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Duarte v. Snap-On Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

May 3, 2017

EDELMIRO DUARTE, Appellant,
v.
SNAP-ON INCORPORATED, a foreign corporation, and NORMAN MULLINS, Appellees.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Lee County; Elizabeth V. Krier, Judge. Stacy L. Sherman of Stacy L. Sherman, P.A., Cape Coral, for Appellant.

          Scott A. Cole and Daniel M. Schwarz of Cole, Scott & Kissane, P.A., Miami, for Appellee Snap-on Incorporated.

          Caryn L. Bellus and Bretton C. Albrecht of Kubicki Draper, P.A., Miami for Appellee Norman Mullins.

         BY ORDER OF THE COURT:

         Upon consideration of the motion for clarification and rehearing of March 15, 2017, decision filed by Appellee Snap-on Incorporated on March 30, 2017 and motion for rehearing and/or clarification of March 15, 2017, decision filed by Appellee Norman Mullins on March 30, 2017, IT IS ORDERED that the motions for clarification are granted in part and denied in part. The opinion issued on March 15, 2017, is withdrawn and the following opinion is substituted therefor. The motions for rehearing are denied. No further motions will be considered.

         I HEREBY CERTIFY THE FOREGOING IS A TRUE COPY OF THE ORIGINAL COURT ORDER.

          SALARIO, Judge.

         Edelmiro Duarte alleges that he was injured when a truck owned by Snap-on Incorporated and driven by Norman Mullins slammed into the back of his car while he was stopped in traffic. He challenges the trial court's final order, rendered without an evidentiary hearing, dismissing his personal injury suit against Snap-on and Mr. Mullins as a sanction for a fraud upon the court. Because the limited record before the trial court was insufficient to establish that this case is among the hopefully rare ones involving an unconscionable scheme to interfere with a trial court's ability to impartially resolve a dispute or a defendant's ability to prepare a defense, we are constrained to reverse.

         I.

         On January 18, 2008, Mr. Duarte was sitting in traffic on I-75 in a car he was driving and in which his girlfriend, her daughter, his son, and his grandson were passengers. At the same time, Mr. Mullins was on I-75 driving a truck owned by Snap-on. He smashed into Mr. Duarte's stopped car without hitting his brakes. The police report says he was driving sixty miles an hour. After being put through field sobriety tests, he was arrested for driving under the influence causing serious bodily injury.

         At least some of the injuries caused by the accident were severe. Mr. Duarte's girlfriend was rendered a paraplegic. He testified that she filed suit to recover for her injuries and settled her claims for many millions of dollars. Mr. Duarte's son and grandson likewise sued to recover for their injuries and obtained much smaller, but still sizeable, settlements on their claims.

         Mr. Duarte filed this suit against Mr. Mullins and Snap-on to recover for his own injuries on January 12, 2012. He claims to have suffered past, present, and future loss of earnings, medical expenses, and pain and suffering, much of which is claimed to be related to injuries to both his back and his arm. There is no dispute as to liability. The dispute is over causation and the extent of Mr. Duarte's injuries.

         That controversy takes on significance in this case because, after he filed suit, Mr. Duarte was in another car wreck. On March 8, 2012, Mr. Duarte was rear-ended at a stop sign. The parties dispute how severe this event was and whether and to what extent it, rather than the January 2008 accident involving Mr. Mullins, caused the injuries for which Mr. Duarte seeks to recover in this case.

         The issues in this appeal concern the candor and completeness of Mr. Duarte's discovery responses about the March 2012 accident. Shortly before that accident, Snap-on served Mr. Duarte with interrogatories asking for the names of the medical providers that treated him at any relevant time and the dates of those treatments. Mr. Duarte answered in April 2012 and identified eight providers and dates of treatment between January 2008 and April 2012. He amended his answers in April 2013 to disclose visits to several ...


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