Doctor Testimony in Florida Car Accident Case: Expert? Clair v. Perry

Doctor testimony often plays a key role in a Florida car accident lawsuit. In Clair v. Perry, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal takes on the question of whether – and under what circumstances – such testimony should be considered as expert testimony.

Appellee Lindi Perry was injured in a car accident involving a vehicle driven by Appellant Maria Clair. Because Clair admitted that her negligence caused the accident, a trial was held for the limited purpose of determining the amount of damages to which Perry was entitled. At trial, Perry sought to introduce testimony from her treating physician, Dr. Theophilos. Clair objected to the portion of the testimony regarding the issue of whether Perry sustained permanent injury – and thus was likely entitled to additional damages – as a result of the accident. Clair argued that this constituted expert testimony and, as a result, that Perry was required to notify Clair of the testimony prior to trial.

The trial court initially sided with Clair, excluding the portion of Dr. Theophilos’ testimony related to permanent injury. Following a verdict in which the jury determined that Perry did not sustain permanent injury in the accident, however, the trial court granted Perry’s motion for a new trial, finding that it erred in excluding Dr. Theophilos’ injury permanence testimony.

On appeal, the Fourth District affirmed the trial court’s new trial order. “Without a new trial, appellee would be substantially prejudiced in her ability to present her case,” the Court ruled.

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.280(b)(4) provides that a party to a lawsuit in state court is entitled to discovery of “facts known and opinions held by experts” prior to trial. According to the Court, however, the rule is limited to facts and opinions “acquired or developed in anticipation of litigation or for trial.” Citing the Third Circuit’s 1981 opinion in Frantz v. Golebiewski, the court held that although a doctor is generally considered an expert, a treating physician does not obtain his or her expert knowledge for the purpose of litigation, but instead to treat the patient. Thus, according to the court, a treating physician will not usually be treated as an expert witness subject to Rule 1.280(b)(4).

The court was also quick to point out that it may have reached a different decision had Dr. Theophilos relied on the opinions of other doctors in forming the opinion to which he testified. “Had appellant shown that Dr. Theophilos derived his permanency opinion by reviewing, as part of litigation preparation, the medical records or conclusions of other physicians, we might find otherwise.” the court ruled.

Car accidents can have devastating consequences for the victim, as well as his or her family and friends. The physical and emotional pain and suffering, long hospital stays, medical expenses and significant time off from work can take a huge toll on everyone involved. The South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine represent clients throughout the area, including in Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and Coral Springs. If you have suffered injury in a Florida auto accident, call for a free consultation today.

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Recovering Non-Economic Damages in a Florida Car Accident Lawsuit – Jiminez v. Faccone

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