from Jefferson Circuit Court, Bessemer Division
THOMPSON, PRESIDING JUDGE.
action regarding a motor-vehicle collision, Larry Carter
appeals from a judgment of the Bessemer Division of the
Jefferson Circuit Court ("the trial court")
determining, among other things, that Daniel Keith Haynes was
entitled to a judgment as a matter of law as to Carter's
claim of wantonness and the issue of punitive damages.
Specifically, Carter asserts that the trial court improperly
excluded evidence from which the jury could have inferred
that Haynes was liable for wanton conduct.
record indicates the following. On March 6, 2015, Haynes was
driving a Honda Civic automobile that collided with the back
end of Carter's pickup truck. At the trial, Haynes
admitted that he was responsible for the accident. He
testified that the collision occurred when he was talking to
his girlfriend, a passenger in the automobile, and looked
away from the road. He said that, when he looked back, there
were vehicles stopped in front of him, and, he said, he did
not have time to stop before hitting Carter's truck.
Haynes said that he hit Carter's truck hard enough that
his vehicle went under Carter's truck.
prove his claim of wantonness against Haynes, which would
enable Carter to receive punitive damages, Carter sought to
introduce evidence indicating that Haynes had used methadone
and marijuana on the morning of the day of the accident.
Haynes had filed a motion in limine to preclude the
introduction of such evidence. Initially, the trial court
denied Haynes's motion, agreeing with Carter's
contention that "the jury could reasonably infer
impairment and intoxication based on how this wreck
before testimony began, the matter of whether Carter should
be able to introduce evidence of Haynes's drug use was
discussed again. Haynes argued that, because of the six- to
seven-hour lapse between the time the methadone and marijuana
were used and the accident, coupled with the absence of
evidence indicating that Haynes was impaired when the
accident occurred and the absence of expert testimony
regarding the expected effects of the drugs in a man of
Haynes's size over a certain time, the admission of
evidence of Haynes's drug use would be more prejudicial
than probative or relevant. Haynes also pointed out, and
Carter agreed, that, to be entitled to punitive damages,
Carter would have to prove wanton conduct by clear and
making his offer of proof to the trial court (out of the
jury's presence), Carter elicited the following evidence.
Haynes said that he had been addicted to opioids and received
daily treatment at a methadone clinic. On the morning of the
day of the accident, Haynes said, he received his treatment
at between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m. He went home and then smoked
marijuana from a bong at about 11:00 a.m. He acknowledged
that he "got high off the marijuana." He also
testified that, although the physicians at the methadone
clinic had instructed him not to use illegal drugs while he
was taking methadone, he had never experienced any side
effects from mixing methadone and marijuana. Haynes also
candidly told the court that he knew that driving while
impaired was dangerous, and he consciously decided to drive
his vehicle the day of the collision.
Haynes said, he was not impaired at the time he drove. About
six hours after smoking the marijuana, Haynes said, he was
driving to work. The accident occurred at approximately 5:00
p.m. He testified that the effects of the drugs were gone by
that time and that he was "totally sober" at the
time of the accident.
trial court reconsidered its previous ruling to deny the
motion in limine. In doing so, the trial judge said:
"I'm trying to listen to what you have and trying to
glean some sense of what evidence do you have to show that
[Haynes] was impaired. I'm not really finding any in my
mind." The trial judge also noted: "All evidence is
prejudicial, but this is highly prejudicial to say someone
has abused drugs by driving and then there's an
accident." The trial judge ultimately granted
Haynes's motion in limine, stating: "[I]f
there's not going to be any evidence or any testimony as
to the impairment of this defendant while driving. If
there's going to be nothing regarding that, I don't
see where I can allow that in."
the trial, the trial court entered a judgment as a matter of
law in favor of Carter on the claim of negligence and in
favor of Haynes on the claim of wantonness and the issue of
punitive damages. It also entered a judgment on the
jury's verdict awarding Carter damages of $28, 284.41,
plus court costs. On October 26, 2017, Carter filed a motion
for a new trial in which he argued that the trial court had
improperly excluded Haynes's admission that he had used
methadone and marijuana on the day of the accident. After a
hearing on the issue, the trial court entered an order
denying the motion on November 16, 2017. Carter filed a
timely notice of appeal on December 28, 2017.
appeal, Carter contends that the trial court erred in
excluding evidence of Haynes's drug use on the day of the
"'"[T]he trial court has great
discretion in determining whether evidence ... is
relevant and whether it should be admitted or excluded."
Sweeney v. Purvis, 665 So.2d 926, 930 (Ala. 1995).
When evidentiary rulings of the trial court are reviewed on
appeal, "rulings on the admissibility of evidence are
within the sound discretion of the trial judge and will not
be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of that
discretion." Bama's Best Party Sales, Inc. v.
Tupperware, U.S., Inc., 723 So.2d 29, 32 (Ala. 1998),
citing Preferred Risk Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ryan, 589
So.2d 165 (Ala. 1991).'
"Bowers v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 827 So.2d 63,
71 (Ala. ...