Florida Court of Appeal Orders New Trial in Motorcycle Accident Case Due to Evidentiary Issues

In a case involving a wreck between a car and a motorcycle, the Second District Court of Appeal held that a trial court should not have allowed testimony from a state trooper regarding traffic right of ways.

The case of Shaver v. Carpenter involved a collision between a car and motorcycle carrying two individuals. The evidence showed that the two vehicles collided at an intersection as the two motorcycle passengers were traveling straight while the car coming from the opposite direction was attempting to make a left turn. The motorcycle, carrying a husband and wife, hit the left-turning car, resulting in injuries to each rider. They brought suit against the driver of the car, alleging negligence.

During the course of the trial, the issue of liability was disputed. The driver of the left-turning car acknowledged he was partially at fault for the accident. However, he contended that he had entered the intersection immediately prior to the traffic light turning red. Therefore, according to the driver of the car, the motorcycle improperly entered the intersection against a red traffic signal. The plaintiffs asserted that the defendant was entirely liable for their injuries, since he failed to yield the right-of-way.

At some point, a state trooper testified as to each party’s legal obligations under Florida’s traffic laws. The state trooper had been involved in investigating the accident in question. The plaintiff objected to the testimony but was overruled by the court. The trooper testified that the defendant did not yield the right-of-way to the motorcycle, which was lawfully traveling in a straightforward motion.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury concluded that the defendant was 95% at fault for the collision, and the motorcycle driver was 5% at fault. The jury awarded damages to the plaintiffs, in proportion to the allocation of fault.

On appeal, the Second District noted well-established case law holding that jurors should not be informed of an investigating officer’s determination as to which party caused an accident. To do so would lead a jury to surmise liability on the part of a particular driver. In this case, the appeals court held, it was error to allow the state trooper to testify as to who violated the applicable right-of-way. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the judgment and remanded the matter for a new trial.

In addition, the appeals court addressed an additional evidentiary issue that arose during trial. Apparently, the defendant performed surveillance on the plaintiffs at some point prior to trial. While the defendant asserted that he did not plan to utilize the surveillance videos at trial, he did acknowledge the surveillance measures in discovery answers. However, the plaintiffs’ counsel brought the issue up at trial, indicating that the plaintiffs had been wrongfully surveilled in an attempt to demonstrate that they were exaggerating their injuries.

The appellate court concluded that the plaintiffs’ attorney used the information to malign the defendant. The court noted that surveillance is commonly practiced in personal injury cases. The appeals court concluded that the surveillance was not relevant to any issue at hand, and therefore the evidence of surveillance should not have been allowed.

If you have been injured as a result of a motorcycle accident in or around Fort Myers, Cape Coral, or Naples, the Southwest Florida car accident attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano can help. Our attorneys are renowned for aggressively representing our clients in order to get compensation for their injuries. To discuss your case with one of our lawyers, contact us online or call toll-free at (800) 283-7442.

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