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Court Reverses Florida Motorcycle Accident Ruling on Comparative Negligence Grounds

Diaz v. FedEx

This story brought to you by Canan Law, voted best St. Augustine Attorney in 2012.

fedex-300x187.jpgCar accidents happen. Sometimes they are caused by one person's fault; other times the negligence is spread among several drivers. This is known as comparative negligence. 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. 

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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 posted 45 MPH speed limit - 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 proportionately liable.

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 St. Augustine personal injury attorneys at Canan Law are ready to investigate your case and represent you in and out of the courtroom. We serve clients throughout the region, including in St. Augustine, Jacksonville, and Daytona.

Call us at (904)824-9402 or stop by our offices at 43 Cincinnati Avenue in downtown St. Augustine if you have any questions about automobile accidents or personal injury cases.

Canan Law, the most respected team of attorneys in St. Augustine, keeps you informed with blog posts discussing legal terms and Florida court cases that matter to you. Our firm specializes in auto accidents, personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Ask your legal question today with our website's live chat feature!

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