The tragic death of a young woman following a Florida car crash prompted her parents to file a lawsuit against the driver who struck her head-on after she was rear-ended while attempting to pass a semi-truck.
In preparation for that lawsuit, the plaintiffs requested the defendant undergo a compulsory medical exam, asserting the defendant’s age, mental state and alleged dementia (as asserted by a plaintiff’s expert witness) were factors in the crash.
West Palm Beach car accident lawyers know it’s common for compulsory medical exams to be requested of plaintiffs in injury cases. This is because the plaintiff’s injuries are an essential element of the case, upon which issues of causation and damages rest.
However, it is less common (though not unheard of) to request a defendant undergo such an exam. The recent decision in Gray v. Richbell illustrates one example of why. It’s worth noting, however, that the medical condition of a defendant can be relevant, but the issue must be appropriately raised prior to trial.
Here, the plaintiff’s daughter was traveling on a two-lane highway when she attempted to pass a tractor trailer. As she did so, a car behind her also attempted to pass the trailer. However, the vehicle behind her ended up rear-ending her, thrusting her into the lane of oncoming traffic. There, she was struck by a truck driven by the defendant. She died of her injuries.
Her parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging the driver of the truck negligently failed to avoid the crash. The plaintiffs offered up the theory that the defendant’s age and physical condition were contributing factors to the crash.
An accident reconstruction expert testifying for the plaintiff opined the truck driver was at fault, despite not having reviewed the driver’s medical records. Still, the plaintiffs sought and were granted the truck driver’s medical records, and deposed his doctors. This was over the truck driver’s objections and his request for a protective order.
In that request for a protective order, the truck driver argued that a compulsory neurological examination was not necessary because his medical condition had not formally been placed into controversy (asserted as a direct or material cause of the action), and that, per Rule 1.360 of Florida’s Civil Rules of Procedure, the plaintiff’s hadn’t shown good cause to require the exam.
Just before trial began, with the court having taken no action on the defendant’s objection, the expert witness for the plaintiff asserted the trucker was suffering from dementia, although none of his doctors had diagnosed him with such. At a hearing less than a week before trial, the trial court overruled the defendant’s objection to the compulsory medical exam, and he was required to undergo the exam three days before the trial got underway.
The defendant filed an appeal with the Fourth District.
The appellate court granted the defendant’s petition on the grounds that his physical and mental health were not at issue in the underlying complaint, but rather his conduct. The allegation was that he was negligent in not doing enough to avoid crashing into a car that veered into his lane of traffic. Whether he was negligent or not, the court held, his physical health was not material.
Given also the plaintiff’s expert witness reaching a conclusion of fault without having reviewed the medical records, the court found the plaintiff’s hadn’t satisfied the necessary requirements for compelling a medical exam of the truck driver.
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Gray v. Richbell, July 9, 2014, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal
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