An eighteen-year old resident of an apartment building was walking along the grounds of the apartment building in Florida when he met an accident. He lay on the concrete pavement, unable to move because of a spinal injury. A few minutes later, an employee of the apartment owner was making his rounds of the apartment. He saw the eighteen- year old sprawled on the pavement and thought that he was unconscious due to a drug overdose or because he was drunk. He shook the eighteen-year old and found him to be conscious. The Long Island employee told him that he will move him to a more lighted area so that he can help him. The eighteen-year old protested, asking the employee not to touch him or to move him as his spine may be broken. The eighteen-year old protested continuously but the employee did not heed his protests, he dragged the eighteen-year old near the entrance of the building. He then called emergency services who rushed the eighteen-year old to the hospital. When the police and emergency services arrived, the employee told the police that he moved the eighteen year old because he thought that he was just passed out because he was drunk or overdosed from drugs. He had no idea he was injured. The incident resulted in the eighteen-year old being disabled due to quadriplegia or paralyzed from the neck down.
The eighteen-year old then sued the apartment owner and his insurer. He did not include in the suit the employee of the apartment owner. He wanted to call him as an adverse witness because the employee made inconsistent statements before the police (at the time of the incident) and then when he was deposed (before the trial) which testimonies and statements totally contradicted his testimony at trial. The trial court refused the eighteen year old’s request to call the employee as an adverse witness. The trial court held that there was a question as to whether the employee was really employed by the apartment owner; the trial court also held that the employee could not be called as an adverse witness because he was not a party to the case or listed as a party defendant in the damage suit.
The apartment owner and the insurer based their defense on the Good Samaritan Act. They claim that the employee was immune from a suit in damages because he was only trying to help. Under Florida Law, bystanders who help those who were injured cannot be sued for damages if the person they aided suffered injury in the course of being rescued or aided. They also claimed that even if they were found to be liable the amount of lost earning capacity of the eighteen year old cannot be determined because the eighteen-year old was a career criminal who had no real job or job prospects as he dealt in drugs and petit larceny,
The trial court also refused to allow the testimony of the expert witness for the eighteen year old. The proposed expert testimony was from a doctor who had experience in rehabilitation medicine specializing in those with spinal injuries. He treated and examined the eighteen-year old and supervised his physical therapy. His testimony was proffered but it was not admitted as evidence for the eighteen year old who tried to prove that it was not the injury that caused the quadriplegia but it was the dragging of his injured body down the pavement from where he was injured to the entrance of the building that resulted in his disability.
The jury found for the defendant apartment owner and insurer, claiming that they had no liability to pay damages to the eighteen year old as their agent merely tried to help him. The eighteen-year old appealed the jury verdict for the apartment owner.
The only question is whether or not the jury verdict for the apartment owner and the insurer are errors which can be cured by a re-trial.
The Court held that the trial court erred in not allowing the employee to be examined by the eighteen year old as an adverse witness. The employee, if he were truly an employee of the apartment owner instead of merely a bystander has interests that were adverse to that of the eighteen-year old. To protect his job, he would have to testify favorably to his employer. The employee, if he is not really an employee, may also be examined as an adverse witness because he made prior inconsistent statements to the police and then on deposition. The eighteen-year old had the right to examine the credibility of the employee and to sift through his varying pronouncements which were true and which were not.
The trial court erred in not allowing the Manhattan doctor to testify as an expert witness. He is board-certified as a physician specializing in rehabilitation of patients with spinal injury. He may have examined and treated the eighteen-year old and can thus give testimony of the injuries he diagnosed and the treatments he prescribed. But he is also an expert in his field and his testimony as an expert should have been admitted for the benefit of the jury who were laymen and unable to know from their common everyday experience what spinal injury are all about.
The evidence regarding the drug use and drug dealing of the eighteen-year old are relevant not to prove his credibility as a witness about his injures (the medical evidence proves his injuries). They are relevant to prove his earning capacity or lack thereof. At the re-trial, the jury should be instructed to regard the evidence of former drug dealing and petit larceny when the eighteen year old was only fourteen as evidence of his earning capacity and not evidence of his injuries or of his credibility to testify as to his injury.
As for the apartment owner and his insurer, they can surely hide behind the provisions of the Good Samaritan Act but only if they can prove that the help they gave to the injured eighteen year old was requested by him and was not objected to by him. There is evidence that the eighteen year old continuously objected and protested his being dragged and moved from one place to another. His protests and objections went unheeded. For this alone, the Good Samaritan defense cannot be availed of. There is also the issue (which was not taken up) regarding the liability of the apartment owner and his insurer for injuries to third persons while on their property. Their liability in this regard cannot be ignored as it was.
The Court granted the eighteen-year old a re-trial.