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$1M Verdict Set Aside in Car Accident after Appellate Court Rehears Case under New Standard Set Forth by Florida Supreme Court Regarding Harmless Error – Hurtado v. Escobar

car crash2It is often said that there are two sides to every story. One of the reasons that we have jury trials is to determine which side is correct. The rules of evidence determine which evidence the jury gets to hear and which is excluded. The trial judgment makes these determinations based on motions filed by each party in a lawsuit. If a party is dissatisfied with the trial judge’s decision, he or she may appeal the decision to the court of appeals.

What the Plaintiff Alleged

In the case of Hurtado v. Escobar, the plaintiffs were a husband and wife who alleged that the defendant driver rear-ended their car while they were stopped at a red light. The accident caused only minimal damage to the plaintiffs’ car, but the husband claimed that he suffered a herniated disc in the wreck. The defendant’s expert witness averred that the injuries of which the husband complained were nothing more than a temporary aggravation of a pre-existing condition.

The Decision of the Trial Court

The couple filed suit in the Circuit Court for Palm Beach County, seeking compensation for the husband’s medical expenses and mental anguish caused by the accident. The jury found in the plaintiffs’ favor and awarded them $1,002,238.17 in damages.

What Happened on Appeal

Both sided appealed the trial court’s decision to the District Court of Appeal for the Fourth District of Florida. The defendant’s appeal was centered on his argument that the trial court erred in admitting evidence that he alleged was irrelevant and prejudicial. The plaintiffs claimed that the trial court erred with regard to a setoff of unemployment benefits. The appellate court consolidated the appeals. The court issued a judgment in the case but then granted a motion for rehearing and eventually vacated its prior opinion.

The substituted judgment of the court reversed the trial court’s judgment on both appeals and remanded the case for a new trial. Although the court had initially found only harmless errors in the admission of the plaintiffs’ financial problems or the alleged mental anguish caused by the defendant’s failure to apologize or acknowledge that he was at fault in the accident until just before trial, the court determined on rehearing that the new standard set by the Florida Supreme Court in Special v. West Boca Medical Center changed the outcome of the case. Under the new standard, the beneficiary of an error must prove that there is “no reasonable possibility that the error complained of contributed to the verdict.” Since the plaintiffs could not meet this burden, a new trial was necessary.

With regard to the plaintiffs’ argument concerning a setoff of the husband’s unemployment benefits, the court found that such benefits could not be interpreted as a collateral source under Florida law, and thus the trial court erred in setting off those benefits from the final judgment.

To Speak to a South Florida Accident Lawyer about Your Car Accident

Car accident cases can be complicated. Even when liability is clear, the amount of compensation that an injured person should receive is often hotly contested. If you or a family member has been injured in a car wreck, you need a law firm that is knowledgeable in these types of matters. The experienced injury attorneys at Cohn & Smith can help you as you pursue maximum compensation from those responsible for your accident. Call us at 954-431-8100 to schedule an appointment regarding your Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, or North Dade County accident.

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