Appellate Court Reverses Exclusion of Evidence and Orders New Trial in Florida Car Accident Case

Car accidents are all too common on Florida’s busy roadways and interstates. In the recent case of Maniglia v. Carpenter, a driver and his passenger suffered injuries in a car accident that happened on I-95 during 2009. The collision happened when the left front section of one vehicle struck the right rear corner of the second vehicle during a lane change. The driver of the second vehicle and his passenger contended that the accident was minor, but the first driver described the crash as serious.

After the accident, the first driver obtained medical treatment from a chiropractor for back and neck pain. According to an x-ray of the man’s back, there were no injuries visible other than typical shoulder wear and tear. The chiropractor did not restrict the man from performing any work duties based on this assessment.

Roughly 30 days later, the first driver was involved in another collision. The man was driving a golf cart at the time of the crash, which collided with another vehicle, resulting in the man being thrown out of the cart and onto the ground. When law enforcement officials responded to the scene of the golf cart collision, the man was arrested after an altercation arose.

At no point did the driver report this incident to his treating chiropractor. He did, however, seek treatment from a surgeon who obtained MRIs of the man’s shoulder and recommended that he receive surgery for the injuries the doctor identified in the MRI image.

The driver next filed a personal injury action against the second driver involved in the I-95 crash. During trial, the first driver filed a motion seeking to exclude any evidence regarding the subsequent golf cart crash, contending that allowing such evidence would create substantial prejudice, outweighing the probative value of the evidence pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 90.403. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion, concluding that the arrest was too intertwined with the golf cart accident and that admitting both items of evidence would unfairly prejudice the plaintiff.

After the motion was decided, the defendant was permitted to submit evidence showing that the plaintiff had played in a golf tournament, that he had engaged in “bumper car” games with other golf carts during the tournament, and that he was intoxicated during the incident. The jury returned a verdict of over $180,000 in the plaintiff’s favor, and the defendant appealed.

The Third District Court of Appeals first noted that the Florida statute governing evidence precludes the submission of any evidence that would create unfair prejudice at trial. Turning to the case, the appellate court stated that the evidence showing the plaintiff’s golf car accident, arrest, and failure to disclose the incident to his health care providers addressed not only the plaintiff’s credibility but also the cause of the injuries he listed in his complaint. After describing this evidence as significantly probative, the court then held that the risk of prejudice in submitting this evidence did not outweigh its probative value. The lower court could have mitigated any potential prejudice by providing a jury instruction regarding subsequent harm and intervening causes.

Ultimately, the court concluded that the trial court’s grant of the plaintiff’s motion to exclude evidence was in error and ordered a new trial.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. The dedicated personal injury lawyers at Lusk, Drasites, and Tolisano have represented injury victims throughout Southwest Florida, including in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Naples. We offer a free consultation and do not collect any fees unless we obtain a judgment or a settlement in your favor. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your appointment.

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