Anyone who gets injured in Florida in a bicycle, car, truck, or motorcycle accident–or a slip and fall at a Publix, Costco, or other retailer–and then hires an accident lawyer to sue the defendant ought to read this blog because the number-one mistake that plaintiffs can and often do make in pursuing a claim in a Florida personal injury lawsuit is lying under oath.
Take for example the case of Sheila and Curtis Bryant.((SHEILA BRYANT and CURTIS BRYANT, Appellants, v. RAYMOND MEZO, Appellee. 4th District. Case No. 4D16-386. May 17, 2017. Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, Indian River County; Paul B. Kanarek, Judge; L.T. Case No. 312014CA001017.)) They were represented by another PI law firm in a car accident claim against Raymond Mezo. According to court records Mrs. Bryant was not transported from the scene of the accident, but returned to work. Several weeks later, she began treatment with a chiropractor, complaining of neck and back pain. Several months after that, she underwent neck surgery.
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She sued Mr. Mezo, whose lawyers sent her interrogatories, a written questionnaire each plaintiff must fill out and sign under oath in virtually every case. The questions range from providing past residences and employment to giving a detailed history of prior medical care and legal claims, to listing the names of all healthcare providers the plaintiff may have been treated by over a period of times–sometimes up to a decade before the accident in question. In this case, Mrs. Bryant identified a prior worker’s compensation claim in 1987 or 1988, in which she injured her left arm. However, she did not include any details about prior neck or back injuries. These questions and answers are then used to prepare the defense lawyer to take the deposition, which is a face-to-face interview or interrogation of the plaintiff under oath, meaning that the testimony carries the same weight and effect as though it were being given in front of the judge and jury. At these meetings, the defense lawyer is armed with the documents related to the answers provided in the interrogatories.
Moreover, during Mrs. Bryant’s deposition, she also failed to testify to any neck or back injuries, but stated she had only two prior injuries, an ankle and a left-arm injury. She testified that she “did not recall ever experiencing neck or back pain prior to the accident.” The defense lawyer then obtained records from the State of Florida’s Division of Worker’s Compensation, which showed that she had filed not one but two worker’s compensation claims, one in 1989 and another in 1993, in both of which she complained of a cervical spine injury (neck). These records also contained the deposition from her former chiropractor, who testified that he treated her for a neck injury two to three days a week for nine months, more than seventy times for the cervical spine injury, and that she complained of “rather significant neck pain.” That chiropractor actually had rated her as having a 7% permanent injury impairment of her whole body related to her cervical spine.
Additionally, medical records from Indian River Medical Center revealed that Mrs. Bryant had been treated for back-related injuries in 1991 and 2006, and had received treatment from another chiropractor several times in 2004. In her deposition, she denied ever visiting a chiropractor prior to the accident.
Lying Under Oath Can Destroy Your Case
While these “discrepancies” seem extraordinary, they are not uncommon. Plaintiffs routinely think that they can either outsmart the system or simply do not fully appreciate the consequences of not being truthful under oath.
Not surprisingly, the defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint for “fraud upon the court,” attaching the bills and medical records of her prior neck and back treatments. An evidentiary hearing was conducted, which is essentially a trail on the defendant’s motion to dismiss for fraud, and Mrs. Bryant reviewed the records, but stood by her prior testimony and denied ever having any prior back or neck injuries or treatment. The trial judge found that her “memory lapses were selective” and “her failure to disclose was intentional and untruthful” and dismissed her entire case with prejudice. She appealed.
On appeal she argued that the trial court “abused its discretion” in dismissing her case because the defendant did not show “clear and convincing evidence” that her failure to disclose her prior injuries and medical treatment was attributable to fraud rather than her alleged failed memory. The defendant argued that Mrs. Bryant’s testimony constituted a “fraud upon the court,” justifying the dismissal.
A “fraud upon the court” occurs when the evidence “clearly and convincingly” shows that a party intentionally schemed to interfere with a case((Herman v. Intracoastal Cardiology Ctr., 121 So. 3d 583, 588 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013).)). When a trial judge decides to dismiss a case for fraud upon the court, his or her decision is reviewed on appeal under a “narrowed abuse of discretion standard.”((Gilbert v. Eckerd Corp. of Fla., Inc., 34 So. 3d 773, 775 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010).)) Therefore, when repeated fabrications undermine the integrity of the entire case, a dismissal for fraud upon the court is proper.
In this case, the trial judge heard the live testimony of Mrs. Bryant and reviewed her medical records that showed she had complained of prior neck and back injuries. The judge found that her repeated failures to disclose those prior injuries and treatments were both intentional and untruthful. This satisfies the clear and convincing evidence standard and supported the trial court’s decision to dismiss the complaint.
How an Attorney Can Help You With Your Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit
These kinds of cases and personal injury claimants make it more difficult for those with legitimate personal injury claims to convince judges and juries of the validity of their damages. This case should also sound a stern warning to parties engaged in or about to undertake a personal injury case, medical malpractice suit, or cruise ship passenger accident proceeding to be forthright and honest in their responses.
If you have been involved in a slip and fall; car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, or pedestrian incident; or any other accident in Florida, contact our personal injury law firm in Miami today for a free initial consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. We have over 30 years of combined legal experience representing the injured across the State of Florida. We are available by telephone, toll-free at 1-866-5974529, locally at 305-441-0440, by email at [email protected] or Skype 24/7. Call us today–we are ready to help.