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$250k Car Accident Verdict Upheld in Case Where Daughter Sued Mother

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that an appellate court’s decision to grant a second trial to a plaintiff in a car accident injury case was the right move, thus securing the $250,000 in damages she won in the second jury verdict after suing her mother for alleged negligence while driving.

It’s important to point out that anyone reluctant to pursue damage claims against loved ones (spouses, children, parents, siblings, cousins, friends, etc.) that naming your loved one as a defendant is really only a technical matter. What you are really after is fair and just compensation from the defendant’s insurance policy. It’s not an indication that you harbor the notion your loved one meant you harm or even that you expect them to pay anything directly from their own coffers. Auto insurance is required for the registration of any motor vehicle in Florida, and therefore if you are a passenger in a vehicle driven by a relative or friend whose negligence caused or contributed to a crash that resulted in your injuries, you may be entitled to pursue damages on that claim just like anyone else. In most cases, plaintiffs cannot name the insurance company as a defendant because courts generally agree that jurors’ knowledge that defendant had insurance can be prejudicial.

Some auto insurance policies have exclusions for “resident relatives,” which are those related by blood or marriage who also reside in the insured’s household. The question of whether benefits are payable to the injured party will depend on the exact language of the policy and the relationship between the insured and claimant.

In this case, a resident relative challenge was not at issue. According to court records, the primary roadblock to collecting compensation was a pre-existing medical issue and whether plaintiff’s stated injuries were crash-related or rather stemmed from this prior condition.

Plaintiff’s medical issue was something called a syrinx of the upper spine, which involves the presence of a fluid-filled cavity in the spinal cord. Plaintiff was diagnosed with the condition in 2001. She received ongoing treatment to address this issue, and her last MRI prior to the crash in question was in the spring of 2007.

The next year, plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle operated by her mother, the defendant, who crashed after reportedly trying to avoid an unidentified vehicle. Plaintiff underwent spinal fusion surgery.

In a complaint naming her mother and the unidentified driver as negligent in causing the crash, plaintiff sought damages for medical expenses related to the surgery and follow-up care, as well as compensation for lost wages.

Prior to trial, defense counsel filmed a deposition taken by an orthopedic surgeon who examined plaintiff and medical records and testified her MRI results were unchanged between 2007 and 2008. Defendants wanted to use only the video deposition at trial and not call the expert witness to the stand. For this reason, plaintiff asked to have portions of the deposition that referred to non-testifying doctors’ findings stricken from evidence. Trial court denied this request, but did give a limiting instruction to jurors on how to consider testimony from non-testifying experts’ conclusions. Defendant’s expert witness was taped saying there was no difference between the two MRIs taken a year apart – HOWEVER, the films the witness showed in the tape were both labeled 2008.

At the end of the trial, plaintiff’s car accident attorney asked the court for a chance to replay this witness’s video testimony in summation, to underscore the fact that the two MRI films he was showing were taken on the same date. The defense objected to this, and trial court sustained.

Jurors ultimately ruled plaintiff’s mother was negligent in causing the crash, but awarded plaintiff $0 damages, finding she had suffered no permanent injury as a result of the crash.

Plaintiff appealed seeking a second trial, which she was granted. There, the mother’s liability was not disputed; the only question was a matter of damages (how much, if anything, she should receive). The trial court this time around plaintiff was successful in blocking the expert witness’s testimony that referenced findings of doctors who weren’t called to testify. At the conclusion, jurors awarded plaintiff $250,000 in damages, finding her injuries were proximately caused by her mother’s negligence behind the wheel.

The court of appeals reversed, finding the trial court should never have granted plaintiff a second trial. The first jury’s verdict was reinstated. The state supreme court, however, reversed the appellate court, finding the grant of a second trial was proper because the first trial court made a mistake in barring plaintiff from re-playing that segment of video from the defense witness comparing two MRIs taken on the same date. This, the state high court ruled, resulted in a miscarriage of justice. Therefore, the $250,000 award of damages was affirmed.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Hayes v. Delamotte, Jan. 10, 2018, New Jersey Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Injury Attorneys: Be Wary of Early Car Accident Settlement Offers, Jan. 24, 2018, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Attorney Blog

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