Car accidents happen. Sometimes they are caused by one person’s fault; other times the negligence is spread among several drivers. In Diaz v. FedEx, Florida’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal explains that a person injured in an accident can recover for some of his or her damages – even if the person was negligent in causing the accident – if another driver was also at fault.
Yuniel Diaz was killed in an accident in Orlando when the motorcycle he was driving was struck by a FedEx truck driven by Vincent Jackson. Although Diaz was traveling somewhere between 59 and 79 miles an hour – much faster than the 45 MPH speed limit posted – the personal representative of his estate sued FedEx, claiming that Jackson was comparatively negligent. Under Florida’s comparative negligence system, a person who is injured partly due to his or her own negligence can hold another party liable proportionately.
The estate claimed that Jackson failed to stop at a stop sign before proceeding to make a left turn, during which Diaz’s motorcycle slammed into the broad side of the truck. Jackson testified that he came to a complete stop at the sign, while the estate presented experts to rebut this claim. Three eyewitnesses to the accident were unable to tell one way or the other whether Jackson stopped before proceeding to turn.
The trial court granted a motion in limine by the estate barring evidence about any citations or assignment of fault related to the accident made by the police officer who responded to the scene. Nevertheless, FedEx’s counsel proceeded to ask the officer – Detective Harold Felshaw – about whether there were any factors that contributed to the crash other than Diaz’s excessive speed. Based on the evidence at the scene, Felshaw said he had “no reason to feel there was any fault on the part of” Jackson.
The trial court ruled that this testimony violated its order on the motion in limine. Instead of granting a mistrial, however, it instructed the jury not to consider the detective’s testimony concerning fault in the accident. The jury later ruled in favor of FedEx, finding that Diaz was completely liable for his own death.
On appeal, however, the Fifth District held that the estate was entitled to a new trial because the detective was allowed to testify about fault. This was a critical error, according to the court, because the issue of comparative fault was raised prior to this testimony. “Although the evidence was undisputed that the decedent was traveling at a high rate of speed at the time of the accident, and that the accident could have been avoided had decedent been driving the speed limit, there was disputed evidence as to whether or not Jackson failed to stop at the stop sign and whether this contributed to the accident,” the court explained.
The instruction to the jury to ignore this part of Felshaw’s testimony, meanwhile, was not sufficient to overcome any prejudice that may have been caused by allowing him to give the testimony in the first place. As a result, the court reversed the decision and remanded the case for a new trial.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident, the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are ready to investigate your case and represent you in and out of the courtroom. We represent clients throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Pompano Beach and Coral Springs. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or fill out and submit an online Contact Us form to schedule a free consultation.
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