Stewart v. Draleaus, s. 4D15–2320

Decision Date26 July 2017
Docket Number4D15–2321,4D15–2322,Nos. 4D15–2320,s. 4D15–2320
Citation226 So.3d 990
Parties Kevin STEWART, Appellant, v. Dean D. DRALEAUS, Christopher Reagle, and Robin Vincent, Appellees.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

226 So.3d 990

Kevin STEWART, Appellant,
v.
Dean D. DRALEAUS, Christopher Reagle, and Robin Vincent, Appellees.

Nos. 4D15–2320
4D15–2321
4D15–2322

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District.

July 26, 2017


Diane H. Tutt of Conroy Simberg, Hollywood, for appellant.

Bard D. Rockenbach of Burlington & Rockenbach, P.A., West Palm Beach, and William Zoeller of Schuler, Halvorson, Weisser & Zoeller, P.A., West Palm Beach, for appellee.

Ciklin, J.

Kevin Stewart, the defendant below, timely appeals a final judgment in a personal injury action entered in favor of the three plaintiffs, Robin Vincent, Christopher Reagle, and Dean Draleaus. The action was based on a motorcycle accident in which the defendant is alleged to have hit the plaintiffs' motorcycles. The defendant argues the trial court erred in precluding three types of evidence: a witness's statement to an investigating police officer, alcohol consumption by the plaintiffs, and a motorcycle license violation by one of the plaintiffs. We agree on all three points, and we reverse and remand for a new trial.

I. Facts

On the evening of the motorcycle accident, which occurred in 2006, the defendant

226 So.3d 993

was driving a Chevrolet Camaro. Draleaus and Reagle were each driving a motorcycle and Vincent was Reagle's passenger. At that time, Reagle had a temporary motorcycle license that did not permit him to carry a passenger. Prior to the accident, the plaintiffs stopped at a restaurant and then at a bar. They were heading home when the accident occurred around 11:18 p.m.

In the proceedings below, liability was hotly contested and the defendant alleged comparative negligence. According to the plaintiffs' theory of the case, the defendant revved his engine at them and tried to race them. After pacing the motorcycles for a distance and swerving into their lane twice, the defendant hit Reagle's motorcycle (upon which Vincent was a passenger), which then ran into Draleaus's motorcycle, and then drove away. The plaintiffs survived the accident, but underwent medical treatment for significant injuries.

The defendant's version of events was dramatically different. The defendant admitted to revving his engine in response to the motorcycles, but he denied exceeding the speed limit or racing or hitting the motorcycles. He testified that he saw Reagle attempt to turn right but instead turn directly into Draleaus's path, which he opined, caused the motorcycles to collide and hit a curb and a telephone pole. The defendant said he pulled over and got out of his car, but then left after seeing that other people had stopped to render aid.

The independent witness testimony presented at trial was similarly inconsistent. One witness testified that the motorcycles and the defendant's Camaro were traveling at one hundred miles per hour and that the accident occurred while the vehicle and the two motorcycles were close to each another. Another witness, who was riding with the aforementioned witness, estimated that the vehicles were traveling fifty-five to sixty miles per hour and stated that the Camaro was nowhere near the motorcycles when one of the motorcycle's wheels began to wobble and crash.

Yet another witness ("minor accident witness") was involved in a fender bender shortly after the subject motorcycle accident. According to her deposition testimony, which was admitted at trial, she did not see the motorcycle accident because a truck was traveling in front of her, but she saw the motorcycles speeding and weaving in and out of traffic beforehand. When the truck turned onto an intersecting street, she saw three people laying on the road and on the sidewalk. She had to swerve to avoid them, at which point she hit a car that was pulled over to render aid to the plaintiffs.

Prior to trial, the parties moved in limine to obtain a ruling on the admissibility of a prior inconsistent statement of the minor accident witness involved in her own accident, to the investigating law enforcement officer. In that statement she said she saw the motorcycle accident occur, and specifically that she saw one motorcycle move into the other motorcycle's lane and make contact with it. 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. The trial court excluded all of the evidence. The jury ultimately found the defendant 55% at fault and Reagle 45% at fault and the trial court entered final judgment accordingly.

