The Week in Torts – Cases from the Week of July 20, 2018
FLORIDA LAW WEEKLY
VOLUME 43, NUMBER 29
CASES FROM THE WEEK OF JULY 20, 2018
TRIAL COURT APPLIED THE WRONG LEGAL STANDARD IN EVALUATING A MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL (PROPER STANDARD IS WHETHER THE JURY’S VERDICT WAS AGAINST THE MANIFEST WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE)–COURT REMANDED FOR TRIAL JUDGE TO RECONSIDER RULING IN LIGHT OF THE PROPER STANDARD.
Meyers v. Shontz, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D1602 (Fla. 2nd DCA July 13, 2018):
This case involved a rear-end collision. The plaintiff had a long prior history of back complaints and had delayed seeking treatment. There was also conflicting testimony regarding liability.
The trial judge granted a new trial for the plaintiff after a defense verdict. After reviewing the defendant’s responses to the plaintiff’s motion for new trial, the trial judge found that the defendant made representations that were contrary to the “court’s memory of the testimony of one of the witnesses.” Based on that alone, the trial judge granted a new trial.
The Second District pointed out this was not the proper legal standard for granting a new trial. Instead, trial courts may order new trials when the jury’s verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence.
While a trial court has broad discretion in granting a new trial on manifest weight grounds, that discretion is neither “absolute nor unreviewable.” Trial judges may not behave as “super jurors” by disregarding a jury’s verdict, simply because a judge would have rendered a different one had it been the judge’s choice to make.
The trial court’s order clearly demonstrates that the court applied an incorrect legal standard to the plaintiff’s motion, granting a new trial because the court believed one witness testified differently than a party said he did. That is not the correct legal standard for ordering a new trial.
Instead, the trial court in evaluating the manifest weight of the evidence claim gets to consider all of the evidence, including its weight and credibility and then decide whether it manifestly weighed in the favor of the complaining party.
The appellate court further pointed out that the trial court’s mistake could have been attributed to the imprecision in identifying the operative legal concepts in the new trial order. The trial court instructed the jury on negligence (i.e., whether defendant breached duty of care) and “legal cause” (i.e., whether the defendant’s breach of a duty, if any, caused the plaintiff any injury) and then asked the jury to answer a single interrogatory directed to both issues. For the defendant to be liable on the negligence claim, there has to be both negligence and causation.
The court wanted to be sure that future litigants do not believe that orders granting new trial require magic words or special language. Instead, the court wanted to be sure that the proper standard is applied to the motion. The court reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the motion for new trial vis à vis the proper legal standard.
IN FIFTH DISTRICT, PIP STATUTE REQUIRES DEDUCTIBLE BE APPLIED TO 100% OF EXPENSES AND LOSSES BEFORE THE INSURER MAY REDUCE THE AMOUNT PAID PURSUANT TO THE STATUTORY REIMBURSEMENT LIMITATION–QUESTION CERTIFIED.
Progressive Select v. Florida Hospital Medical Center a/a/o Jose Sanchez, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D1588 (Fla. 5th DCA July 13, 2018):
In this appeal, the insurance company appealed the circuit court’s ruling affirming that the insured’s PIP deductible would be applied 100% to the hospital’s total medical charges, before reducing the amount the insurer had to pay pursuant to the statutory limitation in section 627.736(5)(a)1.B, Fla. Stat. (2013).
The Fifth District noted that it has consistently ruled that section 627.739(2), Fla. Stat. (2014) currently requires the deductible to be applied 100% of the expenses and losses, and found there was no violated clearly established principle of law resulting in the miscarriage of justice.
The court noted that the Florida Supreme Court has already accepted jurisdiction of this question certified as one of great public importance (whether the deductible gets subtracted from the total amount of the medical charges before applying the reimbursement limitation, or if the reimbursement limitation is applied first and then the deductible is subtracted?). Because the Fourth District has reached a contrary result, this court also certified the question in this case based on conflict.