Florida Court Reverses Judgment for Car Accident Victim Based On Collateral Estoppel

Last month, the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court’s judgment awarding the plaintiff damages for injuries that she sustained in a car accident. In Government Employees Insurance Company v. Kisha, the plaintiff and her husband purchased a car insurance policy that provided additional coverage in the event that the couple was involved in a collision with an uninsured motorist. This type of coverage is frequently referred to as a “UIM” policy.

Shortly after purchasing the policy, the plaintiff and her husband were involved in a motor vehicle collision with an uninsured motorist. According to the insurance company, however, the insurance policy was not in effect at the time that this collision occurred because the husband and wife had failed to pay their policy premiums. As a result, the insurance company denied payment of benefits to the wife and her husband for injuries they sustained in the collision.

In response, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit seeking declaratory relief. In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the insurance company waived its right to terminate the policy and was accordingly precluded from denying payment of benefits as a result. After trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, and the husband filed his own complaint seeking a declaratory judgment. Although the husband provided testimony in support of his wife’s case, he did not join her in the initial lawsuit. In addition to seeking declaratory relief, the husband asked the court to grant a Motion for Entry of Judgment based on the collateral estoppel doctrine. The trial court granted the motion and entered a judgment in his favor.

Following the judgment in the husband’s case, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the wife’s case and ordered a new trial on the matter. The insurance company filed a motion in the husband’s case, asking the court to reverse its judgment in the husband’s favor. The insurance company argued that reversal was appropriate because the judgment on which the trial court relied in granting the husband’s Motion for Entry of Judgment was no longer valid. The husband conceded that a reversal of his case was appropriate in light of the reversal in his wife’s case.

In considering whether to reverse the husband’s judgment, the appellate court noted that the collateral estoppel doctrine is designed to conserve judicial resources and to prevent a party from getting a second bite at the apple. In order for a party to rely on the collateral estoppel doctrine, the party seeking reliance must establish that the issues in the first case were fully litigated and that the litigation concluded in a valid final judgment. Finding both elements satisfied, the Fifth Circuit reversed the husband’s judgment.

The insurance company also argued that the appellate court should remand the husband’s case for a new trial because a new trial had been ordered on appeal in the wife’s case. The appellate court rejected this argument, however, noting that the insurance company failed to raise this argument at the trial court level.

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident, the personal injury lawyers at Lusk Drasites & Tolisano can help. We have helped many motor vehicle collision victims throughout Southwest Florida seek the compensation that they deserve for their injuries, including in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Naples. We offer a free consultation and can help you determine the best strategy for collecting evidence and bringing your case. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your appointment now.

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