The plaintiff in a Florida car accident lawsuit was reportedly captured on surveillance cameras engaging in activities he had purportedly claimed in his deposition testimony to be unable to perform following the crash.
As a result, the trial court issued a final judgment dismissing his claim in Guillen v. Vang et al. He appealed to Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal, requesting reversal of that ruling – which was granted. The court found the video evidence alone wasn’t enough to prove the plaintiff had set in motion some unconscionable scheme designed to trick the court and enrich himself.
Broward car accident lawyers believe the justices here reached the right conclusion because there is a fine line between what constitutes fraud and what is actually forgetfulness, a misunderstanding or a genuine mistake. In some cases, even when plaintiffs have been caught in outright lies, the court has held this is not necessarily proof of fraud on the court.
Such actions should never be encouraged. On the contrary, claimants should always tell the truth. Any attorney who asks you to do otherwise is asking you to break the law – and you should find a different lawyer. Fraud on the court is a serious violation, and could be met not only with dismissal of your civil case, but also the requirement to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees and other costs. There might be a separate civil lawsuit filed, accusing you of slander or libel. Depending on the circumstances, there could even be a criminal action.
But not every inaccuracy presented to the court is intentional. Sometimes they are the result of having forgotten certain details or perhaps not understanding the question asked. These inaccuracies, if pointed out to the court, could result in a severe blow to the plaintiff’s credibility. However, they shouldn’t constitute a finding of fraud on the court that would result in dismissal or other penalties. The extent to which the revelation would impact the case is a matter that should be decided by a jury.
In the Guillen case, the appellate court was asked whether the trial court appropriately dismissed the plaintiff’s car accident injury claim because surveillance footage appeared to show him engaged in activities he had previously said the accident rendered him unable to perform. The court sided with the plaintiff, noting that while there were undoubtedly discrepancies, those were best resolved by a jury, as they failed to reach the rigors of the test set forth in the 2012 ruling of Perrine v. Henderson.
In Perrine, the Fifth District affirmed the dismissal of a claim for fraud on the court, following the revelation of numerous misrepresentations regarding the plaintiff’s medical history and current injuries. The court pointed to previous case law that indicates “strong medicine” (i.e., dismissal of a case) should be reserved only for cases wherein there is egregious misconduct. In determining what egregious conduct is, the court has said there must be some clear and convincing evidence of a scheme intended to circumvent the discovery of facts central to the case. Instances of nondisclosure, dissemblance, inconsistency and even lying are insufficient grounds for the court to take this action.
In the Guillen car accident case, it may be possible to challenge the validity of the video or to downplay earlier statements made by the plaintiff, which might tend to contradict the images. Still, these are matters best settled by the jury.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Guillen v. Vang et al, May 16, 2014, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Pralle v. Milwicz – Winning Accident Claim Requires Proof of Injury Cause, May 26, 2014, Broward Car Accident Lawyer Blog