Dismissing a case for fraud upon the court is the most severe of sanctions. Our personal injury attorneys have experience with such issues, and can help claimants navigate the issues. When a defendant moves to dismiss for fraud, it has the burden to establish fraud, and that burden is an extremely high one:
The requisite fraud on the court occurs where “it can be demonstrated, clearly and convincingly, that a party has sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier of fact or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party’s claim or defense. When reviewing a case for fraud, the Court should “consider the proper mix of factors” and carefully balance a policy favoring adjudication on the merits with competing policies to maintain the integrity of the judicial system. Because “dismissal sounds the ‘death knell of the lawsuit’, Courts must reserve such strong medicine for instances where the defaulting party’s misconduct is correspondingly egregious.” (citation omitted). …Because dismissal is the most severe of all possible sanctions, however, it should be employed only in extreme circumstances. Amato v. Intindola, 854 So.2d 812 (4th DCA 2003).
The trial court’s power to dismiss a case based upon fraud “should be cautiously and sparingly exercised and only on the most blatant showing of fraud, pretense, collusion or other similar wrongdoing”. Young v. Curgill, 358 So.2d 58, 59 (3rd DCA 1978). If any issues of credibility arise in a particular personal injury matter, those are matters for a jury. “The power to resolve disputes over the truth or falsity of claims belongs to a jury.” Jacob v. Henderson, 840 So.2d 1167, 1170 (2nd DCA 2003). “In all but the most extreme cases, our system entrusts juries with the ultimate decisions as to whether claimed injuries are genuine or not. Our experience has demonstrated that juries deserve this trust, that they are well able to discern the truth and to render judgment accordingly.” Id.
In Amato v. Intindola, the Fourth DCA reversed a dismissal for fraud because it was not warranted and was too severe a sanction. There, the plaintiff testified under oath that he was unable to perform certain activities, auto repairs, and home maintenance. He testified that his injury prevented him from twisting and required him to walk carefully. He claimed that he could not go up and down stairs, could not lift excessive weight, could not make repairs to his car, was unable to get underneath the car and change a tire, and that he could not perform home maintenance. However, the defendant’s surveillance videotape clearly showed the plaintiff working on his truck, going underneath the vehicle, changing a tire, working around his home climbing up a ladder to a roof, and lifting an electrical motor to the roof. The plaintiff’s testimony was clearly contradicted by the defendant’s surveillance video. The defendant argued that the plaintiff was clearly lying and committing a fraud. However, the Fourth DCA found that the “lie” was not an intentional act to defraud the court but was a contradiction, inconsistency, or discrepancy that was better left for a jury and that the plaintiff’s conduct did not merit dismissal. That court held as follows:
Whether Amato’s claims of the extent of his injuries are accurate is for the trier of fact. Jurors may look at the same evidence and conclude that although appellant may not be injured to the extent he believes, he still has suffered some disability from the accident. The evidence presented through depositions and video surveillance does not show a knowing and unconscionable scheme to interfere with the judicial system’s ability to impartially adjudicate a proceeding. Therefore, the court erred in concluding that a fraud on the court occurred and that dismissal with prejudice was appropriate”. Amato, at 815.
The court also discussed the fact that in personal injury actions there are always going to be disparities on interpreting the evidence:
In most cases of personal injury there is a disparity between what the plaintiff believes are the limitations caused by the injuries and what the defense thinks. Many times surveillance tapes are used to show that the plaintiff can do more than what he or she states are the limitations. The fact that a surveillance tape shows a discrepancy usually affects the jury’s view of the case, but in this case, it did not merit dismissal with prejudice to appellant’s case. Id. at 816. The court also specifically adopted the analysis of the Second DCA in Jacob v. Henderson, supra. In Jacob, the Court reversed a dismissal for fraud, holding that the trial court abused its discretion because the sanction of dismissal was too harsh.
There, the defendant had surveillance film of the plaintiff. The plaintiff testified that she was unable to perform certain tasks that were clearly demonstrated on the videotape. Despite such ‘false’ testimony, the court held as follows:
In this case, there is no clear and convincing evidence that Mrs. Jacob “has sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system’s ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier of fact or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party’s claim or defense.” (citation omitted). This is not a case in which Mrs. Jacob suffered no injury. The question is the severity of her injuries. Certainly the video evidence that she is capable of performing tasks which she has denied the ability to perform lessens her credibility and the damages to which she may be entitled, but the jury should evaluate this evidence. The power to resolve disputes over the truth of falsity of claims belongs to a jury. Jacob, at 1169.
The Jacob court held that there must be a most blatant, knowing attempt to defraud the court, which is not satisfied by exaggerating injuries or by providing contradictory evidence. The court noted:
Trials result from factual disputes. In these disputes, the facts on one side are, at best, less true and, at worst, false or fraudulent. In nearly every intersection collision there is only one person with the right of way. Is the fact that both drivers believe they had the right of way the result of fraud? If there are ten eye witnesses to the collision and all agree driver A had the right of way, does that make driver B’s claim fraudulent and subject to dismissal? Id.
In Armakan v. McLean, 800 So.2d 314 (3rd DCA 2001), the plaintiff denied any prior injuries and failed to disclose a prior knee surgery. The medical records and subsequent discovery revealed that the plaintiff had in fact suffered prior injuries and had undergone a knee surgery eighteen years prior. The Third DCA reversed the dismissal for fraud.
Given the above, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you navigate the waters. Please contact one, as soon as possible.