When is Evidence About a Driver’s License Admissible in a Florida Personal Injury Trial?

Both plaintiffs and defendants are subject to intense questioning about personal subjects when engaged in a personal injury lawsuit in Florida. Each side will attempt to find information to discredit the other side. If you drove on a suspended license, if you have a history of traffic violations or you had no license at the time of an accident, you may be concerned about this evidence coming in and affecting your case.

In order for evidence regarding a driver’s license to be admissible in a Florida personal injury case there must be a causal connection between the violation and injuries suffered. The driver’s competence must be at issue. In other words a person’s violation of a traffic regulation is admissible only if it tends to prove the person’s negligent operation of the vehicle or to show the driver’s incompetence.

The accident at issue in a recent case happened at the intersection of Hwy 301 and S.R. 674 in December. A woman was rising in a Nissan Sentra driven by her nephew. He was driving northbound and as he tried to turn onto S.R. 674, he crashed into a white cargo van that was driving southbound. The van belonged to a stucco company and it was hauling a cement mixer.

At trial, the nephew testified he was driving with the deceased woman because he was going to pick up his sister from daycare. He had stopped at a red light before turning. He was third in line to turn and when the light changed to a green arrow, he turned. He didn’t see the van until it was too late. He believed the van had been speeding and violated his right of way.

The witnesses could not confirm that he had turned on a green arrow. Some testified the arrow had changed to an ordinary green ball. An expert accident reconstructionist and two others testified that the driver of the van was speeding, driving at least 15 mph over the speed limit.

The woman died at the scene and a representative of her estate sued the stucco company, the employee driving the van, the nephew, and the nephew’s mother. She settled with the driver of the van and voluntarily dismissed her claim against the nephew’s mother before trial. She went to trial against the stucco company and the nephew on the issue of liability.

The stucco company presented another expert accident reconstructionist and eye witness, in addition to the driver. All testified the driver had not been speeding. In their view the nephew had violated the white van’s right of way. They also argued that the nephew was not an experienced driver and didn’t know if he had enough time to make the turn.

The appellate court addressed the issue of whether the evidence that the nephew had never obtained a driver’s license was admissible. The issue was first raised by the estate, which sought to prevent the other side from introducing that evidence. The court reserved its ruling on the issue, but revisited it when deposition testimony was read. It denied the estate’s motion to exclude this testimony.

An officer testified that the nephew had not taken the written exam and driving proficiency test he needed to take to get a driver’s license. The nephew had started driving around age fifteen and the accident occurred when he was eighteen. However, he mostly took public transportation because his parents didn’t like him to drive the car.

In this case, the stucco company’s defense was based on the idea that the nephew was an unlicensed driver with insufficient experience to determine if he had time to make the left turn. It also presented testimony that the white van had the right of way. The appellate court concluded that the defendant had established enough of a causal connection to permit the defendant to present evidence the nephew was unlicensed.

If you are injured in a car accident caused by someone else or a loved one is killed in such an accident, call the experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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Birth Injuries and Medical Negligence in Florida, August 8, 2013
When Can a Plaintiff Ask for a New Trial in Florida, July 26, 2013
Proving Wage Loss in Florida Personal Injury Cases, July 12, 2013

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