The Week in Torts – Cases from the Week of May 12, 2017
FLORIDA LAW WEEKLY
VOLUME 42, NUMBER 19
CASES FROM THE WEEK OF MAY 12, 2017
SECOND DISTRICT REVERSES THE TRIAL COURT’S DISMISSAL FOR FRAUD ON THE COURT.
Duarte v. Snap-on, Inc., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1023 (Fla. 2nd DCA May 3, 2017):
On this motion for rehearing before the Second District, the court again addressed the case where the plaintiff had been involved in an accident in 2008 (a rear end by a drunk driver). In that accident, the force of the impact was so great, that the man’s girlfriend who was riding as a passenger was rendered paraplegic. He was then involved in another accident four years later, and the original defendants asserted that the bulk of his injuries were from the second accident.
The case focused on the extent that the plaintiff suffered injuries from the two accidents. Ultimately, the defendants in the first accident moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s case, for allegedly falsely testifying about the severity of the second accident during his deposition (which he did acknowledge but described differently), and for failing to disclose the second accident and subsequent visits to a chiropractic center in his written answers to interrogatories.
The plaintiff for his part defended by arguing that he neither read nor spoke English as evidenced by his use of an interpreter in his deposition, and that he suffers from memory deficiencies due to his age and medication.
The trial court relied solely on the attachments to the motion (and not a hearing) and concluded that the plaintiff had told repeated untruths about the second accident, and that his credibility was so damaged, that his testimony could not be presented to a jury. The trial court then dismissed the plaintiff’s case.
The Second District advised that before dismissal for fraud on a court can be obtained, the movant must prove his or her case by clear and convincing evidence. Substantively, the movant must show that the opponent sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability to impartially adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier of fact or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party’s claim or defense.
The defendant’s argument to the trial court was that the plaintiff had played the 2008 and 2012 accidents off of each other to maximize his recovery in each, making the second accident sound more serious for purposes of beefing up his insurance claim for that accident, and then minimizing that accident, because it would weaken his claim for damages on the first accident.
The court observed that the case the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries in an automobile accident. It was not a case where the plaintiff had suffered no injuries, and there was evidence that the first accident was very severe. The defendant admitted liability, even admitting that it was in fact some cause of the injury.
Because the dispute was over the extent of the injuries, the court did not find that the plaintiff’s conduct rose to the level supporting dismissal. On the contrary, the plaintiff identified the second accident, but described it as being slight, and not even as what he would describe as an accident. Still, he did testify that the event made his back hurt much more than it did before.
Additionally, the record was insufficient to deem the plaintiff’s interrogatory disclosure as fraud on the court. The chiropractic visits were disclosed on amended answers to interrogatories, and he fleshed out his “I don’t remember” answers in deposition.
The court distinguished decisions where it had dismissed cases for fraud based on false or misleading, incomplete discovery responses, finding that in each of those cases, the trial court had dismissed after an evidentiary hearing enabled it to find that the plaintiff had done something false or misleading. The plaintiff’s non-culpable explanations for his conduct were unconvincing, and together, the court then found the conduct was in fact sufficiently severe enough to warrant dismissal.
In this case, the trial court failed to conduct an evidentiary hearing, and thus lacked a sufficient evidentiary basis for determining that fraud on the court had occurred. Because the limited documentary record before the court was not sufficient to justify a decision that dismissal rather than impeachment at trial or traditional discovery sanctions was the appropriate remedy for the conduct, the trial court abused its discretion in dismissing the action, and the Second District reversed.
PURSUANT TO SECTION 44.104, WHEN PARTIES AGREE TO SUBMIT TO VOLUNTARY BINDING ARBITRATION, THE APPEAL IS TO THE CIRCUIT COURT; NO FURTHER REVIEW IS PERMITTED UNLESS A CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE IS RAISED.
Kaplan v. Epstein, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1006 (Fla. 4th DCA May 3, 2017):
After the parties in the appeal chose to submit their entire dispute to voluntary binding arbitration, there was an appeal to the circuit court, which affirmed the decision. The losing party tried to appeal to the Fourth District.
The plain language of the statute is clear; when parties agree to submit to voluntary binding arbitration their appeal is only to the circuit court, unless a constitutional issue is raised. Here, there was no constitutional issue raised and thus no further review was permitted. The court dismissed the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
FLORIDA’S DANGEROUS INSTRUMENTALITY LAW APPLIED TO AN ACCIDENT OCCURRING IN SOUTH CAROLINA WHERE BOTH PARTIES TO THE LITIGATION WERE FLORIDA RESIDENTS–UNDER THESE PARTICULAR CIRCUMSTANCES, FLORIDA HAD THE MOST SIGNIFICANT RELATIONSHIP TO THE ISSUE OF VICARIOUS LIABILITY.
Ward v. Morlock, 42 Fla. L. Weekly 1038 (Fla. 5th DCA May 5, 2017):
The defendant and his family were vacationing in South Carolina with his brother in law, and his family. The brother in law’s son needed a ride to the airport, and the brother in law asked the defendant if he could borrow his vehicle. It was on the way to the airport that the plaintiff was rear ended at an intersection in South Carolina.
The plaintiff sued the defendant in Florida (both parties were Florida residents) seeking damages under Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine. However, defendant answered arguing that South Carolina law, and not Florida law applied. The defendant stated that there was no evidence that he negligently entrusted his vehicle to his brother in law or that he would otherwise be liable to the plaintiff under South Carolina’s family purpose doctrine. Therefore summary judgment was proper. The trial court agreed and found South Carolina law did apply and granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
In analyzing the critical legal issue in dispute, i.e., whether the owner of the automobile could be held vicariously liable, the analysis of the conflict of laws from the restatement which focuses on specific issues in tort (Sections 156-174) direct the forum court to apply the local law of the state with the most significant relationship to the occurrence and the parties with respect to the issue of vicarious liability, before determining whether one person is liable for the tort of another.
Applying the applicable sections, the court concluded that Florida had the most significant relationship because the defendant was a Florida resident and the vehicle that his brother in law was operating was registered and insured in Florida. Therefore, there was a reasonable relationship between the defendant and Florida.
Additionally, the plaintiff was also a Florida resident. Applying Florida law on the issue of vicarious liability is consistent with the policy behind its dangerous instrumentality doctrine that is to protect plaintiffs from “impecunious drivers” by imposing liability on owners.
Notably, the brother in law who was not sued, resided in Pennsylvania. The court noted that Florida has a manifest interest in protecting its residents, and in holding them responsible under its dangerous instrumentality doctrine. This, the court said, far outweighs any interest that South Carolina had in the application of its laws, where neither driver nor owner resided in South Carolina.
Meanwhile, while both states have a public policy of protecting an injured plaintiff against monetary costs at the hands of a negligent defendant, South Carolina does not impose vicarious liability upon owners. Thus, the application of Florida’s law in this case more readily serves the purpose, without offending South Carolina law. Additionally, South Carolina has little if any interest in protecting the defendant who is a Florida resident from liability.
Finally, the chance that the interstate system would be impacted when both of these parties were Florida residents was minimal. Thus, under the facts, the court reversed summary judgment.