Court Allows Jury to Consider Evidence of Truck Driver’s Cell Phone Use in Accident Case, Excludes Witness Testimony as to Whether Driver Was “Distracted”

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A federal judge ruled on a pair of motions in limine seeking to exclude evidence relating to two truck drivers’ alleged cell phone use prior to a 2011 accident that killed two people. McLane, et al v. Rich Transport, Inc., et al, No. 2:11-cv-00101 (E.D. Ark., Sept. 6-7, 2012). The judge allowed the jury to see records of one driver’s cell phone use on the day of the accident, but granted a motion to exclude witness testimony regarding whether either driver was distracted at the time of the accident.

The accident occurred during the morning of February 9, 2011 during snowy conditions with limited visibility. A tractor-trailer driven by defendant Jerry Smith reportedly struck a Jeep traveling west on Interstate 40 near Brinkley, Arkansas. The Jeep went into a spin, and another tractor trailer, driven by defendant Florentino Campos, collided with it. The Jeep’s driver, a twenty-three year old woman, and her one year-old son were killed in the crash. Two other passengers, the woman’s six and three year-old daughters, were injured.

The victims’ family sued the two truck drivers and their employers for negligence. They alleged that Campos had been talking on his cellphone just before the collision. In the two hours before the accident, Smith admitted that he had sent about twenty-four text messages from his phone. McLane, opinion and order at 3 (Aug. 9, 2012). Defendant Rich Transport, Smith’s employer, reportedly had 237 documented violations of fatigued driving rules in the three months before the accident. Evidence also suggested that Smith was in violation of hours-of-service rules when the accident occurred. Id.

The plaintiffs and defendants filed motions in limine seeking to exclude various types of evidence during the trial. Campos and his employer, defendant AAA Cooper Transportation, moved to exclude provider records and fact witness testimony regarding Campos’ cell phone use the day of the accident. The court ruled on September 6, 2012 that the records were admissible, as the question of whether he was distracted at the time of the collision was a key issue in the case. The court held that its probative value was greater than the risk of unfair prejudice towards Campos. The court excluded the fact witness’ testimony, however, holding that even if the witness saw Campos using a cell phone near the time of the collision, testimony as to whether he was “distracted” would require speculation as to his mental state.

In a separate order dated September 7, the court excluded testimony from an expert witness retained by the plaintiffs. It ruled that the expert could not testify that Campos or Smith were “distracted” by their cell phones, nor that either driver was “preparing to text or anticipating a text when the accident occurred.” McLane, order at 3 (Sept. 7, 2012). The expert’s testimony, the court stated, would have been based on testimony by representatives of the defendant trucking companies regarding a lack of cell phone policies for drivers or a lack of specific instruction not to text while driving. The court ruled that the jury could draw its own inferences from the representatives’ testimony.

Auto accident attorney Doug Horn is an advocate for safe driving in the greater Kansas City area. He represents the rights of people who have suffered injuries or lost loved ones due to the negligent or reckless conduct of others. Contact us today online or at (816) 795-7500 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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