WEEKLY CASE LAW UPDATE WEEK ENDING APRIL 30, 2010
NASON et al. v. SHAFRANSKI, et al. Case No. 4D08-4293. 4th DCA. April 28, 2010.
[Torts. Evidence. Jury Instructions. Causation]
The Plaintiff below was injured in a vehicle accident. The Defendants, the driver and owners of the second vehicle involved in the accident admitted liability for the accident but contested the Plaintiff’s damages claim. A trial ensued on the issue of damages. The Defendants presented substantial evidence, including expert medical testimony that the Plaintiff had received unnecessary medical treatment. The Defendants’ expert testified that the Plaintiff’s treating physician had performed many costly and unnecessary procedures and his care of the Plaintiff fell below the applicable standard of care. The Plaintiff ‘s objections to this testimony throughout the trial were overruled by the trial judge.
At the jury charge conference, the Plaintiff requested the court to give the following instruction on causation:
When a person has suffered injuries by reason of the negligence of another and exercising reasonable care in securing the services of a competent physician, and in following his advice and instructions his injuries are aggravated or increased by the negligence, mistake or lack of skill of such physician, the law regards the negligence of the wrongdoer in causing the original injury.
This instruction was based on the Florida Supreme Court decision in Stuart v. Hertz Corp., 351 So. 2d 703 (Fla. 1977) which stated:
“Where one who has suffered personal injuries by reason of the negligence of another exercises reasonable care in securing the services of a competent physician or surgeon, and in following his advice and instructions, and his injuries are thereafter aggravated or increased by the negligence, mistake, or lack of skill of such physician or surgeon, the law regards the negligence of the wrongdoer in causing the original injury as the proximate cause of the damages flowing from the subsequent negligent or unskillful treatment thereof, and holds him liable therefor.”
The trial judge refused to give this instruction. During jury deliberations, the jurors sent a note to the trial judge asking whether, if they found the Plaintiff’s treating doctor had acted unscrupulously, that would relieve the Defendants of liability for the additional injury caused by the medical treatment. The trial judge again refused to give the Plaintiff’s requested instruction and referred the jury to the standard instructions already given.
The jury returned a verdict significantly less than the Plaintiff sought,and the Plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the Defendants argued that they were not trying to prove the Plaintiff’s physician committed malpractice, only that the Plaintiff’s claim for medical expenses was unreasonable which is permissible evidence in any personal injury case.
The 4th DCA held that the admission of the expert testimony, and the denial of a special jury instruction on how to handle evidence of negligent medical treatment, amounted to reversible error. The Court stated that it was apparent from the jury’s question during deliberations that the jury was confused about how to handle the evidence that the Plaintiff’s treating physician was “unscrupulous” and the trial judge’s failure to dispel that confusion by granting plaintiff’s request for the special instruction required reversal.