The process of discovery, which is part of the pre-trial process in personal injury lawsuits, is a critical stage of litigation. During this process, each party has an opportunity to obtain information, documents, and other relevant evidence from the other side. When evidence favors one party, the evidence by its nature typically will be “prejudicial” (harmful) to the other side. Jury verdicts or decisions to settle a legal claim often turn on a judge’s ruling regarding the admissibility of unfavorable evidence. When courts consider the admissibility of evidence that adversely impacts one of the parties, the court considers whether the “probative value” of the evidence outweighs “unfair prejudice.” An experienced personal injury lawyer will attempt to exclude such evidence or mitigate its impact. In a recent case from the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Maniglia v. Carpenter, the court demonstrates the impact this evaluation can have on the outcome of a personal injury lawsuit.
Magnilia (the defendant) crashed into Carpenter (the plaintiff) when he was changing lanes causing damage to the rear region of Magnilia’s vehicle and the passenger side front of Carpenter’s vehicle. While Magnilia contended the collision was only a minor bump, Carpenter claimed the crash was a major sideswipe accident. Carpenter went to a chiropractor the day after the crash and complained of pain in his back and neck. The chiropractor found no evidence of significant injury from the collision and did not impose any work restrictions.
During discovery, Carpenter denied involvement in a subsequent accident. However, an investigation revealed that Carpenter was involved in a subsequent crash and physical altercation approximately a month after the collision at issue in the lawsuit. Carpenter sought to exclude evidence relating to the subsequent golf cart accident. The golf cart collided with another vehicle after Carpenter ran a red light. Evidence indicated that he was intoxicated and fell from the golf cart during the crash. Carpenter also was involved in an altercation where he used profanities and kicked against the rear window of a police car prior to being arrested. When Carpenter returned to the chiropractor two weeks after the golf cart accident, he did not disclose that he was involved in a second collision. The MRI diagnostic scans that the chiropractor eventually relied on when recommending surgery were obtained after the second crash.
Carpenter sought to exclude all evidence about the golf car incident because the prejudicial effect of the disclosure would outweigh any probative value. He argued that the unfair prejudicial facts, such as resisting law enforcement, profanity, and intoxication outweighed the probative value. The plaintiff further contended that these negative and irrelevant facts were too interwoven into the incident to even allow a sanitized version of the golf car crash to be disclosed to the jury. The trial court allowed the jury to hear that Carpenter played in the golf tournament while intoxicated and engaged in bumper cars with his golf cart. The jury was not told that Carpenter crashed his golf cart, fell to the ground, struggled with a police officer, and failed to inform the chiropractor of the golf cart incident. The jury returned a verdict for $182,429.
The appellate court found that the excluded information was highly relevant and might have justified jury instructions on intervening causes and subsequent injuries. In other words, the jury might have concluded that Carpenter’s injuries were caused by the golf cart accident and/or scuffle with the police. Further, evidence that the chiropractor was not informed of the subsequent collision might have impacted the jury’s opinion of Carpenter’s credibility. The court found that the probative value of the evidence excluded outweighed its probative value. Because Carpenter could not prove that the improperly admitted evidence did not impact the outcome, the verdict was overturned.
This decision illustrates the importance of persuasive advocacy regarding the admissibility of damaging evidence. Insurance companies often attempt to introduce evidence that will be embarrassing or disparaging that has limited or no relevance to the issues. An experienced Florida personal injury lawyer can anticipate the arguments that will be advanced to allow the jury to be poisoned by negative but irrelevant information. The goal of the plaintiff’s attorney is to exclude the information or mitigate its impact by limiting what the jury hears. Injury victims need to select a lawyer with whom they feel comfortable discussing all of the facts in their case, so the attorney can determine what information needs to be provided during discovery. If the information is damaging, the lawyer can determine the best way to minimize its impact.
If you or a family member has been injured or killed in a car accident, the Motor Vehicle Accident Lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire. With over 130 collective years of experience representing truck accident victims across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence. Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights. Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald. Put our exceptional personal injury attorneys to work on your case. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.