Florida Appellate Court Addresses Evidentiary Rulings in Highway Accident Case

The Second District Court of Appeal recently issued a decision (2D16-353) regarding a highway accident on I-75, when the driver of a large service truck collided with a non-commercial truck. A mattress had fallen onto the highway, but the accounts of what happened afterward differed greatly between those involved. The driver of the truck testified that he saw the driver of the commercial truck behind him and that he was driving too fast. He said he swerved left onto a narrow shoulder when it looked like the driver was going to rear-end him. Since the left shoulder could not accommodate all of his car, he remained partially in the left lane of the interstate. The driver said the commercial driver forcefully struck him, causing him to roll over. The driver alleged in his negligence action that he and his passenger suffered significant injuries.

In contrast, the commercial truck driver testified that the accident was caused by the other driver when he suddenly swerved into the right lane and then the left lane and shoulder – directly across his path of travel. The commercial driver claimed the mattress was 100 yards away when the traffic in front of him was slowing and stopping. He stated he also slowed down quickly and attempted to avoid hitting the truck in front of him, but he was unable to avoid it because the car was not completely in the shoulder.

At issue was a statement made by the noncommercial driver to a paramedic. The statement was viewed by the commercial driver as an admission that the accident occurred as he claimed. The EMS report has a quote saying “Husband states he swerved to avoid a mattress in the road and lost control of the car and went off the road.” The trial court granted the motion by the noncommercial driver, who asked the court to exclude the report from the evidence presented to the jury.

The jury did award the noncommercial driver and his passenger damages. At trial and on appeal, the commercial driver’s employer claimed this exclusion was prejudicial to them and resulted in the favorable verdict for the driver and his passenger. The defendant company argued that the trial court should have granted its frequently renewed motion to allow the EMS record after the noncommercial driver’s opening statement, the driver’s testimony, and the driver’s granted motion to allow a redacted version of the EMS report.

The jury found three parties to be negligent – both drivers and the unknown person responsible for the mattress on the highway. The commercial driver was found to be 65% liable, the other driver 33% liable, and the unknown party 2% liable. The driver was awarded over $243,000 for pain and suffering, and his passenger was awarded over $400,000. The employer moved for a new trial, which was denied, and then filed this appeal.

The appellate court agreed with the employer’s position that the statement was erroneously excluded from the jury’s consideration and that this exclusion unfairly resulted in a verdict that was more favorable to the driver and his passenger. The appellate court found the statement was properly labeled as an admission. The appellate court determined the entire EMS Report was admissible, since it included a statement by a party to the proceedings that was relevant to proving or disproving a material fact. The Court of Appeal reversed the final judgment and remanded the case for a new trial.

Multi-car highway accidents present intricate, complex sets of facts. If you’ve been injured in a Florida highway accident, the attorneys at Donaldson & Weston can help you determine which damages are available to you. Call our office today at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appellate Court Reviews Future Medical Expenses in Multi-Car Accident Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 28, 2016

Federal Circuit Court of Appeal Declines to Find Equitable Tolling in Slip and Fall Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 21, 2016

Florida Court of Appeal Allows Injured Motorist to Pursue Additional PIP Payments to Medical Providers, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, May 18, 2017