Convincing dash cam video insufficient to dismiss Florida case
July 17, 2019
A Florida state court of appeals reversed a lower court’s decision granting a trucker summary judgment for a fatal crash after a pickup truck rear-ended him. Keeping with precedent, the court found that convincing dash cam evidence is not enough to dismiss a case, prompting the court to ask the Supreme Court to consider including video evidence as an exception for future cases.
On July 12, the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Florida reversed a trial court’s decision that let a trucker off the hook for a fatal crash. The trial court relied on dash cam video evidence when making the decision. However, the appellate court ruled that current standards do not allow video evidence, no matter how compelling, to be a deciding factor when awarding summary judgment.
The case goes back to January 2017 when Samuel Rosario was driving his 2015 Freightliner for Temple, Texas-based Wilsonart on U.S. 192 in Osceola County, Fla. According to the complaint, Rosario’s negligent driving caused Jon Lopez to slam his Ford F-250 pickup truck into the rear of the tractor-trailer. Lopez died from his injuries.
One eyewitness said that Rosario had suddenly changed lanes just before the crash, swerving from the center lane to the left lane. An expert provided by the plaintiff concluded that part of the Freightliner was in the right lane when the crash occurred, a conclusion based in part by the lone witness testimony.
However, dash cam video evidence suggests a different story. According to court documents, Rosario testified he was traveling in the center eastbound lane and began to slow down as he approached an intersection. It was then when he felt an impact to the rear of the Freightliner.
Rosario said he was coming close to a full stop with his wheels straight with the intent to drive straight forward. Forward-facing dash cam video shows the Freightliner in the center and gradually coming to a stop at a red light when it experienced an impact, forcing it to veer left and striking the car in front of it.
During court proceedings, Rosario and Wilsonart’s attorneys claimed that because Lopez rear-ended the Freightliner, the pickup truck driver is presumed negligent under state law. Furthermore, video evidence corroborates Rosario’s account of events while contradicting the one eyewitness account. Consequently, the trial court dismissed the case based on the convincing video evidence. An appeal followed.
In its opinion, the appellate court ruled that the trial court’s dismissal was incorrect “when it concluded that the video evidence ‘blatantly contradicts the eye witness testimony and the opinion of plaintiff’s expert.’”
Supporting the ruling, the appellate court pointed out that attorneys for Wilsonart and Rosari relied on two cases that did in fact show that “clear, objective, neutral video evidence” can be contradictory to the point of rendering the opposing party’s evidence incompetent. However, in neither of those cases was the video evidence used to grant summary judgment.
According to the opinion, Florida has a more restrictive standard for summary judgment. More specifically, a court cannot decide the credibility of a witness or consider the weight of conflicting evidence.
Regardless of how convincing the video evidence can be, it is up to a jury, not a judge, to determine how much weight it holds when determining who is at fault in this case.
“Here, the video evidence showing Rosario’s driving pattern is both compelling that appellees were not negligent and directly contradictory to the estate’s evidence in opposition to the summary judgment motion,” the appellate court ruled. “However, in the event this case survives appellees’ inevitable motion for directed verdict at trial, then it would be the jury’s job to assess the credibility of the estate’s witnesses as to the cause of the accident and to weigh and compare appellees’ conflicting evidence, including the videotape.”
The trial court’s decision was reversed and the case was directed back to the lower court.
But the appellate did not leave the case at that. In the opinion, the appellate panel submitted a certified question to the Florida Supreme Court. The appellate court concluded that technological advances have increased “the likelihood of video and digital evidence being more frequently used in both trial and pretrial proceeding.” It asked the high court to consider the following question of “great public importance:”
“Should there be an exception to the present summary judgment standards that are applied by state courts in Florida that would allow for the entry of final summary judgment in favor of the moving party when the movant’s video evidence completely negates or refutes any conflicting evidence presented by the nonmoving party in opposition to the summary judgment motion and there is no evidence or suggestion that the videotape evidence has been altered or doctored?”
The Supreme Court can either accept or deny jurisdiction over the question. From there, the case can go in many directions. If the Supreme Court accepts, the high court can affirm or reverse the decision, giving instructions to the lower courts what to do from there. If the Supreme Court denies jurisdiction, it goes back to the trial court for further proceedings as instructed by the appellate court’s opinion.