Maines v. Fox – Proving Causation of Injuries in Florida Accident Lawsuit

It is not enough in a Florida car accident lawsuit to prove the other party caused the accident. Plaintiffs must also show the accident either proximately caused his or her injuries or exacerbated a pre-existing condition. caraccident2

Often, the issue of causation is obvious. If a person in a car accident sustains a serious head injury, there is usually no doubt the two are causally connected. However, there are some instances in which there were successive causes of negligence that might complicate causation. In other cases, a person may claim severe neck injuries as a result of an accident, and defendants may counter that the force of the crash could not have caused the alleged injuries for which plaintiff is seeking compensation.

How difficult a task this will be will depend on the individual facts of the lawsuit. In some cases, proving this element may require the testimony of an expert witness. This could be a biomechanical engineer who could attest that the dynamics of the crash could have caused the severity of injuries or a medical doctor who opines with reasonable medical certainty that it was the accident – and not some other factor – that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

In the recent Florida car accident lawsuit of Maines v. Fox, Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal, justices were asked to decide whether the trial court erred in limiting certain expert witness testimony and in awarding attorney fees to plaintiff based on defendant’s rejection of earlier offers for settlement. The court determined that while the trial court abused its discretion in limiting the testimony of defendant’s biomechanical engineer, the error was deemed harmless. However, with respect to attorney fees, the court determined the earlier proposals for settlement were ambiguous and therefore plaintiff could not collect attorney fees under F.S. 768.79.

According to court records, defendant ran a red light and struck two cars, including one driven by plaintiff.

The injured woman later filed a car accident lawsuit against the driver and his father, the latter of whom she alleged was vicariously liable as owner of the vehicle. She claimed permanent injury that required neck surgery as a direct result of the accident.

Defendants admitted they were liable for the crash, so the sole issue at trial was the issue of causation and the need for surgery. That is, was the accident really so severe as to cause plaintiff’s reported injuries?

Both sides presented expert witness testimony concerning causation of the injury and the need for surgery. Plaintiff presented her treating chiropractor as well as the surgeon who performed neck surgery on her, who also was a biomedical engineer who had specialized knowledge of the effect of external forces on the human spine. Both doctors asserted plaintiff suffered permanent neck injury and the accident as the cause.

Defendant also presented two expert witnesses, including a medical doctor and a biomechanical engineer/ medical doctor. Both these physicians asserted the accident could not have caused plaintiff’s injury – at least not to the severity she alleged.

Plaintiff challenged the testimony of the biomechanical engineer, arguing he had improperly “bridged” the fields of medicine and biomechanics. The trial court agreed and barred his testimony.

Plaintiff reportedly extended two offers of settlement prior to trial, but the defense did not respond. Defense would later say the offers were ambiguous.

The case went to trial and plaintiff prevailed, with jurors awarding her $144,000 in compensation. The court also awarded plaintiff attorney’s fees on the grounds her earlier offers of settlement had been rejected.

Defense appealed. The appellate court ruled that while the trial court was wrong to limit the testimony of the biomechanical engineer, the error was harmless because the facts to which he would have testified were entered into evidence by other means. However with regard to attorney’s fees, because plaintiff’s previous settlement agreements were ambiguous, they did not comply with Florida statute and thus should not be awarded. That means plaintiff will have to pay attorney’s fees out of the damage award collected.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Maines v. Fox, May 3, 2016, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

GEICO v. Macedo – Insurer to Pay Attorney’s Fees After Florida Car Accident Verdict, May 9, 2016, Naples Car Accident Lawyer Blog