Parties that cause fatal truck accidents will often refuse to concede their fault, and in many cases, they will attempt to blame the person that died for the collision. Although defendants in truck accident cases are permitted to argue the contributory negligence of the deceased person as a defense, they cannot rely on inadmissible evidence to support their position. In a recent Florida lawsuit, a court issued a ruling that discussed whether hearsay evidence is admissible to establish comparative fault. If you suffered the loss of a loved one due to a collision with a tractor-trailer, it is advisable to talk to a seasoned Florida truck accident attorney to assess your options.
The Fatal Accident
It is reported that the plaintiff’s husband was at work when he was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer owned by the defendant company and operated by the defendant driver. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendants, alleging their negligence caused her husband’s death. During the trial, the defendants presented testimony from a police officer who stated that another officer advised him the plaintiff’s husband had an earbud in his ear when he was found at the scene of the accident. After the final judgment was rendered, the plaintiff appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred in permitting the officer’s testimony because it constituted hearsay.
Admissibility of Hearsay Evidence in Trucking Accident Cases
Upon review, the appellate court noted that the officer was likely testifying as an expert at trial. Thus, the court analyzed the extent to which he was allowed to rely on inadmissible facts. The court explained that if the facts are of a nature that is reasonably reliable, they do not need to be admissible into evidence. Facts that are otherwise inadmissible, though, may not be disclosed to the jury by an expert witness unless the court finds that their probative value greatly outweighs the risk of their prejudicial impact.
The court went on to explain that while an expert can rely on hearsay in formulating an opinion, the Florida courts have repeatedly ruled that expert testimony cannot be used as a vehicle to introduce otherwise inadmissible evidence. This is because when an expert presents hearsay evidence to a jury via an opinion or testimony, the opposing party is denied the opportunity to impeach or cross-examine the source of the hearsay.
In the subject case, the court ultimately agreed with the plaintiff and found that allowing the officer to testify regarding a highly impeachable statement without a chance for cross-examination was an error. Further, the court found that it is likely that this mistake contributed to a defense verdict. As such, the court reversed the trial court ruling and remanded the case for a new trial.
Speak with an Experienced Florida Attorney
Losing a loved one because of the carelessness of a truck driver can cause devastating emotional and financial harm. If someone you love was killed by a tractor-trailer, you should speak to an attorney about your options. Jarrett Blakeley is an experienced Florida truck accident attorney who can aid you in pursuing any damages you may be able to recover. You can contact Mr. Blakeley through the online form or at (800) 602-5000 to set up a meeting.