Court Says Jury Should Decide Whether Florida Car Accident Injury is Permanent - Duclos v. Richardson
In Florida car accident cases, it's usually up to a jury to decide the facts, including whether or not either party was negligent in causing the crash, as well as the extent of any related injuries. In Duclos v. Richardson, the Fourth District Court of Appeal explains that a court must have a very good reason for removing this function from a jury.
Jeanette Richardson injured her neck in a May 2006 car accident with Michael Duclos. She sued Duclos for damages under Section 627.737(2), Florida Statutes. The law allows a person to recover for injuries caused by another's use of a motor vehicle and which are permanent "within a reasonable degree of medical probability."
Three expert witnesses testified at trial that Richardson's injury was permanent. Conversely, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Von Thron testified for the defense that the injury was not permanent. According to Von Thron, who examined Richardson and reviewed her medical files, Richardson's neck pain from the accident was temporary and any recent pain was the result of a separate condition: arthritis.
A jury returned a verdict awarding Richardson damages for her past medical expenses, but found that the injury was not permanent and therefore did not award her damages for future medical costs. The trial court, however, granted Richardson's motion for new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) on the issue of injury permanence. Specifically, the court ruled that Von Thron's testimony was "confusing, mistaken and not reasonable in light of all the other evidence in the case..." As a result, the court said that a verdict should be entered in Richardson's favor finding that her injury from the crash is permanent.
On appeal, the First District ruled that the trial court's directed verdict was not warranted. As the court explained, a JNOV should be entered only where a reasonable jury could reach a different decision based on the evidence. Where the evidence is conflicting, the matter should generally be left for a jury to decide. That said, the appeals court warned that "[e]ven if contrary expert evidence is presented, a directed verdict is justified where an expert's testimony is so equivocal, confusing, and internally contradictory and irreconcilable as utterly to lack any probative value," citing its 2006 ruling in Simmons-Russ v. Emko.