Proving causation of injuries – particularly when a person suffered pre-existing conditions – can sometimes require expert witnesses.
This was the case in Maines v. Fox, an auto accident injury appeal recently weighed by Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.
According to court records, the issue of liability was not contested here. There was no question defendant was at-fault. The issue was whether defendant’s actions caused plaintiff’s personal injuries.
Jurors at trial had awarded plaintiff $144,000 in damages, plus attorney’s fees. On appeal, the trial court affirmed the damage award, even after finding the trial court erred in excluding part of defendants’ expert witness testimony regarding causation. That error was deemed harmless because substantial portions of that expert’s opinion were still conveyed to the jury. However, the award of attorney’s fees was reversed because it had been based on plaintiff’s pre-trial settlement offers, which the appeals court ruled were ambiguous.
The underlying facts of this case are that defendant ran a red light and hit two cars, one of which was being driven by the plaintiff. She later filed a lawsuit, alleging the at-fault driver was liable for causing the crash and that driver’s father was vicariously liable because he owned the at-fault driver’s car.
Plaintiff alleged she suffered permanent injuries and had to undergo neck surgery shortly after the auto accident.
Defendants conceded liability, but denied the crash caused plaintiff’s injury.
Expert witness testimony was presented on both sides.
Plaintiff presented testimony from her treating chiropractor and her neck surgeon, both of whom testified the crash caused her injury.
Defendant also presented two expert witnesses, including one medical doctor and another who was both a medical doctor and a biomechanical engineer. The doctor testified he didn’t believe the car accident caused plaintiff’s injury, which was more likely the result of a pre-existing degenerative disc disease. The biomechanical engineer/doctor testified the forces at play in this accident were too minimal to cause the specific injury plaintiff alleged.
Plaintiff challenged the validity of this testimony and called for a Daubert hearing (which weighs the scientific validity of certain evidence in civil cases). Essentially, plaintiff asserted that by using his biomechanical background to testify as to specific medical causation, this doctor was creating a new type of expertise that the scientific community hadn’t expressly deemed reliable.
Trial court agreed the witness had “improperly bridged” the two fields of biomechanical engineering and medicine by relying on his own force analysis to determine causation of plaintiff’s injuries. Therefore, the trial court limited testimony of the defense witness and not allowing him to testify as to the specific causation of this particular injury.
However, the witness was allowed to testify as to force calculations of the accident and whether they would have been generally severe enough to cause this type of injury.
The appellate court ruled that although it was an abuse of discretion for the court to limit this witness’s testimony, it was ultimately a harmless error because most of what this witness would have testified to was presented to jurors anyway.
If you have been injured in a Margate car accident, we can help.
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.
Maines v. Fox, May 3, 2016, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Wrong-Way Florida Car Accident Kills Deputy, April 28, 2016, Margate Car Accident Lawyer Blog