Monday, January 23, 2017

Intoxication Evidence Ruled Inadmissible By Superior Court

In its recent decision in the case of Rohe v. Vinson, No. 2264 MDA 2015 (Pa. Super. Dec. 28, 2016 Gantman, J., Panella, J. and Jenkins, S.J.), (Op. by Gantman, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a Plaintiff in a motorcycle accident case was prejudiced by the trial court’s admission of evidence of the Plaintiff’s alcohol consumption as there were no signs that the Plaintiff was intoxicated at the time of the crash.  

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed a Bradford Court of Common Pleas senior judge’s decision to admit into evidence the Plaintiff’s BAC and the fact that the Plaintiff had consumed beers at several different locations on the day of the accident.   The jury in the trial had returned a defense verdict and the Plaintiff appealed.  

On appeal, the Superior Court held that the evidence presented failed to establish a degree of intoxication reasonably demonstrating the Plaintiff’s unfitness to drive even though the Plaintiff admitted to drinking alcohol on the day of the accident.  

The court also noted that the Defendant’s toxicologist expert found that the Plaintiff’s BAC obtained at the hospital within two (2) hours of the crash, was 0.0706%, which was below Pennsylvania’s legal limit.  

The appellate court ruled that, to admit the Plaintiff’s BAC results in this case require additional evidence of conduct of the Plaintiff to suggest intoxication.   The court noted that the Defendant’s toxicologist’s expert’s testimony interpreting the effects of alcohol upon a person with the type of low BAC that the Plaintiff exhibited could not, on its own, constitute the required ‘other’ evidence, where the Plaintiff’s BAC at the time of the blood being drawn was below the legal limit.  

The court also noted that the defense’s expert's opinion that the Plaintiff’s BAC was higher than 0.0706% at the time of the accident and was on the decline by the time he had the blood drawn could not be considered that ‘other’ evidence of the Plaintiff’s intoxication under the facts presented in this case.   The court found that the defense expert’s “relation back” testimony was too speculative and highly prejudicial, particularly where the Plaintiff’s BAC at the time of the blood draw was below the statutory limit and where there was no other objective evidence that the Plaintiff was unfit to drive at the time of the accident.  

As additional support for its decision, the court also noted that there was evidence that the Plaintiff spoke with numerous people following the accident and that none of those witnesses indicated that the Plaintiff displayed any of the classic signs of intoxication.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision  may click this LINK..

Source: “Court: Evidence of Plaintiff’s Drinking Inadmissible in Crash Case” by  Zack Needles of the Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Jan. 10, 2017).

To view other prior Tort Talk Blog posts on the issue of the admissibility of intoxication evidence in a civil litigation matter, click HERE 

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