In successfully securing damages for our clients injured in Fort Lauderdale car accidents, our attorneys must generally prove two key points: Fault of the defendant driver and proof of injuries incurred as a direct result of the defendant’s negligence.
Of course, every crash case presents its own unique and sometimes complex legal issues, but these are typically the two primary points necessary in order to obtain compensation.
In the recent case of Loyacono v. Travelers Insurance Company, those two points were virtually undisputed. And yet, the jury returned a verdict awarding the plaintiff $0 in damages. This set off a series of appeals, with the case going all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which affirmed the appellate court decision to remand the case back to trial – though there was still disagreement as to the legal justification for that decision.
According to court records, the case began in 2005. The plaintiff was driving when she observed the at-fault driver backing her vehicle out into the road. The plaintiff managed to stop, but the other driver still backed into the front of the plaintiff’s vehicle.
The plaintiff was taken by ambulance to the emergency room, as she complained of both neck and back pain. That day, she was diagnosed with muscle strain. There was never any dispute over these two points: The other driver was at fault and those negligent actions caused some degree of injury to the plaintiff.
The at-fault driver didn’t have liability insurance, but the plaintiff had an uninsured motorist policy through her own insurer. When the insurer refused to pay, the plaintiff filed suit against both the at-fault driver and the insurance company, seeking the full policy limit of $2.5 million.
Before the case went to trial, the circuit judge issued an order indicating the defendant driver caused the crash and that the plaintiff’s insurance policy should cover any injuries the plaintiff suffered. At trial, the issues then became the substance of the injuries and causation.
All three expert witnesses testifying at trial – including one for the defense – agreed the plaintiff suffered from muscle strain after the crash. However, they differed on the extent and exact cause. The plaintiff’s witness blamed the crash for years of pain, loss of earning capacity and numerous medical treatments. However, the defendant’s witness insisted the muscle strain would have only been painful for a short time, and that any extensive pain or issues could be attributed to a preexisting back condition.
The jury returned a verdict indicating the plaintiff should receive nothing.
The plaintiff appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying a motion for a directed verdict on causation. She argued a new trial was in order because the jury’s verdict was contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Plus, the trial court had allowed prejudicial and irrelevant information – such as her husband’s income – to be presented to the jury. Additionally, she alleged misconduct by the defense and possible juror misconduct that she said the court failed to address.
The state court of appeals determined the evidence was clear: the fault for the crash and the plaintiff’s injuries were uncontradicted. The only question for the jury was the extent of the injuries resulting from the crash. The court ordered the case remanded for a new trial on damages.
The insurer appealed to the state supreme court. Justices did not find the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. The court reasoned the cause of injuries was contradicted by the defendant’s expert witness, who indicated her more extensive injuries were likely the result of a pre-existing condition.
Even so, the supreme court affirmed the appellate court decision to remand the case for trial because the court erred in allowing prejudicial information to be presented to the jury. Specifically, evidence regarding her husband’s income, the court indicated, served to prejudice the jury against a wealthy plaintiff unnecessary. The court indicated defense counsel further contributed to this prejudice by attacking her profession and her husband’s profession (as a personal injury attorney), the court ruled “the need for a reversal is clear.”
This case illustrates how even a seemingly simple case can become complex. That’s why you never want to take your chances with an attorney who lacks experience.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Loyacono v. Travelers Insurance Company, June 19, 2014, Mississippi Supreme Court
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