A Florida car accident injury lawsuit against an uninsured motorist coverage insurer will proceed once more, following a state appellate court ruling that the trial court improperly tossed the claim and deprived plaintiff of the right to refile. Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal held the lower court abused its discretion by imposing the “extreme” sanction of dismissal with prejudice after plaintiff’s willful disobedience in going ahead with a scheduled surgery before undergoing a compulsory medical exam (or CME) at defendant insurer’s request.
Although plaintiff’s injury claim can proceed, our car accident attorneys in Fort Lauderdale know disregarding a court’s order can be fatal to a civil case, and is generally never advisable. Even the 5th DCA didn’t disagree that what the plaintiff did was out of line and potentially worthy of sanctions. It was just that the dismissal with no chance to refile is one of the most severe sanctions that can be imposed – and here, the punishment didn’t fit the crime.
According to court records in Faris v. Southern-Owners Insurance Company, plaintiff filed his car accident injury lawsuit following a September 2014 crash, wherein an uninsured motorist ran into his car while they were both traveling on a highway in Georgia. Fortunately, plaintiff had auto insurance through his own insurer that came with $250,000 in uninsured motorist coverage. Unfortunately, the auto insurer denied the claim. Plaintiff then filed a breach of contract claim, alleging his insurer wrongfully denied his claim.
Sanctions in Florida Car Accident Injury Lawsuit for Failure to Comply With Discovery Requests
In any Florida car accident injury lawsuit, the case has to go through a number of stages before it goes to trial (if it goes to trial; many cases are negotiated and a settlement reached). During the phase of pre-trial discovery, either side can make requests for certain information, so long as it’s relevant. Judges can order material be released – or not. Failure to comply with that order can result in sanctions.
The severity of those sanctions really depend on the situation. For example if a defendant withholds evidence, the court might prevent them from introducing other key evidence or it can issue a fine (capped at whatever whatever sum plaintiff lost due to defendant’s bad faith). Plaintiffs who withhold evidence can, as in this case, have their entire claim tossed. But that is the extreme, and while the system does allow for judicial discretion, appellate courts can review those rulings to determine if the lower court abused that discretion.
Facts of This Florida Crash Case
Over the course of eight months of discovery, the insurer sought plaintiff’s medical records, prior medical history, employment history and history of prior insurance claims.
Nearly two years after the crash, plaintiff notified the insurer he planned to undergo surgery to repair a herniated disc. This was not something he was required to tell defendant, but upon so doing, the insurer insisted on a CME, giving two dates prior to the surgery two weeks later. Plaintiff told his insurer he wasn’t available on those dates. Insurer filed a motion to compel the exam, citing insufficient time to schedule it prior to the surgery. The court ordered the plaintiff either undergo the CME prior to surgery or postpone the surgery date and further required the insurer to give two more CME dates. The insurer provided just one before the surgery, giving plaintiff less than 24 hours to confirm. But before his time off work for the appointment was approved, insurer told him that date wasn’t available anymore, and gave him three other dates – all after the date of his surgery. Plaintiff asked the court if he could undergo the exam after his surgery, arguing the insurer hadn’t proved its case would be dinged by this – especially considering they had all of his preoperative medical records.
Ultimately, he went through with the surgery for his Florida car accident injury before he could undergo the CME, and the trial court dismissed the case. In its review, the appellate court noted plaintiff wasn’t even required to tell the defendants about the surgery in the first place. Further, the appellate panel noted the insurer’s own blunders, namely setting one exam date and time for less than a day later and then canceling it as plaintiff awaited time off work from his boss. Plaintiff even tried (unsuccessfully) to schedule a preoperative appointment on his own. It was only after all this did he go ahead and get the surgery, despite the court’s order to hold off.
Appellate judges ruled in this particular case, and in the absence of any indication from the insurer that it was prejudiced by the surgery occurring sooner, the court reversed.
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Faris v. Southern-Owners Insurance Company, March 9, 2018, Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal
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