Florida Appellate Court Outlines Important Exceptions to the Medical Examination Reimbursement Rule

Many accident victims believe that they are entitled to recover compensation for the cost of medical examinations performed shortly after an accident. Recently, the Fifth District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida issued an opinion addressing whether an injury victim is entitled to recover these costs. In Schwartz v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the plaintiff alleged that she suffered injuries after being struck in the back by an ornamental pumpkin while shopping at one of Wal-Mart’s Florida locations. In response to the lawsuit, Wal-Mart admitted that its employees acted negligently, but that the employees’ negligence was not the cause of the plaintiff’s damages.

The case went to trial, and the jury returned a verdict awarding zero damages to the plaintiff and finding that Wal-Mart was not the legal cause of the plaintiff’s alleged injuries and damages. The plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial, and the court granted the motion but limited the new trial to “issues of damages for initial medical evaluation sought by [the plaintiff] after the accident and nothing more.” The plaintiff appealed the order, claiming that the new trial on damages should not be subject to a limitation. Wal-Mart also appealed, arguing that the trial court should not have granted the plaintiff a new trial on damages.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal agreed with Wal-Mart and reversed the trial court’s grant of the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the jury’s failure to award her damages for the cost of the initial medical examinations that she obtained was legal error on the basis that the plaintiff sought medical care and attention immediately after the incident. The plaintiff’s appellate briefs cited “the general rule that even when a jury finds that a plaintiff was not injured as a result of the subject accident, the plaintiff is still entitled to recover those expenses incurred for medical examination and diagnostic testing reasonably necessary to determine whether the incident caused injuries.” (See Sparks-Book v. Sports Auth., Inc., 699 So. 29 767, 768 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997).)

In rejecting the plaintiff’s argument, the court of appeal noted the various exceptions that apply to this rule, and that allow a jury to award the plaintiff zero damages despite the existence of medical expenses incurred for the purpose of determining the nature, extent, and cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. These exceptions include instances where “sufficient evidence is presented at trial regarding certain factors, including but not limited to pre-existing injuries with extensive treatments, lack of candor with the treating physicians, video tapes that show actual physical capabilities, and expert medical opinions which conflict as to causation.” At trial, Wal-Mart had presented evidence from an expert witness biomedical engineer indicating that the speed at which the ornamental pumpkin was thrown was not sufficient to cause the injuries alleged by the plaintiff. Since this evidence conflicted with the plaintiff’s evidence, one of the aforementioned exceptions had been met, and it was proper for the jury to return a zero-damages verdict.

If you or someone you know has suffered an accident as the result of someone else’s carelessness, it is important to seek medical attention immediately to document the nature and scope of your damages. Determining the compensation to which you are owed and how to go about presenting your case are difficult and important considerations for any plaintiff. The skilled personal injury attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano have over 30 years of experience serving the legal needs of Southwest Florida, including Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. Contact us today for a free consultation by dialing 1-800-283-7442 or send us a message online.

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