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Can an At-Fault Driver in Florida Prevent the Jury from Hearing Evidence Regarding His Negligence by Admitting Liability? -Lenhart v. Basora, 100 So.3d 1177 (4th DCA 2012)

In most auto accident lawsuits, the insurance company for the at-fault driver will tenaciously work to dispute its insured's negligence. However, there are situations where the defendant might be inclined to concede that he or she engaged in unreasonably unsafe conduct to keep egregious facts from appearing relevant to the litigation. The theory is that admitting fault makes facts that could poison the jury against the defendant no longer relevant after the defendant concedes liability. This strategy is designed to prevent the jury from hearing facts that might motivate the jury to award larger damages.

The Florida 4th District Court of Appeals case, Lenhart v. Basora, 100 So.3d 1177 (4th DCA 2012), provides an example of a negligent driver attempting to use this litigation strategy. The plaintiff was riding a scooter when the defendant suddenly moved into the lane of the scooter which caused the collision. The plaintiff, who was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash involving the scooter and car, suffered a serious traumatic brain injury.

The defendant admitted liability and moved to exclude certain evidence of his fault, such as: (1) he had no driver's license; (2) he had only driven on one occasion (a joyride at the age of 13); (3) he could not say whether he was wearing his glasses; and (4) he failed to take his prescription medication for depression and anger management the day of the collision. The trial court granted the request to exclude this evidence because it had insufficient probative value since liability was not at issue.

After this evidence was excluded, the jury found that the plaintiff's damages amounted to $11,802,488. However, the jury also ruled that the plaintiff was 67 percent at-fault for causing his own injuries because he did not wear a helmet while the defendant was 33 percent at-fault. Based on this apportionment of fault, the plaintiff was awarded $3,827,621 from the defendant. The plaintiff appealed the exclusion of evidence of the defendant's negligence based on the grounds that the evidence was relevant to the process of apportioning fault between the parties.

Although evidence related to liability is prejudicial and irrelevant when the defendant concedes to being solely liable, the court noted this analysis does not apply when the defendant raises the defense of comparative negligence. Because evidence regarding the fault of the car driver was excluded at trial, the case focused on the plaintiff's failure to wear a helmet. Without the facts related to the responsibility of both parties for causing the collision, the jury could not appropriately determine the percentage of fault attributable to each party according to the appellate court.

If you or a family member has been injured or killed in an auto accident, the Miami Traffic Accident Lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire. With over 130 collective years of experience representing motor vehicle crash victims across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence. Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights. Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald. Put our exceptional accident injury attorneys to work on your case. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

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