Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Carter v. Haynes

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

July 27, 2018

Larry Carter
v.
Daniel Keith Haynes

          Appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court, Bessemer Division (CV-16-900052)

          THOMPSON, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         In this 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.

         The 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.

         To 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 happened."

         However, 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 convincing evidence.

         In 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.

         However, 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.

         The 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."

         After 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.

         On appeal, Carter contends that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of Haynes's drug use on the day of the accident.

"'"[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. ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.