Mark Tinker, a BLG appellate attorney practicing in the firm’s St. Petersburg office, recently obtained reversals of two large jury verdicts in the Second District Court of Appeal. In the first case, our client was driving down a divided highway at night, at approximately 65 miles per hour, when a 15-year-old boy stepped out onto the roadway in front of her. She could not avoid hitting him, and he died from his injuries. His family sued for wrongful death, and at trial the boy’s friends who had witnessed the accident testified that he had been standing on the edge of the median when our client swerved over and hit him. Immediately following the accident, however, those same boys had told the investigating police officers that their friend had been texting on his cell phone, did not look up, and simply walked out onto the roadway directly in front of our client’s car. The judge excluded evidence of those statements from trial, ruling that since they had been provided to the investigating officers the accident report privilege applied. Mr. Tinker successfully convinced the appellate court that the privilege does not apply to mere eyewitnesses to an accident – only those who are involved and required to provide the statutory report. The court ordered a new trial, and this time the jury will have the opportunity to consider those statements.
In the second case, the plaintiff’s vehicle broke down at an intersection in the middle of the night. For several minutes, 3 of the 6 people in the car got out and tried to move it, but nobody attempted to warn traffic or even turn on the hazard lights. Our client was driving along, behind a van, when she approached that same intersection. She could see that the light was green, but could not see in front of the van. At the last second, the van swerved around the plaintiff’s stationary car. Our client couldn’t stop in time and hit it. The trial judge determined that our client was automatically at fault, since she hit the car from behind, and entered a directed verdict. On appeal, however, the Second District agreed that these facts rebutted that presumption and that the jury should have been permitted to determine if our client was truly at fault. The court accordingly ordered a new trial in that case, as well.
The opinions are available here:
If you have questions or have encountered similar issues, please call Mr. Tinker at (877) BLG-4321