No Seatbelt Cuts Florida Car Accident Victim’s Recovery – Disla v. Blanco

Under Florida’s comparative negligence system, a person who is injured partly due to his or her own negligence can hold another party liable proportionately. In Disla v. Blanco, the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals takes on a case where an injured party’s liability for her injuries turned on her alleged failure to wear a seatbelt.

The lawsuit stemmed from a late night car accident in which Ms. Disla suffered a broken neck, among other injuries. The driver, Mr. Blanco, had a seizure while behind the wheel, causing him to lose control of the vehicle. The car jumped two curbs, swiped a tree and crashed into a house. Disla underwent at least two cervical fusion surgeries to treat her injury.

Disla later sued Blanco for negligence. Following trial, a jury concluded that both parties were responsible for Disla’s injuries. The jury apportioned 90 percent of the fault to Disla, however, finding that she was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. Thus, despite concluding that Disla suffered more than $200,000 in damages (past and future, economic and non-economic), Disla was awarded just over $10,000 based on her portion of the fault and a reduction for recovery already earned under Florida’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) system.

The Fourth District upheld the verdict on appeal. The court rejected Disla’s challenge to a biomechanics expert called by Blanco, who opined that Disla was not wearing her seatbelt based upon her injuries and the biomechanics of the accident. Disla argued that the testimony regarding the speed of the car and range of delta forces in the accident amounted to a surprise because the doctor did not discuss the matters in a previous deposition.

“Counsel’s cross-examination invited the answers given by the expert that his opinions were based upon a range of speed,” the court explained. “Disla’s counsel asked the expert multiple questions regarding speed, to which the expert responded that his opinions were based upon a range of rates of change of speed, or delta-v’s.”

The court also rejected Disla’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing defense counsel to cross-examine Disla’s neurosurgeon on topics that she claimed were not relevant to the case, including his refusal to accept insurance as well as Medicare reimbursement rates and his extensive work in a specific type of surgery that has been widely disputed, but which was not performed on Disla in this case.

“We cannot conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the defense to question the doctor on these subjects,” the court concluded. The types of surgeries the doctor performed were relevant to his expertise and experience, according to the court, and his refusal to accept insurance came up while the doctor was discussing his litigation background. Finally, the doctor’s discussion of Medicare rates came up during questioning related to his charges aimed at establishing the reasonableness of Disla’s medical expenses.

As a result, the court affirmed the judgment.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, contact the South Florida car accident attorneys at Anidjar & Levine. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Coral Springs. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or fill out and submit an online Contact Us form to schedule a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Damages in Florida Car Accident Cases Depend on Whether Injuries Are Permanent – Smith v. Llamas

Future Damages in Florida Car Accident Cases – Rolon v. Burke

Loss of Earning Capacity in Florida Car Accident Cases – Lagalante v. State Farm