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Willie-Koonce v. Miami Sunshine Transfer & Tours Corp.

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

December 20, 2017

Rebecca Willie-Koonce, Appellant,
v.
Miami Sunshine Transfer & Tours Corp., et al., Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower Tribunal No. 14-31429, Rosa I. Rodriguez, Judge.

          Lazer, Aptheker, Rosella, & Yedid and Eric J. Horbey (West Palm Beach), for appellant.

          Boyd, Richards, Parker & Colonnelli, W. Todd Boyd and Yvette R. Lavelle, for appellees.

          Before SALTER, EMAS and LOGUE, JJ.

          SALTER, J.

          Rebecca Willie-Koonce, plaintiff below, appeals an order dismissing her personal injury suit against Miami Sunshine Transfer & Tours Corporation ("Miami Sunshine") for fraud on the court. We affirm, finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion after considering a highly-probative surveillance video and the testimony of Ms. Willie-Koonce regarding her claimed limitations after her accident.

         Facts

         In September 2014, Ms. Willie-Koonce hired Miami Sunshine to drive her and her luggage to the cruise ship dock in Miami. As she was removing her luggage from the trailer pulled by a Miami Sunshine vehicle, the vehicle and trailer began backing up, running over Ms. Willie-Koonce and pinning her under the axle of the trailer. There is no dispute that Ms. Willie-Koonce sustained serious injuries, including a ten-day hospital stay for treatment of a fractured femur. The treatment included implanting a titanium rod and several screws to repair the bone, followed by extensive physical therapy to regain as much of her pre-injury mobility as possible.

         Three months after the accident, Ms. Willie-Koonce sued Miami Sunshine and the individual operator of the vehicle which towed the trailer for negligence. During pretrial discovery, Ms. Willie-Koonce provided sworn answers to interrogatories and deposition testimony that included statements that she had a "permanent limp, " that she needs a cane to get around, and that when she walks a "few steps" to her car without a cane, she limps. She also testified that she could not walk without a cane carrying large boxes, had not tried carrying heavy or bulky items, and had to use a handrail to walk up steps without a cane.

         Unbeknownst to her at the time, apparently, Ms. Willie-Koonce had been surveilled for some seven hours in March 2016, and videotaped for much of that time, by a defense investigator. She was videotaped while moving into a townhome in North Carolina, and the videotape clearly shows her walking continuously up and down steps without using a cane or handrail, carrying large and bulky items (of indeterminate weight) without assistance, up and down the front steps without using a cane or a handrail. The videotape of Ms. Willie-Koonce shows her walking to the back of her automobile, opening the trunk, and carrying packages (again, without the assistance of another person) into the townhome without using a cane or limping.

         Miami Sunshine and its driver filed a motion to dismiss the case for fraud on the court, citing Ms. Willie-Koonce's sworn responses and contrasting it with the surveillance video evidence. They argued that Ms. Willie-Koonce had lied regarding her allegation that her injury is continuing and permanent, with concomitant future damages claimed by her as a result.

          Ms. Willie-Koonce filed a response in opposition to the motion to dismiss for fraud on the court, and the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the motion in September 2016. As part of that hearing, Ms. Willie-Koonce testified regarding the surveillance video and her prior testimony, but was essentially unable to explain how the video could be consistent with her claims and prior testimony. The following month, the trial court granted the defendants' motion in a final order of dismissal that included findings of fact and conclusions of law. Among the findings were:

The Court finds that the record evidence establishes that Plaintiff repeatedly lied under oath, both in deposition and at the evidentiary hearing, regarding issues material to the prosecution of Plaintiff's claims, to wit: her physical activities, abilities, and limitations, and that this deception was intended to interfere with the judicial system's ability to impartially adjudicate the case by improperly influencing the trier of fact and unfairly hampering the Defendants' ability to ...

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