Duclos v. Richardson, 113 So. 3d 1001 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2013)

This automobile negligence action arose out of an automobile accident that occurred in Duval County Florida. Plaintiff Jeanette Richardson sought to recover money for an injury to her neck that she claimed was a caused by Duclos’ negligence in an accident that occurred in 2006. In Florida a plaintiff can recover damages in tort from the defendant arising out of the operation or use of defendant’s insured automobile only when the injury is in part or whole of a permanent injury that can be said within a reasonable degree of medical probability. This case Richardson provided expert testimony from 3 doctors that agreed the injury to her neck was permanent.

The defendant can also provide testimony to the contrary and in response to Richardson’s witnesses the defense called Dr. Von Thron, an orthopedic surgeon, to present his expert opinion on the permanence of Richardson’s neck injury arising out of the automobile accident. Thron testified that he examined Richardson and reviewed her medical record of treatment she received in the past. Thron stated in his medical opinion the plaintiff had arthritis in her neck and therefore it appeared to he could not within a reasonable degree of medical probability say that the permanent injury the result of the accident. Dr. Thron testified that he based his conclusion on a review of medical records at the time of the collision and detailed how he evaluated the permanence of an injury or aggravation. Thron stated that Richardson did not need future treatment for injuries from this accident and that the neck injury caused by the accident was only temporary that her recent pain stemmed from arthritis.

The jury returned with a verdict that awarded Richardson damages for past medical bills but determined that her neck injury from the accident was not permanent and awarded her nothing for future medical expenses. Richardson asked the trial court for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or in other words to disregard the jury’s findings and grant her a new trial. Her request was granted because the court believed that Dr. Thron’s testimony was unconvincing, confusing and not reasonable in light of all the other evidence and medical testimony pointed towards the permanency of Richardson’s injuries resulting from the accident.

Duclos appealed the trial court’s decision that gave Richardson a new trial. The appellate court reviewed the record to determine whether any jury could have made the same decision that the auto accident in this case did not cause any permanent injury resulting in no money damages for future treatment expenses. The court stated that if a jury rejects medical opinions that an injury caused by an auto accident is permanent without any evidence to the contrary, only then can a JNOV be granted and that even if there is contradictory evidence a JNOV is justified when the expert testimony is so confusing and irreconcilable that it lacks any value in proving or disproving that position. However the trial court may not decide to grant the JNOV by weighing the evidence or considering the witness credibility and must deny the request for JNOV if different inference can be drawn from the evidence. If the expert opinion can raise a fact question for jury that supports a determination made by the jury then the JNOV should be denied. The court concluded that the trial court wrongly weighed Dr. Thron’s credibility; that his testimony carried value in disproving the permanency of Richardson’s condition and that jury was free to consider the weight and credibility of the opinions witnesses from both sides.

This case highlights the requirement for an injured persons to recover for future medical treatment for an injury resulting from an auto accident. An injured person seeking damages for future medical expenses must provide expert medical testimony to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the injury is permanent in part or whole. If no evidence to the contrary can be provided by the defense the party then the injured person would most likely receive compensation for future damages.

If you have been injured in a car accident in Florida and want a better understanding of your options, contact the Fort Lauderdale accident attorneys of Madalon Law for a free consultation. We will gladly answer your questions and come to you if you cannot make it to us.