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Court Grants Motorcycle Accident Injury Victim New Trial after Jury Informed Officer Found No Fault by Tractor-Trailer Driver, Diaz v. FedEx Freight East, Inc., 114 So.3d 224 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012)

Many motorists injured in motor vehicle crashes presume that they cannot prevail in a personal injury lawsuit because the investigating police officer has determined that the injury victim was at-fault.  While police officers are trained in analyzing crashes, law enforcement officers do make mistakes and draw improper inferences, especially when they possess inaccurate or incomplete information.  If you are injured in a traffic collisions, you should seek legal advice despite the conclusions of the investigating officer because an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer might have a different perspective.  Further, the evidentiary impact of such conclusions are limited under Florida law as evidenced by the Florida 5th DCA case, Diaz v. FedEx Freight East, Inc.

In Diaz, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate brought a wrongful death action against FedEx after a motorcyclist was killed in a collision with a tractor-trailer driven by the defendant.  The plaintiff alleged that the truck driver crossed the motorcyclist lane while executing a left-hand turn.  The maneuver involved moving across two lanes of traffic traveling in the opposite direction including the motorcyclist’s lane.  The truck had crossed one of the lanes and come to a complete stop in the median because of an interruption in the flow of traffic.  The decedent slammed his motorcycle into the side of the big-rig.  Evidence revealed that the decedent’s speed was approximately 59 to 79 miles per hour when the crash occurred though the speed limit was only 45 miles per hour.  The evidence also revealed the motorcyclists could have avoided the accident had he been obeying the speed limit.

The decedent’s estate sued the trucking company alleging that the truck driver was also negligent.  According to the estate, the trucker failed to obey a stop sign before driving into the intersection.  This evidence was disputed by a defense expert, and three eye witnesses were unable to confirm or deny this fact.  This issue was critical because the estate was only entitled to recovery in proportion to the percentage of fault assigned to the truck driver.

The court granted the estate’s motion prior to trial requesting testimony from the police officer who investigated the crash be excluded regarding assignment of fault and issuance of a traffic citation.  During the trial, the defense elicits the following testimony from the office: “[This officer] was given no reason to feel thee was any fault on the part of the other vehicle based on the information or evidence found at the scene.”

The plaintiff responded by making a motion for mistrial based on violation of the pre-trial motion to exclude such testimony from the officer.  The trial judge denied the motion and issued a jury instruction that the testimony was not to be considered.  Despite this instruction, a member of the jury asked the court to inquire of the officer as follows: “Was Mr. Jackson [the truck driver] ticketed for any improper movements and/or actions he may have done that day?”  The court denied the request and indicated that the question involved an issue that could not be considered in reaching a verdict.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the limiting instruction was insufficient because the improperly disclosed information prevented the jury from considering negligence by the truck driver particularly in light of the decedent’s speeding.  The appellate court noted that the general rule is that a “jury should not be informed of an investigating officer’s determination of who caused an accident and who was cited …. Florida courts have consistently found the error sufficiently prejudicial to require a new trial.”

The court noted that the officer specifically testified that he “found no fault” by the truck driver.  Based on such testimony, the only reasonable conclusion the jury could reach is that the truck driver was not ticketed.  Since liability was at issue, a curative instruction to the jury was not enough to override the prejudice to the plaintiff created by the police investigator indicating he did not find any fault related to the truck driver.

This decision provides a compelling basis for seeking legal advice and potentially challenging law enforcement conclusions about fault and causation in a motor vehicle accident lawsuit.  Our law firm frequently files motions in limine to keep irrelevant or otherwise damaging information from being presented to a jury.

If you are injured in a motor vehicle collision, the Miami Motorcycle Accident Lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire.  With over 130 collective years of experience representing policyholders across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence.  Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights.  Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald.   Put our exceptional Florida Crash Injury Lawyer to work on your case.  Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

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