefits that had already been paid to the plaintiff. Once the verdict had been rendered, the plaintiff again objected and cited a Florida Supreme Court decision that set forth the legal precedent for PIP setoffs.
In Caruso v. Baumle, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the defendant in an automobile accident case must present evidence regarding PIP payments during trial. The jury then takes that evidence into account and may reduce the verdict by the amount of those payments. In the event that the defense does not present such evidence, the Caruso court requires a trial court to deny a motion seeking a PIP setoff. In the current case, the court was obliged to enter a judgment in the amount of the jury verdict, absent any setoff. The defendant then appealed.
The Court of Appeals held that Caruso applied to the case at bar but that the circumstances at the trial court level required reversal. The appellate court found that the trial court failed to consider Caruso during the course of the trial, since it was only raised post-verdict. Moreover, the court found that counsel for the defendant reasonably relied on the trial court’s erroneous ruling. Good faith reliance on a trial court’s ruling, according to the appeals court, cannot be a basis for penalizing a party.
Because of the particular circumstances of the underlying trial procedure, the appeals court noted that the defendant was entitled to present her case under a corrected ruling. Had the trial court ruled in the correct manner at the outset, the defendant would have appropriately been able to present evidence of PIP payments. The Court of Appeals, in reversing the case, did suggest that the parties could agree to offset the verdict by the stipulated amount, but that a new trial would be required if not.
If you have been involved in an automobile accident in or around Fort Meyers, Naples or Cape Coral, the Southwest Florida car accident attorneys with Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano can help. Our experienced lawyers are skilled in courtroom practice and will work steadfastly to recover damages for your injuries. To speak with an attorney, contact us online or call toll-free at (800) 238-7442.
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