Villa v. Furar – A case of evidentiary errors

The Villa vs. Furar case shows how important it is for the personal injury attorney to cover their base for Appeals by examining the possible outcomes of the first trial. From this predictive work, measures will be taken during the first trial to preserve the plaintiff’s chances to a successful recover of damages, including how evidences are to be handled in court. 

On July 29, 2008, Amalia Villa and Santiago Alamillo were traveling on I-17 in Phoenix when they were involved in a car accident with Donald Furar. Two years later, Villa and Alamillo filed a personal injury lawsuit against Furar.

In Furar’s answer, he admitted that he had been negligent, but denied that he had caused the plaintiffs’ damages. Before trial, however, he offered to allow judgment to be entered against him in the amounts of $10,600 for Villa and $16,200 for Alamillo. Villa and Alamillo rejected Furar’s offers, because the amounts were less than their medical bills.

Following a six-day trial, the jury awarded $5,000 to Villa, but nothing to Alamillo. Furar moved for sanctions against both plaintiffs, since his offer of judgment had been more favorable than the jury verdict. Granting his motion, the trial court ordered Villa and Alamillo to pay Furar’s expert witness fees. After offsets, Villa was required to pay $20,802.17, and Alamillo was required to pay $29,608.24.

Villa and Alamillo appealed. They argued that they had been deprived of a fair trial, because Furar’s lawyer had offered inadmissible evidence to the trial court. The Court of Appeals rejected that argument for two reasons: First, the plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyer had failed to object to some of the evidence. A failure to object normally waives the right to complain on appeal. Second, even in the instances when he did object, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in overruling their objections.

Villa and Alamillo also argued that Furar’s offer of judgment was invalid since it was so much lower than their medical bills, and because it required them to obtain releases of any medical liens. The Court of Appeals rejected both theories. As to the first, the court pointed out that Furar’s position was that he wasn’t the cause of the plaintiffs’ damages. The amount of his offer was consistent with his theory of the case. Regarding the second, the plaintiffs had not introduced any evidence that they had even attempted to obtain releases. So, the court of appeals refused to speculate about how an inability to do so might affect the validity of the offer.

How might Villa and Alamillo’s personal injury attorney have handled their case better? In the first place, he should have objected to inadmissible evidence at trial. That would have not only preserved the issue for appeal, but allowed the trial judge to correct the record in the first place. Courts of Appeals generally defer to a trial court’s rulings on evidence, so the best time to correct evidentiary errors is during trial. Second, he should have anticipated what arguments he could raise against Furar’s offer of judgment and ensured that those arguments would have some evidentiary basis in the record. Because the plaintiffs couldn’t show that they were unable to obtain the releases called for in Furar’s offer of judgment, the Court of Appeals refused to entertain their argument that that requirement rendered Furar’s offer invalid.

Predicting the possible outcomes of a court case is hard work. It’s also guess work. Experience matters. An experience personal injury attorney will increase his client’s chances of recovery by preparing a variety of case strategies and filing accordingly. The Hameroff Law Firm remains at your disposal to discuss your personal injury case in Tucson at (520) 792-4700. David Hameroff is an experienced personal injury attorney, both in settlement and trial situations.