Fault (or negligence) is always an issue in Florida motor vehicle accident personal injury cases. For an individual to be successful in claiming damages against another party, the claimant has the burden of proving that the other party caused the accident.
In some cases, proving fault is an easy matter. In others, the issue will be hotly contested. In those cases, the plaintiff – the party seeking damages – needs evidence to prove her or his case. One place to look (for evidence) is in the traffic court records.
In most Florida motor vehicle accidents, an investigating law enforcement officer will issue a traffic infraction/ticket to one or more of the involved parties. The ticket can be an expression of the investigating officer’s opinion with regard to fault. For example, a driver may be ticketed for following too closely or for failing to yield the right of way.
Although the traffic infraction itself is not admissable as evidence of guilt in a civil case arising out of the accident, the defendant’s response to the traffic charge may be.
With a few exceptions, Florida Statute Section 318.14(4)(a) allows any person charged with a noncriminal traffic infraction to pay the civil penalty by mail or in person without the effective admission of guilt being used as evidence in any other proceedings. “[O]ther proceedings” includes a civil action arising out of a traffic accident.
For purposes of motor vehicle accidents, the most important exceptions to 318.14(4)(a) are contained in Florida Statute 318.19, which contains a list of traffic infractions requiring a mandatory hearing. Those infractions are:
- Any infraction which results in a crash that causes the death of another;
- Any infraction which results in a crash that causes “serious bodily injury” of another as defined in s. 316.1933(1);
- Any infraction of s. 316.172(1)(b);
- Any infraction of s. 316.520(1) or (2); or
- Any infraction of s. 316.183(2), s. 316.187, or s. 316.189 of exceeding the speed limit by 30 m.p.h. or more.
Unlike the allowance contained in 318.14, a guilty plea in one of the 318.19 exceptions can be used as evidence in any other proceedings, including a civil case for damages. (The record of the plea is admitted, not as establishing the fact [of fault], but as a deliberate declaration or admission of the party himself that the fact is true. Boshnack v. World Wide Rent-A-Car, Inc., 195 So.2d 216, 218 (Fla., 1967).)
A guilty plea, which is considered an admission against interest, is not the same thing as a judgment of conviction in a prosecution where the defendant has pleaded not guilty. Boshnack, @ 218. The judgment of conviction cannot be given in evidence in a civil action to establish the truth of the facts on which it is rendered. Id. @ 218.
Conclusion: Consider the consequences before pleading guilty to a traffic infraction.
Other pertinent cases on this subject:
Figueredo v. Keller, 583 So. 2d 432 (Fla. 3DCA 1991)
Wallace v. Fisher, 567 So. 2d 505 (Fla. 5DCA 1990)
Mackey v. Reserve Ins., 349 So. 2d 830 (Fla 1DCA 1977)
Carter v. Rukab, 437 So. 2d 761 (Fla. 1DCA 1983)
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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.