In Lopez v. Wink Stucco, the Second District Court of Appeals allows a party in a car accident lawsuit to present evidence showing that a young driver involved in the crash may not have been licensed at the time.
Ms. Lozoya was killed in a tragic car accident on Highway 301 in Ruskin while a passenger in a vehicle driven by her 18-year-old nephew, Mr. Rivera. Rivera was driving northbound and attempted to make a left turn onto another road when his car collided with a southbound van driven by Mr. Pantoja-Vega. An employee of Wink Stucco, Pantoja-Vega was driving the van as part of the job and hauling a cement mixer attached to the vehicle.
Ms. Lopez, as personal representative for Lozoya’s estate, sued the company for negligence and wrongful death. At trial, Rivera testified that the accident happened at an intersection where he had stopped at a red light prior to the crash. He said he was the third car in line in the left turn lane and proceeded into the intersection at the next green arrow. The two cars in front of him had cleared the intersection at the time of the accident. Rivera claimed that he didn’t see the van, which he assumed was speeding. Additional witnesses – including an accident reconstruction expert – confirmed Rivera’s claim that the van was speeding. The expert testified that the vehicle was traveling at least 60 miles an hour when the collision happened, 15 miles or more beyond the posted 45 MPH speed limit.
Other witnesses testified, however, that the light had changed from a green turn arrow to a green ball by the time Rivera attempted the turn. In addition, Rivera’s own accident reconstruction expert said the van was not speeding at the moment of impact. The company argued that Rivera was an inexperienced driver and simply mis-timed the turn, causing the crash.
The trial judge also allowed the company to present evidence indicating that Rivera may not have had a driver’s license at the time of the crash. Specifically, over Lopez’s objection, the judge allowed the company’s lawyer to read part of the transcript of a deposition in which Rivera answered “no comment” when asked if he’d had a license at the time. A police officer who arrived at the scene of the accident also testified that Rivera had only an identification card, not a license. A jury later returned a verdict in favor of the company.
The Second District affirmed the trial court’s decision about the license evidence on appeal, finding that the evidence was relevant to Wink Stucco’s defense that Rivera was an untrained driver and that his lack of skill and experience behind the wheel caused the crash. “[A] person’s violating a traffic regulation is admissible evidence only if it tends to prove that that person has negligently operated an automobile,” the court explained, citing the Florida Supreme Court’s 1984 decision in Brackin v. Boles. Here, the court explained that the license evidence was closely related to the company’s theory that Rivera was simply not properly trained to operate an automobile.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in Florida, contact the South Florida car accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine. From offices in Ft. Lauderdale, we serve clients throughout the area, including in Hialeah, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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