One of the most important issues in a Florida personal injury case is often the cause and extent of injuries suffered by the plaintiff. But what happens when a person injured due to another’s negligence suffers further injury due to poor or inappropriate medical treatment of the original injury? Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal explains in Pedro v. Baber.
Betsey Baber was injured when her car was rear ended by a vehicle driven by Joey James Pedro. After driving herself to the hospital, Baber was diagnosed with whiplash by emergency room staff. Still suffering from pain four months later, Baber consulted Dr. Nucci, an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed her with muscular and disc injuries in her neck and lower back. Following several months of treatment, Baber underwent surgery for the injuries. Although the pain initially decreased after the surgery, it later returned.
Baber sued Pedro and his wife, the vehicle’s owner, for negligence. At trial, the Pedros argued that they should not be liable for expenses related to the surgery because it was not necessary. Both Baber and Dr. Nucci testified that the surgery was for injuries caused by the car accident. The Pedros, however, called an expert witness – Dr. Knezevich – who testified that the injuries treated in the surgery were degenerative and not caused by the accident. The injuries that Baber sustained in the accident, according to Dr. Knezevich, did not require surgery.
At the conclusion of trial, the trial judge granted Baber’s request that the judge provide a so-called “Stuart instruction” to the jury, informing it that a person whose negligence causes an accident or injury is responsible for additional injuries caused by the medical negligence of a physician treating the plaintiff for the original injuries. After the instruction was given, Baber’s lawyer argued in his closing statement that Dr. Nucci’s surgery was unnecessary and had permanently injured Ms. Baber. The jury returned a verdict for Baber, finding that Mr. Pedro’s negligence caused her injuries and, as a result, that the Pedros are responsible for all medical costs including those related to the surgery.
On appeal, the Second District affirmed the decision, ruling that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in providing the Stuart instruction. In so doing, the Court noted that it was the Pedros’ witness who opened the door to questioning the necessity of the surgery in the first place. Once the Pedros’ attacked Dr. Nucci’s credibility and the decision to perform the surgery, according to the Court, the trial court was justified in giving the Stuart instruction.
Rear end accidents are among the most common types of automobile collisions in the United States and whiplash injuries similar to those suffered by Ms. Baber are a frequent result of these crashes. The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine represent individuals throughout the region – including in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach – injured in these and other car accidents. If you were involved in a rear end collision, a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney can help you to weigh all of your legal options.
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