Court Decision Discusses Admissibility

In July, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals issued a decision in the case of Jackson v. Albright, contrary to a long-standing rule of law that evidence of a plaintiff’s prior settlement is inadmissible at trial. Generally speaking, a defendant is not permitted to introduce evidence of or question a plaintiff in a car accident claim regarding any previous settlement that the plaintiff has received as it may prejudice the jury.

In Jackson, the plaintiff, Kim Douglas, was injured in a 2001 car accident when her vehicle was rear-ended by another automobile driven by the defendant, Robert Albright. Douglas sued Albright for negligence, claiming that she suffered a herniated disc and neck strain as a result of the accident.

Douglas claimed that she was treated by a chiropractor and orthopedic surgeon and engaged in physical therapy in the months following the accident. Douglas had an MRI that revealed the disc injury in 2003, but Douglas did not have the surgery until approximately five years later. Douglas maintained that she waited to have the surgery because she did not have the financial ability to pay for it.

At trial, Albright entered photo evidence demonstrating the parties’ vehicles sustained little damage in the accident and testified that Douglas admitted she was ok following the crash, and even drove herself home. Albright countered Douglas’s claim that she postponed due to financial concerns by questioning Douglas about the fact that she recovered a large monetary settlement in an unrelated case less than a year prior to the accident. The trial court agreed, opining, “if money gets raised then once it’s thrown down on the floor then you get to bring up any [rebuttal] information you have about money, lack of money.”

On cross-examination, Albright’s attorney asked Douglas whether she had received a settlement of a lawsuit in the amount of $420,000, which she admitted she had. The jury found in favor of Albright and Douglas appealed.

The Fourth District affirmed the trial court’s decision permitting the examination of Douglas regarding the previous settlement. The Appeals Court recognized that, although evidence of prior settlements is generally not admissible at trial, in the case at bar, Douglas had “opened the door” by claiming that she didn’t have the financial means to pay for her treatment. The Court further reasoned that, in this case, it was “clear that [Douglas’s] earlier case was not a personal injury case but was a recovery of an entirely different type of lawsuit.”
The attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. have extensive experience representing individuals who have been injured by negligent drivers. If you or someone you know has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact the attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A today.

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