Florida Court Discusses Evidence of Intoxication in Car Accident Cases

October 27, 2023 | Jarrett Blakeley
Florida Court Discusses Evidence of Intoxication in Car Accident Cases

Generally, people who drive while intoxicated and cause accidents can be held liable for any injuries suffered by other people involved in the collision. Typically, evidence of intoxication is relevant and admissible in a lawsuit arising out of a crash, but there are some exceptions. For example, as explained in a recent Florida ruling, in cases in which a defendant admits liability and that punitive damages are warranted, such evidence should be precluded. If you were hurt in an accident caused by a drunk driver, it is advisable to meet with a trusted Florida car accident attorney to determine what damages you may be owed.

History of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff suffered injuries in a rear-end car accident caused by the defendant. The defendant was intoxicated at the time of the crash. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, seeking compensatory and punitive damages due to the defendant’s intoxication. The defendant conceded liability and admitted that if the plaintiff was awarded compensatory damages, he would be owed punitive damages as well, and asked the court to bifurcate the trial and exclude evidence of his intoxication during the compensatory phase.

Allegedly, the court bifurcated the trial but permitted the plaintiff to admit evidence of the defendant’s intoxication during the first phase. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding him over $2.5 million. The defendant appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred in permitting the plaintiff to introduce evidence of the defendant’s intoxication, despite the defendant’s admission of liability and concession to punitive damages.

Evidence of Intoxication in Car Accident Cases

On appeal, the court explained that bifurcation is appropriate when compensatory and punitive damages are at issue. Under this procedure, the first phase will involve evidence regarding liability for actual and punitive damages and the amount of actual damages, while in the second phase, the plaintiff can submit evidence related to the amount of punitive damages.

The court further noted that the issue of whether evidence of intoxication was admissible regardless of its pretrial concession had been thoroughly examined by the Florida courts. In sum, the courts had routinely held that when a defendant concedes liability in a car accident case and the sole disputed issue is the amount of compensatory damages owed, evidence of the defendant’s intoxication should not be submitted to the jury. Further, the courts had ruled that evidence of a defendant’s sobriety in matters in which liability is admitted is both prejudicial and irrelevant.

In the subject case, the court found that the trial court improperly permitted the plaintiff to introduce evidence of the defendant’s intoxication at the time of the accident and that it was prejudicial to the defendant. Thus, the verdict was vacated, and the matter was remanded for a new trial.

Speak to a Trusted Florida Attorney

People who drive while intoxicated often cause catastrophic accidents, and they should be held liable for any harm they cause. If you suffered injuries in an accident caused by a reckless driver, you may be owed significant damages and should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. Jarrett Blakeley is a trusted Florida car accident attorney who can aid you in seeking a just outcome, and he will work diligently on your behalf. You can contact Mr. Blakeley at (800) 602-5000 or via the form online to schedule a conference.

Jarrett Blakeley

Firm founder Jarrett Blakeley fights to get maximum compensation for all of Blakeley Law Firm’s clients. He has been practicing law since 2006 and takes great pride in representing the rights of injured individuals against the insurance companies and the law firms that represent them. He has successfully represented thousands of clients and recovered tens of millions of dollars on their behalf. Mr. Blakeley strives to give all of his clients personal attention and maximum effort and seeks to instill a firm culture that prioritizes customer service and compassion for the injured over all else. Fighting for the injured is Jarrett Blakeley’s greatest passion and he looks forward to fighting for the injured for the rest of his career.

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