The Florida Court of Appeals, Third District, recently decided an interesting case that affects both plaintiffs and defendants in multiple-defendant personal injury cases. Specifically, the case relates to the admissibility of evidence showing that the plaintiff settled with a party who used to be, but is no longer, named as a defendant.
In the case of Bern v. Camejo, the dispute arose from a three-car collision. Bern, the plaintiff, sued both Acevedo and Perez, claiming that they caused the accident which caused her injuries. Before trial, Bern settled out of court with Perez and proceeded to trial against Acevedo (and the owner of Acevedo’s car). It was Bern’s plan to have Perez testify that the accident was Acevedo’s fault, a position that Perez maintained from the beginning.
Before the trial began, the plaintiff asked the court to prevent Acevedo from telling the jury that Bern had initially named Perez as a defendant but had since settled with Perez out of court and then dismissed her from the suit. The trial court gave Bern half of what she asked for: Acevedo could tell the jury that Perez was initially named as a defendant, but could not get into any discussion about an out-of-court settlement.
After a jury trial, Bern was found to be 60% at fault, Perez 30% at fault, and Acevedo 10% at fault. After the court calculated the figures, Acevedo owed Bern close to $67,000. This figure disappointed Bern and she appealed, challenging the court’s decision to allow evidence of Perez’s previous status as a defendant.
The Court of Appeals Decision
The Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, finding for Bern. The court of appeals found that it was an error to allow Acevedo to mention that Perez was initially named as a defendant because it would lead jurors to the “logical conclusion” that Perez had settled the claim with Bern.
Although this may sound like an odd rule, the purpose of the law is to “promote Florida’s public policy favoring settlement by excluding such prejudicial evidence at trial.” In other words, to encourage plaintiffs and defendants to settle out of court, the law makes it so that any evidence of that settlement cannot be used in future proceedings.
How Does this Affect Florida Personal Injury Plaintiffs?
This case is actually beneficial for Florida personal injury plaintiffs because it prevents one named defendant from trying to unload the blame on a defendant with whom the plaintiff has already settled. Granted, the holding is of limited use, because it only applies to accidents with multiple defendants.
Have You Been Involved in a Florida Car Accident?
If you have recently been involved in a Florida car accident, you should speak to an experienced Florida personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Depending on the facts of the case, you may be entitled to significant monetary compensation. The skilled attorneys at the Dean Law Firm have the experience and dedication you need to effectively bring your Florida personal injury lawsuit. Click here, or call 352-387-8700 to speak with a dedicated personal injury attorney at the Dean Law Firm today.
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Elderly Woman Kills Three Backing Out of Parking Space After Church, Ocala Injury Lawyer’s Blog, February 3, 2014.