Trucker petitions Florida Supreme Court to hear dashcam case
August 19, 2019
A trucker is asking the Florida Supreme Court to decide a question that could have major implications for the use of dashcam footage as admissible evidence for courts in the Sunshine State to grant summary judgments.
On Aug. 6, attorneys for Temple, Texas-based Wilsonart and one of its drivers, Samuel Rosario, petitioned to the Florida Supreme Court to hear a wrongful death case that was reversed by an appellate court in July.
The controversy revolves around dashcam video evidence supplied by Rosario. A trial court in Florida ruled in favor of Wilsonart and Rosario. It relied on dashcam video that supported Rosario’s claim he is not at fault.
However, the Fifth District Court of Appeals reversed that decision. The higher court ruled that current standards do not allow video evidence, no matter how compelling, to be a deciding factor when awarding summary judgment. Within its opinion, the appellate panel submitted a certified question of “great public importance” to the Florida Supreme Court:
“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?”
Attorneys are using that question as the basis of asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.
Lopez v. Wilsonart and Rosario
The case goes back to January 2017, when Rosario was driving his 2015 Freightliner for Wilsonart on U.S. 192 in Osceola County, Fla. According to the complaint, Rosario’s negligence caused Jon Lopez to slam his 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. The truck then swerved 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. That conclusion was based in part by the lone witness testimony.
However, dashcam video evidence suggests a different story. Rosario testified he was traveling in the center eastbound lane and began to slow down as he approached an intersection. Then 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. Dashcam video shows the Freightliner in the center and gradually coming to a stop at a red light. At this point, the truck experienced an impact. Consequently, the tractor-trailer was forced to veer left, striking the car in front of it.
Rosario claims that because Lopez rear-ended the Freightliner, the pickup truck driver is 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.
Outdated standards exclude modern technology
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 Rosario 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 court did not leave the case at that.
In the opinion, the appellate panel submitted the 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.”
The Florida Supreme Court can either accept or deny jurisdiction over the question. From there, the case can go in many directions. If the Florida Supreme Court accepts, the high court can affirm or reverse the decision. Regardless, it will give instructions to the lower courts what to do from there. If the Florida Supreme Court denies jurisdiction, it goes back to the trial court for further proceedings.