Breeden v. Roberts, Record No. 982556.

Citation518 S.E.2d 834,258 Va. 411
Decision Date17 September 1999
Docket NumberRecord No. 982556.
PartiesTimothy Paul BREEDEN v. James R. ROBERTS, et al.
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia

Wm. Tyler Shands (Carter & Shands, on briefs), Richmond, for appellant.

Jeffrey F. Brooke, Virginia Beach (Nelson H.C. Fisher, Prince George; Huff, Poole & Mahoney, Virginia Beach; Fisher & Fisher, Prince George, on brief), for appellees.


STEPHENSON, Senior Justice.

The principal issue in this appeal is whether the trial court erred in excluding certain expert opinion evidence.

James R. Roberts sued Timothy Paul Breeden, seeking damages for personal injuries Roberts sustained in an automobile collision that occurred in the City of Hopewell. Roberts alleged that Breeden's negligent operation of a motor vehicle proximately caused his injuries. The case was tried to a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of Roberts in the amount of $30,000. The trial court entered judgment on the verdict, and Breeden appeals.

On the morning of January 2, 1996, Roberts, a police officer for the City of Hopewell, was operating a city police car on Mesa Drive, a four-lane street divided by double yellow lines. Roberts was proceeding in the far-right northbound lane of travel. At the time, the roadway was wet from a recent rain.

Roberts testified that, as he approached a railroad crossing, he observed a pickup truck travelling in the far-right southbound lane of the street and also approaching the railroad crossing. Roberts thought the truck was exceeding the 35-mile-per-hour speed limit, and he planned to make a U-turn and stop the truck. As Roberts slowed his vehicle, preparing to turn, the truck crossed the railroad tracks, began to "fishtail," crossed the double yellow lines, and collided with Roberts' patrol car. The truck's rear bumper and left rear tire struck the front of the police vehicle.

Breeden, the operator of the truck, testified that, when he applied the truck's brakes as he approached the railroad tracks, the rear of his truck "slipped out to the right." He then "countersteered" and reapplied the brakes. At that point, however, the brakes locked, and the rear end of the truck "swung.. out to the left," causing the truck to cross the double yellow lines and collide with the police car.

A city police sergeant investigated the accident. After Breeden mentioned the alleged brake problem to the sergeant, the sergeant suggested that Breeden have a mechanic examine the truck's braking system.

Two days after the accident, Breeden's truck was towed to an automobile mechanic's shop, owned and operated by Chester Leroy Damron, a mechanic with 40 years' experience. Damron examined the truck's braking system and found that the left rear brake adjuster was "froze[n]."

At trial, Breeden sought to have Damron explain to the jury how a frozen brake adjuster would affect the operation and performance of a motor vehicle. The trial court, however, sustained Roberts' objection and refused to allow this testimony.

According to Breeden's proffer, Damron would have testified that a frozen brake adjuster prevents a vehicle's brakes from "working together." When the brakes are not working together, one side of the vehicle "is going to want to stop faster than the other side." This will cause the vehicle to slide and "fishtail," especially when the road's surface is wet.

Roberts contends that the trial court properly excluded Damron's testimony because Damron could not say that the frozen brake adjuster caused the accident. Damron's testimony, however, was not offered to prove the cause of the accident; rather, it was offered merely to explain the effect a frozen brake adjuster has on the operation and performance of a vehicle.

In Holmes v. John Doe, 257 Va. 573, 578, 515 S.E.2d 117, 120 (1999) (decided after the trial court ruled in the present case), we held that the trial court properly allowed an expert witness to explain the principles of hydroplaning and how a tire tread's depth affects the operation and performance of a vehicle under certain conditions. In Holmes, we noted that the expert "never opined what the conditions at the time and place of the accident were, nor did he offer an opinion as to the cause of [the] accident. Rather, [the expert's] testimony was limited to explaining the general relationship of hydroplaning to wet road conditions, tire tread depth, and speed." Id. We think the Holmes rationale applies in the present case.

Roberts further contends that Damron's testimony was properly excluded because Damron "was unable to testify as to the condition of the brake at the time of the accident." Additionally, Roberts observes that "the vehicle had experienced an impact in the area of the left rear wheel in the ... accident." The record shows that Damron examined the truck's braking system a mere two days after the accident, and there is no indication or suggestion that a change in the condition of the braking system had occurred during the two-day period. Moreover, Damron stated that the impact from the accident would not have caused the brake adjuster to freeze. Therefore, we think these assertions by Roberts go only to the weight to be given to Damron's testimony...

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12 cases
  • Funkhouser v. Ford Motor Co.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court
    • January 10, 2013
    ...context of Funkhouser's claim that Ford failed to warn of the danger of key-off electrical dashboard fires. See Breeden v. Roberts, 258 Va. 411, 416, 518 S.E.2d 834, 837 (1999) (evidence is relevant if “it tends to establish a party's claim or defense or adds force and strength to other evi......
  • Travis v. Finley, Record No. 1938-00-2.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals
    • July 17, 2001
    ...or not the evidence tends to cast any light upon the subject of the inquiry." Id. at 629, 74 S.E.2d at 169. Breeden v. Roberts, 258 Va. 411, 416, 518 S.E.2d 834, 837 (1999). "In a show cause hearing, the moving party need only prove that the offending party failed to comply with an order of......
  • Egan v. Butler
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court
    • June 4, 2015
    ...otherwise provided by ... statute, Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, or other evidentiary principles.”); Breeden v. Roberts, 258 Va. 411, 416, 518 S.E.2d 834, 837 (1999). This is the very type of evidence Egan and Abilene sought to introduce but which the circuit court excluded as irr......
  • Russell v. Com.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court
    • April 20, 2001
    ...showing that the witness made statements on a prior occasion that are inconsistent with his present testimony. Breeden v. Roberts, 258 Va. 411, 415-16, 518 S.E.2d 834, 837 (1999). And, we said in Spruill v. Commonwealth, 221 Va. 475, 485, 271 S.E.2d 419, 425 [The] determination of the scope......
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