Earlier this month, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal issued a written opinion in a Florida personal injury case brought by a former smoker who had developed lung cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The plaintiff’s case was filed against the manufacturer of the cigarette brand that she used to smoke and claimed that her addiction to cigarettes was what caused her disease.
The case presented the court with the task of determining whether the trial court’s conflicting evidentiary rulings regarding the plaintiff’s expert warranted a new trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the trial court’s error likely did have an effect on the jury’s decision to find for the defendant and ordered a new trial to take place.
The Lower Court’s Rulings
The lower court first determined that the plaintiff’s treating pulmonologist was not qualified to testify that the plaintiff was addicted to cigarettes. In a subsequent ruling, the lower court then allowed the same pulmonologist to respond to questioning from the defense about the plaintiff’s ability to quit smoking. The pulmonologist explained that the plaintiff “could quit when she was sufficiently motivated to do so.”
During closing arguments, the defense attorney representing the cigarette manufacturer focused on the fact that the plaintiff’s own doctor thought that she could quit whenever she became motivated to do so. He argued to the jury that the pulmonologist had no stake in the outcome of the case and arguably knew the plaintiff better than any of the other expert witnesses in the case. The defense took the position that the pulmonologist’s testimony provided an honest and unbiased assessment of the plaintiff’s level of addiction. The defense ended its closing with the following: “Frankly, you don’t have to look any further than [the] plaintiff’s own experts. . . . They told you anyone can quit smoking if they are motivated to do so.” The jury ended up returning a verdict in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed the court’s evidentiary decisions.
The appellate court hearing the case agreed with the plaintiff that the pulmonologist should not have been allowed to testify about the plaintiff’s ability to stop smoking if he was not qualified to testify about her addiction in the first place. The court also concluded that the lower court’s error in allowing the conflicting testimony was not harmless and warranted a new trial.
The Importance of Pre-Trial Evidentiary Rulings
In many cases, a judge will make evidentiary decisions before a jury is empaneled. This allows for a smooth trial without interruption. It is critically important for personal injury attorneys to understand the relevant evidentiary rules and the best times to raise them. In some cases, issues that are not raised in a timely manner can be waived.
Are You in Need of a Dedicated South Florida Personal Injury Attorney?
If you or a loved one has recently been a victim of another party’s negligence, whether it be due to a car accident, surgical error, defective product, or slip-and-fall accident, the dedicated South Florida personal injury attorneys at Cecere Santana can help you determine whether you have a case. We have extensive experience assisting victims with seeking the compensation they need and deserve from those responsible for their injuries. Call 800-753-5529 to schedule a free consultation with a South Florida injury attorney today.
More Blog Posts:
Boating Accidents in South Florida, Cecere Santana Injury Lawyers Blog, published June 1, 2017.
Florida Children Exposed to Toxic Gas at Indoor Pool, Cecere Santana Injury Lawyers Blog, published July 7, 2017.