Stacking Of Inferences Is Generally Not Allowed Under Florida Law

Car Accidents

In the case of State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Denise Lorraine Hanania, Case Number 1D17-2237 (Fla. 1st DCA December 10, 2018), Florida’s First DCA refused to allow State Farm to defend an uninsured motorist claim with ridiculous arguments. In this case, a ladder had fallen onto an interstate highway causing the plaintiff to come to a sudden stop. The plaintiff was struck from behind by a Coca-Cola van and the plaintiff had underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage with State Farm.

Facts Of The Case

The plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a relative. The accident happened on the Buckman Bridge which is part of Interstate-295 in Duval County, Florida. State Farm argued that it was improper for the plaintiff to “stack inferences” about how the ladder was dropped on the roadway because there was only circumstantial evidence as to how the ladder got onto the roadway.

Therefore, according to State Farm’s attorneys, because the plaintiff could only speculate as to how the ladder onto the roadway in the first place, then the plaintiff should not be allowed to argue that negligence was the reason the ladder was on the roadway let alone whether the ladder came from a vehicle (which is important to a UM case because the negligent party must be an uninsured vehicle).

The example given by State Farm’s attorney is that the plaintiff could not tell whether the ladder fell off another vehicle or was dropped by a pedestrian on the internstate highway bridge. That is simply a ridiculous argument and was an attempt to dodge the real issue which was whether the ladder on the roadway was there because it had been improperly (and hence negligently) secured as the load on an unknown and unidentified vehicle.

State Farm argued that three inferences were necessary (and therefore were improperly stacked):
1-an unidentified phantom motor vehicle was carrying the ladder
2-the owner or driver failed to make reasonable efforts to secure the ladder
3-the owner or driver’s failure to properly secure the ladder caused it to fall on the roadway

Analysis By The First DCA

The First DCA rejected the argument by State Farm’s attorneys because “it is simply not plausable that the ladder in this case was thrown onto the bridge by a pedestrian.” Instead of basing all inferences on where this ladder came from, the inferences that are necessary for the case are 1) whether the ladder fell on the roadway from another vehicle and 2) the ladder feel because it was improperly secured.

The circumstantial evidence of the roadway as an interstate highway bridge with four lanes of travel and no other plausible explanation for how the ladder got on the roadway was enough to make a “reasonable inference” that the ladder came from another vehicle (in other words, what are the odds that a 12-foot ladder dropped from the sky or, as State Farm suggested, might have been carried by a pedestrian).

Thereafter, once an initial inference has been established the exclusion of all other reasonable inferences, the jury is allow to make further inferences that are “reasonable.”

The Insurance Company Doing What Insurance Companies Do
Anyone who has ever had an insurance claim denied knows that the fight often gets ugly. The purpose behind litigation is for both sides to present their viewpoints and the jury decides which version is the truth (or perhaps that the truth is somewhere in between).

While it is entirely reasonable to have measures to prevent jury verdicts that are solely based on conjecture and speculation, how does a 12-foot ladder land in the middle of an interstate highway unless it wasn’t properly secured as a load on someone’s vehicle? Obviously the answer is MOST LIKELY that the ladder fell off another vehicle (a violation of section 316.520, Fla. Stat.) even though it is STILL POSSIBLE that it dropped from a helicopter, a spaceship, or a someone walking on an interstate highway.

Do What You Have To Do

Getting fair compensation for your damages often requires that you put up a fight for your car accident claim. To win, you are going to need your own personal injury attorney to help you along the way. To get your free personal injury consultation, contact us today to speak to a car accident attorney in Lakeland, Florida.

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December 13, 2018