WEST PALM BEACH — The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal has reversed and remanded a motorcycle accident case back to a trial court.
In a July 26 ruling, the appeals court agreed with defendant Kevin Stewart's three-point argument, granting him a new trial in a personal injury action brought by plaintiffs Robin Vincent, Christopher Reagle and Dean Draleaus.
Stewart, who allegedly hit the plaintiffs’ motorcycles in 2006 with his car, argued the trial court erred in excluding a witness’s statement, the plaintiffs' alcohol intoxication and one of the plaintiff’s motorcycle license violation. In the alleged accident, Draleaus and Reagle, who had no permit to carry a passenger, supposedly stopped for dinner and drinks and their way home. Stewart then allegedly roared his engine and initiated a street race. Draleaus and Reagle claim that Stewart swerved into their lane and caused one motorcycle to crash into the other causing significant injury to the plaintiffs.
Stewart’s side of the story is “dramatically different,” according to the opinion, noting that though Stewart admitted to roaring his engine at the plaintiffs, he denied speeding and hitting the plaintiffs. Rather, Stewart claimed that Reagle allegedly attempted to turn his motorcycle, causing him to cause a collision with the other motorcycle and a telephone pole. After the incident, Stewart allegedly left the scene when other motorists stopped to help the plaintiffs.
At trial, “the independent witness testimony presented at trial was similarly inconsistent,” according to the opinion. While one witness testified that the defendant’s car and plaintiff’s motorcycles were speeding at 100 miles per hour and accidentally collided, an additional witness said the vehicles' rate of speed was 55 to 60 miles per hour and a wobbly wheel on one of the motorcycles caused the wreck, not Stewart.
One more witness, who said she did not see the actual accident because a truck was blocking her view, also said the accident was not the fault of Stewart, but rather the fault of the plaintiffs, who were “speeding and weaving in and out of traffic beforehand,” according to the appellate court opinion. The third witness said she allegedly attempted to avoid being in an accident herself, but accidentally hit the motorists rendering aid to the plaintiffs.
“The parties also sought pre-trial rulings on the admissibility of evidence that the plaintiffs were drinking before the accident and that Reagle was violating a license restriction at the time of the accident by carrying a passenger,” according to the appeals court opinion, noting this evidence was excluded from trial and Stewart was found to hold 55 percent fault in the accident.
“Because the trial court erred in excluding the witness statement and erred in excluding relevant evidence of alcohol consumption and a license violation, we reverse and remand for a new trial,” the appeals court said in its decision.
The appeals court further cautioned that the alcohol consumption and the license violation evidence should be allowed and “should be demonstrated to relate to the relevant issues and not be used solely to create prejudice in the minds of the jurors.”