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Court Dismisses Motor Vehicle Accident Passenger's Lawsuit Based on Pervasive Misrepresentation and Fraud - Middleton v. Hager, 179 So.3d (Fla. 3rd DCA 2015)

There are many reasons that an injury victim's selection of a motor vehicle accident lawyer is important to the outcome of a legal claim for compensation. One vital consideration involves the injury victim's comfort level in communicating all relevant facts, including information that is unflattering or detrimental to the lawsuit. Misrepresenting or withholding negative information often causes substantial damage to a civil lawsuit because the adverse facts usually will come out at some point in the legal process.

The advantage of candid communication between an attorney and client is that the sting of the damaging information often can be mitigated by a skilled legal advocate. The way this information ultimately is presented to the judge or jury typically determines the impact of adverse facts. Further, the court can actually dismiss a case when there is a pervasive pattern of fraud or misrepresentation by a plaintiff.

In the recent 3rd DCA case, Middleton v. Hager, 179 So.3d 529 (3rd DCA), the passenger in a vehicle brought a lawsuit against the driver after suffering injuries in a rear impact crash. The trial court appointed a magistrate to review the decision-making process related to discovery. The magistrate noted a litany of material misrepresentations about her medical treatment and physical condition prior to the collision that included:

  • Denying ever seeking care from a surgeon, neurologist, orthopedic surgeon neurologist orthopedist, pain management doctor, neurosurgeon, or orthopedist
  • Claiming never to have felt numbness prior to the crash;
  • Indicating she never had a CT scan, MRI or X-ray of her neck;
  • Stating she was "certain" she never complained of tingling of the extremities or pain in the back or neck;
  • Asserting she had never been involved in a prior accident; and
  • Representing she never had physical therapy except when she twisted an ankle many years before.

The magistrate determined that a wealth of evidence existed that conflicted with the affirmative misrepresentations above, which included the following:

  • Obtaining treatment from a neurologist on four separate occasions during which she reported neck pain;
  • Appearing for an examination with an orthopedic surgeon with complaints of back and neck pain including the prior two years;
  • Suffering injury during a head-on collision that required medical treatment in an emergency room;
  • Undergoing a cervical MRI and nerve conduction study that revealed nerve damage;
  • Appearing in the emergency room and complaining of tingling in her extremities;
  • Complaining of numbness of arms and legs during a subsequent visit; and
  • Participating in physical therapy 13 days prior to the crash because of "chronic" back and neck pain.

The magistrate found that the false representations listed above and provided during the discovery process were not the product of confusion or faulty memory. Rather, the misleading responses stemmed from a nearly successful effort to interfere with the court's attempts to determine the truth. However, the magistrate denied the defendant's request to dismiss the lawsuit because the misrepresentation fail just short of a "deliberate scheme to subvert the judicial process." The magistrate concluded that an attorney fee award constituted a sufficient remedy.

The trial judge ruled that the magistrate's determination that the plaintiff did not engage in a "deliberate scheme" to frustrate the court's ability to properly adjudicate the claim was not supported by the evidence. The court dismissed the lawsuit, and the plaintiff appealed.

The 3rd DCA initially noted that Florida courts have adopted a policy that those who engage in fraud in the judicial process should not be able to take advantage of this misconduct in the forum that has been exploited. While the court observed that a judge has discretion to dismiss a lawsuit based on such fraud, this extreme remedy is only appropriate if the conduct is significantly egregious. If the lies permeate the entire case, dismissal is the appropriate sanction according to the court. The court observed that the six misrepresentations in this case were of fundamental importance on the issue of causation and damages. Given the significance and number of the misrepresentations, the 3rd DCA ruled that dismissal of the case was proper.

The bottom line is that car accident victims should disclose all relevant information to their attorney and avoid misrepresenting the facts. Although a personal injury victim might be apprehensive about this type of candor, an experienced personal injury attorney often can devise a legal grounds for excluding the evidence or mitigating the impact of negative facts.

If you have been injured in a Miami traffic accident, the Miami Personal Injury 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 accident 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 Florida car accident 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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