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Florida Supreme Court Rules: Certain Federal Benefits Inadmissible at Trial

A disabled Florida man who lives with his parents was struck by a vehicle as he rode his bicycle in Venice Florida. The motorist who hit him was uninsured, so he sued the driver and his uninsured motorist carrier, a national company, for negligently causing his injuries. The parties were unable to settle the case, and so it went to trial.

At trial there were several issues that the court needed to rule on before the jury could make a decision on who was to blame for the accident and how much the negligent party should pay. One of the main issues, and the one that made it to the Florida Supreme Court, was whether evidence of the man’s federal benefits should be admitted.

Whether evidence of a federal medical benefit should be admitted at a trial for personal injuries is important because a jury might reduce an award if they think that a person’s medical bills are being paid by someone else. The primary issue here was evidence of future benefits. When a person causes an injury, they are not only responsible for the injuries they caused but also for paying for future costs of treating those injuries.

That is what happened here. The injured victim received the lionshare of his medical care from the benefits of Medicare and Medicaid. He argued that the trial court should exclude this evidence, and the court agreed with him. As a result he won a verdict from the jury for nearly $2 million. But the Second District Court of Appeals disagreed with the ruling barring evidence of future federal medical benefits and reversed part of the verdict.

Florida Law on Evidence of Benefits

This area of law can get complicated, but it is also important to victims of personal injury. Historically, courts did not allow those who negligently caused an injury to another benefit from the injured person’s medical policies, benefits, or other sources of income and thereby reduce the amount they had to pay for their negligence. This was known as the collateral source rule. But Florida legislators recently modified this rule to prevent victims from gaining a windfall and receiving benefits from two sources.

This new law, however, did not allow all sources of benefits from being disclosed. If a victim paid for an insurance policy, for example, a jury was not allowed to figure in that amount of money since it was the victim who paid for the benefit of the policy. So the issue in this case was whether federal benefits should be regarded in the same way, and the Florida Supreme Court determined that they should.

Now, as a result of this ruling, in personal injury cases a defendant will not be allowed to introduce evidence of a victim’s future federal benefits. This will prevent defendants from offsetting any award a jury would otherwise feel like a victim was entitled to. At The Pittman Firm we stay up-to-date will all the important legal developments in Florida personal injury law. If you have been injured in an accident in the Panama City area, contact us.

See related blog posts: Florida Supreme Court: Judicial Dress Code Requirements; U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Personal Injury Case.


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