Florida Appeals Court Refuses to Overturn Jury Verdict in Wrongful Death Lawsuit Where Decedent Was Not Wearing a Seat Belt

In Jones v. Alayon, a Florida driver was hit from behind by an off-duty police officer in a rear-end automobile collision. As a result of the impact, the man’s automobile struck a guard rail and rolled.  The motorist was ejected from his car, and he landed on the roadway.  Tragically, the driver was also hit by other vehicles after he landed on the pavement.  As a result of the collision, the driver suffered an untimely death.

Following the fatal accident, the allegedly at-fault driver apparently fled the scene of the traffic wreck.  He also reported that his vehicle was stolen before later admitting he was driving at the time of the deadly crash.  The man was later incarcerated over the incident.

Next, the decedent’s daughter filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the former police officer in a Florida court.  Prior to trial, the defendant successfully asked the court to exclude evidence related to his occupation and his fleeing the scene.  At trial, the defendant claimed the deceased driver contributed to his death by failing to wear his safety belt.  As a result, the jurors awarded his daughter reduced damages after attributing the deceased man’s death to his failure to wear a seat belt.

On appeal before Florida’s Fourth District, the decedent’s daughter claimed the trial court abused its discretion when it excluded certain evidence regarding the defendant and allowed the man to offer hearsay evidence that the wife of the man who was killed spent their money on drugs.  In addition, the plaintiff argued the trial court committed error when it failed to direct a verdict in favor of the deceased man because the undisputed evidence demonstrated that the man’s safety belt did not work.

According to the appellate court, the evidence regarding drug use by the deceased man’s wife was admissible because it constituted an admission by a party opponent.  In addition, the appeals court stated the lower court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded evidence related to the defendant’s occupation.  According to the appellate court, the trial court acted within its discretion when it determined the prejudicial value of the evidence outweighed the probative value.  Similarly, the Court of Appeal stated the trial court did not commit error when it denied the plaintiff’s motion for a directed verdict based on the fact that an operable seat belt was not available to the defendant.  The court stated such information was only one factor a jury was required to consider when determining whether the deceased man contributed to his own death.

After holding that the trial court acted within its discretion, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the final judgment of the lower court.

If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a Miami car wreck, a veteran personal injury lawyer may be able to help you recover financial compensation for your harm. To schedule a free consultation with a caring South Florida car crash attorney today, do not hesitate to give the experienced personal injury advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. a call at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Jones v. Alayon, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2015

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Florida Appeals Court Overturns Denial of Legal Fees in Workers’ Compensation Case, April 15, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

Southern District of Florida Rules Cruise Ship Passenger Failed to Establish Negligence Following Injury Accident, April 9, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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