II. Analysis

On appeal, the defendant argues that the evidentiary rulings were incorrect, since the excluded evidence was relevant, probative, and supported by expert testimony where necessary. We agree.

226 So.3d 994

A. Accident Report Privilege

First, we address the prior inconsistent statement of the witness who had been involved in her own separate and minor accident. The trial court excluded this testimony and evidence based on its interpretation of the accident report privilege. Therefore, this is a question of law subject to de novo review. See Sottilaro v. Figueroa , 86 So.3d 505, 507–08 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012).

The accident report privilege serves to exclude from evidence statements made by a driver involved in an accident to a police officer for the purpose of creating a crash report for that accident. McTevia v. Schrag , 446 So.2d 1183, 1184 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984). The privilege derives from section 316.066, Florida Statutes (2006), which under certain circumstances requires persons involved in an accident to provide a report to law enforcement:

(1) The driver of a vehicle which is in any manner involved in a crash resulting in bodily injury to or death of any person or damage to any vehicle or other property in an apparent amount of at least $500 shall, within 10 days after the crash, forward a written report of such crash to the department or traffic records center. However, when the investigating officer has made a written report of the crash pursuant to paragraph (3)(a), no written report need be forwarded to the department or traffic records center by the driver.

....

(3)(a) Every law enforcement officer who in the regular course of duty investigates a motor vehicle crash:

1. Which crash resulted in death or personal injury shall, within 10 days after completing the investigation, forward a written report of the crash to the department or traffic records center.

....

(4) Except as specified in this subsection, each crash report made by a person involved in a crash and any statement made by such person to a law enforcement officer for the purpose of completing a crash report required by this section shall be without prejudice to the individual so reporting. No such report or statement shall be used as evidence in any trial, civil or criminal. However, subject to the applicable rules of evidence, a law enforcement officer at a criminal trial may testify as to any statement made to the officer by the person involved in the crash if that person's privilege against self-incrimination is not violated. ...

(Emphasis added).

"[T]he purpose of the statute is to clothe with statutory immunity only such statements and communications as the driver, owner, or occupant of a vehicle is compelled to make in order to comply with his or her statutory duty ...." Brackin v. Boles , 452 So.2d 540, 544 (Fla. 1984). The assertion of the privilege is not limited to the declarant; it "extends to all persons within its ambit, those ‘involved’ in the accident[.]" Hoctor ex rel. Hoctor v. Tucker , 432 So.2d 1352, 1353 (Fla. 5th DCA 1983).

This immunity, however, is not extended to witnesses as they have no obligation to provide such a statement. McTevia , 446 So.2d at...

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6 cases
  • State v. Blocker
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • April 26, 2023
    ... ... that accident." Stewart v. Draleaus , 226 So.3d ... 990, 994 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017) ...          "Once ... ...
  • Strong v. Underwood
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • June 21, 2019
    ...statements as rebuttal or impeachment evidence, which may have been permissible pursuant to existing case law. See Stewart v. Draleaus , 226 So. 3d 990 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017) (holding that Florida's Accident Report Privilege, section 316.066(4), Florida Statutes (2016), does not prohibit impea......
  • Traffanstead v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • December 31, 2019
    ...135, 142 (Fla. 2013) (holding that whether a legislative privilege exists requires de novo review); 290 So.3d 988 Stewart v. Draleaus , 226 So. 3d 990, 994 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017) (finding that whether "[t]he trial court excluded this testimony and evidence based on its interpretation of the ac......
  • Mastec N. Am., Inc. v. Morakis
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • October 2, 2019
    ...of whether a plaintiff's intoxication contributed to an accident is generally an exclusive jury issue.In Stewart v. Draleaus , 226 So. 3d 990, 992-93 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), the defendant was driving a Camaro; the three plaintiffs were traveling on two motorcycles. Prior to the crash, the plai......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles

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