Friday Florida Law Update- Burden of Proof Following Expert Testimony

TGIF all, you got one more day of work in you this week, right?!  Today we take a look at a Florida law update.  As any of my blog followers will tell you, anytime the highest court in the jurisdiction issues an opinion, we tend to report on it.  Today we discuss the brand new Florida Supreme Court opinion in Wald v. Grainger, 2011 WL 1885710 (Fla. May 19, 2011).

Wald involved a two-vehicle car accident whereby the Defendant admitted fault for the accident (a great tactic when you have no defense to liability, by the way), and the case boiled down to Plaintiff’s injuries — specifically, whether they were permanent, and whether they were related to the accident. 

At trial, Plaintiff’s expert testified that Plaintiff had permanent injuries to his neck, back, right elbow, and right thigh, all related to the accident.  Defendant’s expert conceded permanent injury to Plaintiff’s right thigh, and that the injury was related to the accident.  At the close of the evidence, Plaintiff moved for a directed verdict as to his permanent thigh injury.  (Directed verdict is trial’s version of a summary judgment — after the evidence is finished and before closing argument, a party concedes all the facts presented by his opponent yet argues that he is still entitled to judgment as a matter of law on some or all issues). 

The trial court granted Plaintiff’s motion and took the issue of his permanent thigh injury out of the jury’s hands.  On appeal, the First District Court of Appeal reversed, holding that a jury is free to accept or reject any witness’s testimony, even if the evidence in the record is undisputed.  The Supreme Court of Florida agreed to review the case.

Florida’s highest court reversed the First DCA, holding that while determinations about permanency are generally made by juries, where the evidence of injury and causation is such that no reasonable inference could support a jury verdict for the defendant, it is not improper to direct a verdict on the permancy issue for the plaintiff.  Specifically, the Court found that after a Plaintiff presents a prima facie case of permanency through expert testimony, the burden shifts to the defendant to present countervailing expert testimony, severaly impeach the plaintiff’s expert, or present other evidence which creates a direct conflict with the plaintiff’s evidence. 

This a pretty severe departure from the former standard that a jury can reject the testimony of any witness on its own.  I want to also revisit the issue of the defendant conceding fault for accident.  When you cannot defend an issue, the best plan is to not even try to.  Earn some credibility with the jury by not making a poor argument.  In most instances, you will also get to limit or exclude evidence on points that no longer are at issue.

Have a great weekend, everyone!




THE COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG DO NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.  NOR DO THEY CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.  They are provided for informational purposes only.  Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.
Explore posts in the same categories: Florida Law Updates

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