Florida Court: Car Accident Plaintiff Must be Given Full Opportunity to Cross-Examine Defendant's Medical Expert - Poland v. Zaccheo

February 20, 2012

In order to recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff must not only prove that he or she is injured, but that the injury resulted from the defendant's conduct. Often, this comes down to a battle of experts, with each party presenting witnesses to support the claims or defenses. In Poland v. Zaccheo, Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeals explains that the parties must be given a full and fair opportunity to cross-examine these witnesses before a case goes to a jury for a decision.

204563_statues_of_rome_5.jpg Appellant Audra Poland was injured in a car accident in 2006 when her car was rear ended by Appellee Susan Zaccheo's SUV. Poland eventually underwent surgery for a lower back injury. She filed an action against Zaccheo for negligence. At trial, Zaccheo called an orthopedic surgeon who, according to the Court, testified that the "accident had caused only a temporary cervical strain on Poland and that the majority of Poland's injuries were attributable to preexistent disc bulges and degeneration associated with her morbid obesity." The expert further stated that the accident did not cause any permanent injury.

The jury found Zaccheo 90 percent negligent and Poland 10 percent negligent for the accident - under Florida law, a person who is injured partly due to his or her own negligence can hold another liable proportionately - awarding Poland $10,000 for past medical expenses and $4,400 for past lost earnings. The jury did not award damages for future medical expenses or lost earnings, concluding that Poland did not sustain a permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability.

On appeal, Poland argued that the trial court erred by limiting her lawyer's cross-examination of Zaccheo's medical expert. Specifically, the trial judge sustained an objection from Zaccheo's attorney, preventing Poland's lawyer from questioning the expert as to whether Poland's surgery was related to the accident.

The Fourth District agreed with Poland, finding that the trial judge improperly limited cross-examination concerning the proximate cause of Poland's injuries. Section 90.612(2) Florida Statutes (2008) provides that cross-examination of a witness should be allowed to the extent that it covers matters to which the witness testified on direct examination. In this case, according to the Court, the relationship between the accident and Poland's surgery was sufficiently related to the matters to which Zaccheo's expert testified on direct examination - namely, Poland's injuries and their likely cause - that the trial judge should have allowed cross-examination on the issue. "At a minimum...the lower court should have allowed Poland's attorney to fully explore the witness's opinion regarding the causation of Poland's injuries in order to effectively refute the notion that Poland's damages were not proximately caused by the accident," the Court ruled. Accordingly, the Court reversed the jury's decision and remanded the case for a new trial.

Cross-examination is one of the many ways in which an experienced personal injury attorney can assist a person who's been injured in an accident win his or her case. The South Florida accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine represent clients throughout the area, including in Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and Coral Springs. If you have suffered injury because of another person's negligence, call us for a free consultation today.

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Collateral Source Benefits and Comparative Negligence in Florida Personal Injury Cases - Hester v. United States

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