Coddington v. Nunez, 2D12-1152, 2013 WL 4734042 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Sept. 4, 2013)
This case is out of an automobile accident that occurred in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Thomas Coddington and his wife were heading north on 21st street when Mr. Coddington stopped his car at a stop sign at 21st street and 30th North. As he turned left onto 30th ave. his car struck a vehicle driven by Mr. Nunez as it approached from Coddington’s left. The force of the collision caused Nunez’s car to spin around and hit a palm tree before coming to complete stop. Nunez was thrown from the vehicle suffering serious injuries as a result. At trial Nunez alleged that Coddington caused the crash by coming into his lane as he was approaching. Coddington raised 2 defenses. One that Nunez was speeding over the 35 mph speed limit and two that Nunez wasn’t wearing a seat contributing to his injuries.
Coddington sought to introduce the opinion testimony of their expert James Wheeler to prove that Nunez was speeding and display the movement of Nunez body in the vehicle. Wheeler used a computer program, to reconstruct the accident and testified that the program was based on the laws of physics. By entering the weights and distances the vehicles traveled after the collision, the program could determine the speed the vehicles were traveling at the time of the impact. A video simulation was created based on the data entered. Based on Wheeler’s use of the program he was prepared to testify in his opinion that Nunez was speeding at 57 mph at the moment he collided with Coddington. Wheeler also used the program to contradict Nunez’s expert testimony that the crash caused him to thrust into the vehicle console causing his seatbelt to disengage. By entering Nunez’s height and weight into the program, Wheeler testified that the Nunez would have been pushed away from the console. Nunez convinced the trial court to exclude the simulation from the trial and stopped Wheeler from giving his opinion testimony as to Nunez’s speed and theory on Nunez’s seat belt based on 3 reasons.
- The prejudice of showing the simulation outweighed the probative value.
- Wheeler’s methods were not generally accepted in the engineering community.
- Those methods would more probably than not result in an unreliable result and any opinion based on a computer simulation would be unreliable.
On appeal the court reversed the judgment that attributed only 25% of liability to Nunez in his favor awarding him $488,500. Although the court affirmed the exclusion of the simulation, it reversed the exclusion of Wheeler’s opinion on Nunez’s speed and body movement inside the vehicle during the accident. The court reasoned that the opinions were formed using scientifically accepted calculations and rejected Nunez’s argument that the calculations were unreliable. The court reasoned that because types of computer simulation programs have been used in all types of accidents to determine speed and that specific features of this accident did not invalidate the conclusion rendered by the simulation. The court concluded that Wheelers testimony contradicting Nunez’s assertion that he was wearing a seat belt would have only rebutted that assertion based on the laws of physics.
This case carries an important message that enlisting the best experts who can gather and provide the best scientific evidence possible can affect assigning liability in an accident you are involved in. The best way to fight a case and seek the compensation that is deserved is to enlist only the best experts that use the state of the art technology to fight for you. If you of a loved one have been injured in an accident, it is imperative that evidence of negligent conduct of others is still intact so our experts can provide you with the best case possible. Don’t wait for your case to weaken. Contact the Fort Lauderdale accident attorneys of Madalon Law and let us answer your questions at no cost. We provide a free consultation for all Florida accident victims.