A trial judge in Miami fined State Farm $20,000 this week for covering up the amount it had paid to an expert medical witness. The judge found State Farm lied when it said it could not figure out exactly how much it had paid a physician to testify at trials.

The case, Hernadez v. Quintanales, arose from an auto accident. State Farm was the insurance company for the at-fault driver, and defended that driver when he was sued by the accident victim. As part of its trial preparation, State Farm hired a physician, Dr. Rolando Garcia, to testify for the defense.

It is no secret in the legal world that insurance companies have “go to” medical experts. Those experts typically tell juries that accident victims suffered no serious injuries in an accident. Some of these experts are literally paid six or seven-figure amounts for their testimony over a period of several years.

Dr. Garcia is apparently one of those experts. In her order fining State Farm, the judge found “Dr. Garcia has had a significant relationship with State Farm for a number of years.” She further concluded that State Farm’s payments to Garcia over the years were “very critical” to cross-examination about his “motive and bias.”

Naturally, the plaintiff’s attorneys knew Dr. Garcia was a State Farm favorite. To accumulate ammunition for cross-examination, they asked State Farm to provide information about how much it had paid to Dr. Garcia from 2010 through 2012.

The problem was, State Farm claimed it was unable to provide that information. It said it could not separate payments made to Garcia from payments made to other doctors in his practice.

The plaintiff’s attorneys called State Farm out on this. They pointed out that State Farm had given exact information about its payments to Dr. Garcia in another Miami case. Obviously, if State Farm had given the exact same information in another case, there is no reason why it could not give that information in the case at hand.

When the judge found out about that, she was not happy to say the least. She wrote that State Farm was “hiding the ball” and being “dishonest and disingenuous.” In a written order, she fined State Farm $20,000. She also awarded attorney’s fees to the plaintiff’s lawyers for the time and effort they spent trying to get the payment information.

We have encountered similar hide-the-ball behavior in our own practice. Even though Florida courts have said for years that expert witness payments are critical information for cross examination, insurance companies still claim they can’t figure out exactly what they’ve paid to those experts. The notion that organizations as large and sophisticated as these insurance companies can’t figure this out is laughable. Yet they continue to say it anyway, because they don’t want juries to hear how much they are paying experts they hire for trials.

We applaud the plaintiff’s attorneys in the Hernandez case for not accepting that nonsense. Even more importantly, we hope the judge’s order regarding Dr. Garcia will cause insurance companies to think twice before making such bogus claims in the future.

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