Florida Court Finds Attorney-Client Privilege Did Not Cover Attorney’s Referral to Medical Provider

August 6, 2020

When a witness testifies in a Floria personal injury case, they swear “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” However, if a witness contradicts themselves while on the stand, this can often be grounds for opposing counsel to discredit them and make them seem less believable in the eyes of the jury. A recent case illustrates the importance of maintaining consistency throughout a trial, as well as the boundaries of the attorney-client privilege.

In a recent Florida personal injury case, a plaintiff sued after claiming she had permanent back damage from when the defendant’s vehicle struck her from behind. During the trial, defense counsel argued that while the plaintiff was on the stand she contradicted herself, and used this contradiction to get in evidence that would otherwise have been inadmissible. Specifically, the plaintiff testified that she was referred to a treating chiropractor by the emergency room doctor. However, in reality, it was the plaintiff’s former attorney who referred her to the chiropractor. The defendant used the contradiction to admit evidence that the plaintiff’s former attorney referred her to the chiropractor.

In Florida, the attorney-client privilege protects a party from being required to disclose that her attorney referred her to a physician for treatment. In this case, the plaintiff claimed that defense counsel was not allowed to ask about the referral in front of the jury because it violated attorney-client privilege. However, the court concluded that the defendant’s attorney did not directly ask the plaintiff whether she received the referral from her attorney, but merely drew the inference. While asking the plaintiff about the referral would have been a clear violation of attorney-client privilege, the attorney was allowed to probe into the plaintiff’s contradiction in front of the jury.

Additionally, the court ruled that the plaintiff’s counsel had been the one to open the door to discuss her credibility, so it was allowed. Despite knowing the plaintiff’s testimony was untrue, her attorney had made it clear in opening and closing statements that the case hinged on her credibility. Her lawyer was also the one to first ask the plaintiff on direct examination who referred her to the chiropractor, which is when she stated it was the emergency room doctor. Because of this, the plaintiff placed her own truthfulness at issue, and the jury was allowed to draw conclusions from these statements. Overall, the court ruled that the defense counsel properly challenged the plaintiff’s credibility as to who referred her to the chiropractor and such inferences did not violate attorney-client privilege.

Testifying is nerve-wracking and can be very challenging. Even well-meaning plaintiffs may forget important details from months or years ago or get mixed up while on the stand. It is important for accident victims to consult an experienced Florida personal injury attorney who can help potential plaintiffs understand what aspects of their case are important, and how to effectively convey these to the jury.

Contact a Florida Personal Injury Firm

If you or a loved one has been in a Florida car accident, call the dedicated attorneys at the Grife Law Firm. With decades of experience handling all types of personal injury matters, our attorneys will help you through all stages of the lawsuit. If the case goes to trial, we will prepare you so you are ready to testify, if necessary. To set up a free consultation, contact our office at 855-998-0770 today.