Florida Court Allows Car Accident Case to Proceed Without Defendant – Hutchings v. Liles

Florida car accident lawsuits are often won or lost based on witness testimony, including that of both the drivers in the accident and others who saw it happen. In Hutchings v. Liles, the First District Court of Appeals considered a case in which one important witness – the driver accused of negligence – was nowhere to be found.

Plaintiff Tara Hutchings was injured in a car accident involving a vehicle driven by Patricia Liles. Hutchings filed a personal injury suit in circuit court alleging that the accident was caused by Liles’ negligence.

Prior to trial, Defendant’s counsel informed the court that he was having trouble locating his client, who had told counsel that she was taking a temporary job in Oklahoma. As a result, counsel sought to introduce his client’s testimony in an earlier deposition in place of her appearing as a witness at trial. Rule 1.330, Florida Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to use a witness deposition in lieu of live testimony under certain circumstances, including when the witness is dead or unable to attend because of age, illness, infirmity or imprisonment. Deposition testimony can also be used under the rule where a court finds “that the witness is at a greater distance than 100 miles from the place of trial or hearing, or is out of the state, unless it appears that the absence of the witness was procured by the party offering the deposition.”

Plaintiff objected, and raised the objection again after the trial began, arguing that Defendant’s counsel failed to sufficiently establish that Defendant was out of the state or at least 100 miles away. Counsel simply did not know where his client was, according to Plaintiff, and he could not prove that she was out of area. Furthermore, even if counsel were to prove that Defendant was in Oklahoma, Plaintiff argued that he would nevertheless be prevented from using the deposition testimony because Defendant’s voluntary acceptance of a job assignment constituted an absence procured by the defense.

The trial court rejected Plaintiff’s argument, ruling that counsel could introduce Defendant’s testimony because he provided sufficient evidence to show that she was at least 100 miles away and that she had not procured her own absence. The trial proceeded and the jury returned a verdict finding that Defendant was not negligent in the accident.

On appeal, the First District affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that the court did not abuse its “broad” discretion. A party seeking to introduce deposition testimony under Rule 1.330 need not prove conclusively that the witness is unavailable, the court held. Rather, “[p]roof which raises a reasonable presumption is sufficient to provide the basis for admission of a deposition.”

A car accident 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 accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine draw on the expertise of a full team of personal injury lawyers, medical/legal support experts and investigators who are ready to represent you in and out of the courtroom.

Related blog posts:

Florida Court Reverses Ruling in Palm Beach Car Accident at Intersection Where Traffic Lights Were not Working – Searcy v. Zawackis

Causation In Florida Car Accident Litigation – Durse v. Henn

Florida Court Explains Liability in Rear End Accidents – Jiminez v. Faccone