Although many personal injury cases inherently conjure emotion in those responsible for deciding their outcome, courts must work hard to ensure emotion is not a substantial factor in the final judgment.
For example, strong dislike of a plaintiff shouldn’t affect whether a jury finds that person entitled to damages, just as dislike of a defendant should not render them liable. But humans are emotional creatures. Sometimes defendants are unlikable and sometimes plaintiff’s situation is so awful, one can’t help but feel for them.
But if a jury does make a decision that is infused with sympathy and based on emotion rather than fact, it must be set aside.
Our experienced Fort Lauderdale injury lawyers work tirelessly to present a case rooted strongly in fact and legal principle, especially if plaintiff’s situation is likely to drum up heavy feelings of emotion.
In the case of GEICO v. Kisha, the Fla. 5th District Court of Appeal, it was alleged by defendant a jury verdict in favor of crash victims was based on emotion – sympathy for the plaintiffs as opposed to the underlying facts of the case – and therefore should be reversed. Appellate court agreed.
The primary issue was trial court’s decision to allow plaintiffs to present evidence revealing their long relationship with with insurance company, in which they had dutifully paid her premiums every month without issue for years.
But then came March 2011. The insurance company sent plaintiff a monthly statement for $195, which was due by March 29th. The notice stated if payment wasn’t received before April 20th, the policy would be cancelled. The notice further indicated that if customer chose to pay by mail, the payment should be post-marked by the cancellation date in order to avoid lapsed coverage.
Husband plaintiff testified he submitted the check on April 17, three days before the cancellation date. Indeed, that’s when the check was dated. However, the envelope in which it was mailed was not postmarked until April 25th – five days after the cancellation date.
Several weeks passed when the pair were rear-ended by another vehicle. They were each transported to the local emergency room, treated and released.
They each later filed claims with the insurer for personal injury protection benefits. The insurer responded with a reservation of rights letter to each plaintiff, indicating it did not appear there was coverage at the time of the crash.
Prior to trial, defendant insurer sought a motion to exclude any evidence of the length of time during which plaintiffs had been policy holders (24 years), arguing that this evidence was both prejudicial and irrelevant, and would serve to enrage the jury and garner sympathy from the jury.
Plaintiff attorneys, meanwhile, argued it was relevant for the purposes of establishing waiver and estoppel, as alleged in the complaint. Specifically, the length of history tended to prove plaintiffs detrimentally relied on an act of omission by insurer as it pertained to the late payment. The insurer cashed the check, even though it cancelled the policy, creating plaintiffs’ false assumption that they were still covered.
Defense responded the only relevant contract was the one cancelled for non-payment.
Court denied defense motion and the case proceeded. Jury found insurer waived its right to deny coverage and that it was estopped from doing so.
On appeal, however, the appellate justices found the length of time during which plaintiffs were insured wasn’t relevant to disprove or prove any material fact and therefore should have been inadmissible, particularly as it was deemed prejudicial.
When it comes to matters of insurance and determining compensation, insurance companies will seek any and all loopholes to avoid coverage. That’s why it’s imperative to consult with an experienced Fort Lauderdale injury attorney as soon as possible after an accident.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
GEICO v. Kisha, March 30, 2015, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Myers v. City of West Plains – $425K Child Injury Verdict Upheld, Feb. 5, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Injury Lawyer Blog