As with other types of lawsuits, witness testimony and issues of credibility can make all the difference in a personal injury proceeding. However, a recent case reminded us that mere contradictions and discrepancies in depositions do not rise to the level needed to dismiss a lawsuit on the basis of fraud on the court.
In Suarez v. Benihana Nat. of Florida Corp., the plaintiff, Suarez, and his family were injured at a Benihana restaurant when they were allegedly struck by other customers at the establishment. Suarez and his family had finished their meal and were waiting for their car to be obtained by valet staff when another diner started a verbal fight with Suarez. The altercation ceased for a few minutes until two other individuals came out of the restaurant and joined their friend, the first verbal attacker. The verbal altercation started again and soon escalated into a physical one. Ultimately, Suarez was beaten by three men, each of whom was charged with assault and battery.
The Suarez family later sued the Benihana restaurant, alleging the establishment failed to provide adequately security for its patrons. A trial court granted the restaurant’s motion to dismiss the complaint, stating that the plaintiffs had committed fraud on the court by providing false and misleading information.
Specifically, the trial court was referring to the contradictions and discrepancies in Suarez’s civil and criminal depositions. For example, in his criminal deposition, Suarez stated he had “had a drink” the night of the fight, whereas in his civil deposition he testified that “he did not drink alcohol that night.” There were numerous such examples including inconsistent statements about whether Suarez had used profanity on the night of the incident, how the physical altercation began, whether Suarez had agreed to go across the street and participate in the fight, and whether and to what extent Suarez fought the attacker back.
On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision finding that a dismissal based on fraud requires “clear and convincing evidence.” Put another way, the burden was upon Benihana to demonstrate that the plaintiffs had “collusively engaged in a scheme designed to prevent the trier [of fact] from impartially adjudicating this matter through lies, misrepresentations, contradictory statements and otherwise hiding the truth.” Here, Benihana failed to meet the heightened standard required for a showing of fraud.
While the court acknowledged there were inconsistencies in the depositions, the discrepancies simply did not rise to the level that they could indicate intent to defraud the court. The court also found that the contradictions did not go to the heart of the claim. Since this case failed to present the type of egregious misconduct or extreme situation that would justify the dismissal of a case, the court vacated dismissal of the claim and remanded the case.
If you think there were issues of fraud in your case, it is important to consult an experienced attorney who can help you with your case. South Florida attorney Robert Dixon is committed to helping victims and their families recover what they deserve for their personal injuries. Trials can be long and complex, and whether someone has committed fraud on the court can be an extremely challenging yet important issue. Consulting a qualified lawyer about these concerns can make all the difference. To find out about your options, contact us online or call us today at 1-877-499-HURT (4878).
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Basic Slip and Fall Law in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, June 23, 2014
Understanding the Pure Comparative Negligence Law in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, June 23, 2014
Liability in Rental Car Accidents in Florida – Adams v. Bell Partners, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, June 23, 2014