Florida Appellate Court Reverses Judgment in Auto Accident Case Over Expert Witness Testimony

In State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Long, the insurance company appealed after a jury returned a verdict in favor of the insured totaling nearly $170,000. The insured suffered an injury to his shoulder after being involved in a motorcycle collision. The plaintiff brought a legal action against the insurance company, seeking recovery of the total uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage limit in his policy. The jury’s verdict awarded $116,000 for past and future medical expenses, with $46,283.96 of that amount constituting past medical damages.

At trial, the insured called a physician’s assistant to testify about the amount of future medical expenses that he would likely require to treat his shoulder injury. The physician’s assistant worked with the insured’s orthopedic surgeon and testified that he saw the insured roughly 10 times between 2009 and 2014. The physician’s assistant testified about the treatment that the insured received, including a series of cortisone injections. He also testified that the plaintiff’s only remaining option to treat his shoulder was surgery.

The insurance company objected to the physician’s assistant providing testimony as an expert witness on the basis that only a surgeon could be qualified to provide an expert opinion regarding whether the insured would require surgery in the future, or any other potential medical care that the insured may require. The insurer also contended that since the physician’s assistant was not the surgeon who would bill for and perform the surgery, he was not qualified to testify regarding the likely costs of the procedure.

On appeal to the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeals, the appellate court first reviewed the requirements that must be met for a witness to provide expert opinion testimony. According to the court, “the witness must have the requisite knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education on the subject about which the witness is called to testify.” Whether or not a witness should be qualified as an expert is within the trial judge’s discretion, and the judge has broad discretion in deciding the array of subjects on which an expert witness can provide testimony.

At trial, the physician’s assistant testified that he lacked the authority to determine whether or not the insured required surgery for his shoulder and that this decision was within the treating physician’s purview. Although the assistant was qualified to testify about the treatment that he provided to the insured during the 10 visits, he was not qualified to testify regarding whether the plaintiff required surgery. The physician’s assistant had also testified that he had worked with the treating physician for several years and knew how he would approach the issue. The appellate court rejected this testimony as serving as an appropriate basis for allowing the physician’s assistant to provide an opinion regarding whether the insured would need surgery in the future.

In reversing and remanding the lower court’s ruling, the appellate court cautioned that its opinion should not be construed as prohibiting physician’s assistants from serving as expert witnesses. Instead, the court stressed that a physician’s assistant must be appropriately qualified to provide expert testimony pursuant to the aforementioned test.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Understanding the amount of compensation that you deserve and the best way to go about proving the specific amount of compensation that you deserve can be complex. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, we have assisted many Southwest Florida injury victims with bringing a claim, gathering evidence, and negotiating with insurance companies. We offer a free consultation to help you learn about your rights and serve clients throughout the region, including in Naples, Cape Coral, Sarasota, and Fort Myers. Call us at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to schedule your appointment.

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