A court recently issued an opinion in a Florida drunk driving accident lawsuit addressing whether evidence of intoxication is relevant to the calculation of damages. The case arose when a man consumed two alcoholic beverages at work and proceeded to walk home on the side of the highway. The man conceded that he was experiencing a “buzz” and was unfamiliar with the area. He called a friend for help, and as he was talking to his friend, a driver hit him.
The driver stated that he was not under the influence of alcohol or medications, was not tired, or otherwise distracted when the accident happened. He recounted that as he was driving, he noticed the pedestrian in the road. To provide the pedestrian with more room, he moved into the southbound lane. He shifted his gaze momentarily, and continued to drive north in the southbound lane; shortly after that, he heard a “pow.” The driver presented evidence that the pedestrian had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.18. An expert witness testified that the pedestrian was impaired, and the impairment could have compromised his motor skills, reaction times, and ability to judge speed, distance, and danger.
Under Florida law, the trial court maintains discretion in determining whether evidence is admissible. If a trial court finds that evidence is admissible, the ruling will not be reversed, unless there is a clear abuse of discretion. However, it is essential to note that trial courts have limitations when ruling on evidentiary matters. The law provides that relevant evidence is that which proves or disproves a material fact. In cases involving comparative negligence, the fact trier must evaluate each party’s “totality of fault.” Disputes regarding whether a person was impaired or to what level alcohol impaired their typical facilities is a fact question that should be determined by a jury. The question should go to the jury when there is “substantial evidence” of the fact.