The defendant in Zelaznik v. Isensee never denied she was the at-fault party in a crash that prompted the plaintiff to seek medical treatment.
But despite a $1.1 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff for damages as a result, the defendant insists the crash wasn’t the true cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal, however, disagreed with her, allowing the verdict for the injured woman to stand.
Our West Palm Beach car accident lawyers know one of the key elements in these cases is showing a causal connection between the crash and the specific injuries suffered.
Sometimes, this can be a straightforward matter. For example, a broken leg or a punctured lung – these kinds of injuries can be directly related to the trauma of impact. However, there are other situations, particularly involving soft-tissue injuries, where the causation issue is less black-and-white. It’s critical in those cases that you have solid legal representation.
In the Zelaznik case, the defendant rear-ended the car of the plaintiff, who then sought medical treatment. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit, which proceeded to the trial phase.
Prior to jury selection, the plaintiff sought to exclude testimony of the defense’s expert witness, a doctor who specialized in diagnostic radiology. At the hearing, the doctor testified that when he reviewed the plaintiff’s MRI conducted nearly a month after the crash, he concluded the plaintiff suffered from a chronic degenerative disc disease. He indicated that manifestations such as swelling or bleeding might be seen for a short time with someone who had suffered a trauma. However, he said the evidence he saw led him to believe her permanent injuries were the result of a chronic condition, rather than acute trauma.
The court granted the plaintiff’s motion to exclude this evidence on the grounds that the doctor provided no medical literature to support his theory. The court also noted the opinion failed to take into account any variables that may affect swelling or other changes in soft tissue.
The appellate court would later find this exclusion to be in error, per Section 90.705(2). This was a doctor who had 30 years of medical experience in studying traumatic injuries and chronic conditions as shown on MRIs. The appellate court clarified that the plaintiff’s objection should have gone to the weight the jury gave the testimony, not whether it should be admitted altogether.
That said, the court found the error harmless. Harkening back to the 2006 ruling in Damico v. Lundberg, the court noted the test for whether an error was harmless is the determination of whether it is reasonably probable that a result more favorable to the appellant would have been reached if the error wasn’t committed.
In order to determine that, the court weighed the strength of the other evidence. The court indicated that while the case was weakened to a degree, there was not enough damage to the case to reasonably say it would be probable the jury would have returned a different verdict had they been given that testimony.
Therefore, the jury’s verdict stands.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Zelaznik v. Isensee, June 11, 2014, Florida Second District Court of Appeals
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“Fraud on Court” Ruling Against Car Accident Plaintiff Reversed, May 22, 2014, West Palm Beach Car Accident Lawyer Blog