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Florida Court Analyzes Admission of Evidence of Prior Car Accidents

October 16, 2019

by Donaldson & Weston

There are endless scenarios that can cause a car accident to occur, but some are more unusual than others. Even if an accident occurs under unlikely circumstances, it is important to identify and gather any evidence that may be helpful in proving the defendant’s negligence caused the accident. For example, if a plaintiff can show that prior accidents happened under similar circumstances it can support the position the defendant could have prevented the accident and should, therefore, be liable for the plaintiff’s harm. Not all evidence of prior accidents is admissible, however. In a case recently decided by a Florida appellate court, the court addressed when evidence of prior car accidents is admissible, in a case in which the accident arose under unusual circumstances. If you were injured in a car accident in South Florida it is critical to retain a capable South Florida car accident attorney to help you pursue damages from the party responsible for your accident.

Circumstances Leading to the Accident

Reportedly, the plaintiff was driving on a dark road shortly before 5:00 am when he struck cows that were on the road. He subsequently sued the defendant, the owner of the cows, under the Warren Act, which imposes liability on owners of livestock for injuries caused when the livestock wanders onto public roads due to the owner’s negligence. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant left his gate unlocked and unlatched which allowed the cows to wander onto the road. During discovery, the defendant testified regarding other instances in which the cows escaped and wandered onto the road. According to the defendant, there were various reasons for the prior escapes, but in only one instance did the cows' escape result in a collision. The defendant filed a motion in limine to preclude the plaintiff from introducing evidence of prior escapes. The court granted that motion, and the case proceeded to trial. The jury found the defendant was not liable and the plaintiff appealed, arguing the trial court erred in granting the defendant’s motion in limine.

Admission of Evidence of Prior Accidents

On appeal, the court held that because the prior accident caused by the defendant’s escaped cows did not occur under similar circumstances it was not relevant to the plaintiff’s theory of negligence and was properly excluded. The court explained that the Warren Act is not a strict liability statute; rather, it requires a showing of negligence. Further, the court pointed out that the plaintiff alleged that the defendant negligently left his gate open which permitted the cows to escape. In the prior accident caused by the defendant’s cows, however, the cows were frightened by a loose dog and broke through a fence. Thus, the court found that the prior accident was not substantially similar to the subject accident, and therefore, was properly precluded as irrelevant evidence.

Meet with a Trusted South Florida Car Accident Attorney

If you suffered injuries due to a South Florida car accident that was caused by another person’s negligence you should meet with a trusted South Florida car accident attorney regarding your case and what evidence you may be able to introduce to show the defendant should be held accountable for your harm. The South Florida car accident attorneys of Donaldson & Weston will work diligently to help you seek the full amount of damages you may be able to recover.  We can be reached at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 to set up a meeting to discuss your case.