MARGARET SAJIUN, as Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF JOSE ALBERTO SOTO SANTIAGO, Appellant,
DANIEL HERNANDEZ, Appellee.
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit,
Palm Beach County; Jaimie Goodman, Judge; L.T. Case No.
H. Littky-Rubin of Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather, Keen
& Littky-Rubin, LLP, West Palm Beach; Carlos A. Bodden
and W. David Bennett of Ellis, Ged & Bodden, P.A., Boca
Raton; and Laurence U.L. Chandler, Jr., Boca Raton, for
R. Ehrenreich and Noel F. Johnson of Weinberg, Wheeler,
Hudgins, Gunn & Dial, LLC, Miami, for appellee.
wrongful death jury trial, the personal representative of the
decedent's estate recovered nothing. She believes that
certain improper evidence resulted in the defense verdict,
and she challenges several of the trial court's rulings.
We find the trial court did not abuse the wide and sound
discretion afforded to trial judges in these types of
evidentiary rulings, and we affirm.
case arose from a collision between a motorcycle driven by
the decedent, Jose Alberto Soto Santiago ("motorcycle
driver"), and a truck driven by the defendant, Daniel
Hernandez ("truck driver"), resulting in the death
of Santiago. During trial, the trial court permitted the
introduction of the following evidence over the
plaintiff's objection: 1) witness testimony regarding the
speed the decedent motorcycle driver traveled on his
motorcycle in the moments preceding the accident; 2) evidence
of the weight of the truck, which was used by the defense
expert to calculate the motorcycle's speed at impact; and
3) statements the motorcycle driver's child made to a
psychotherapist regarding an argument between the decedent
and his girlfriend shortly before the accident.
trial court has wide discretion in determining the
admissibility of evidence, and, absent an abuse of
discretion, the trial court's ruling on evidentiary
matters will not be overturned." Kellner v.
David, 140 So.3d 1042, 1046 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014)
(citation omitted). "The trial court's discretion,
however, is limited by the rules of evidence." Wyatt
v. State, 183 So.3d 1081, 1084 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015).
"[A] trial court's decision does not constitute an
abuse of discretion 'unless no reasonable person would
take the view adopted by the trial court.'"
McCray v. State, 71 So.3d 848, 862 (Fla. 2011)
(quoting Peede v. State, 955 So.2d 480, 489 (Fla.
2007)). Stated another way, "[i]f reasonable men could
differ as to the propriety of the action taken by the trial
court, then the action is not unreasonable and there can be
no finding of an abuse of discretion." Bass v. City
of Pembroke Pines, 991 So.2d 1008, 1011 (Fla. 4th DCA
2008) (citation omitted). We review each of the challenged
evidentiary issues in turn, applying this limited-and very
well established-scope of review.
Regarding Speed of Motorcycle
trial, the plaintiff moved in limine to exclude the testimony
of three witnesses the defense had listed but who did not
actually see the accident, arguing that their testimony was
not relevant, and that if it was, any probative value was
substantially outweighed by the prejudicial effect of the
testimony. The trial court deferred ruling on one witness,
and denied the motion without prejudice with respect to the
the witnesses testified at trial that he had operated
motorcycles since 1980. Based on his familiarity with
motorcycles, he could tell the difference between the sounds
emitted by the engines of a Japanese motorcycle and a Harley
Davidson. A Harley Davidson engine has a distinct sound which
has been patented.
before the accident, the witness was sitting in his backyard.
A fence blocked his view of the street, but he heard the
sound of a motorcycle engine. Defense counsel asked the
witness what he heard, and he responded, "A motorcycle
traveling at a high rate of speed, revved up." The court
denied plaintiff's motion for mistrial. During a voir
dire of the witness, he explained that his testimony was
based on his years of experience with hearing motorcycles,
and that he did not have any specialized training in the
sounds of motorcycle engines. The court ruled that the
witness may "say based on what he heard and based on his
familiarity with the motorcycles that it was going at a high
rate of speed, " but that he may not "speculate or
guess what the speed was." The witness then testified
that he had previously heard "a Japanese motorcycle rev
its engine real high . . . [Y]ou can hear him going through
his gears. And when it's revving really loud . . ., that
means [it is] traveling at a high rate of speed." He
equated that sound to the sound he heard the day of the
accident. The witness testified that shortly after he heard
the sound of a motorcycle revving its engine, he heard a
"popping" noise, as if the motor shut off. He went
to investigate and observed that a Japanese motorcycle had
been involved in an accident.
other defense witnesses, a mother and daughter traveling
together, encountered the motorcycle and testified about
their observations. The daughter recalled that the
"noise of [the] engine" drew her attention to the
motorcycle. The motorcycle was "go[ing] by really
fast" and "cutting off cars." Within minutes
of losing sight of the motorcycle, she came upon the accident
scene. The mother testified that the motorcycle was
"making a very zoom noise, you know, as in accelerating
very quickly, " that the motorcycle driver "sped
off very rapidly, " and that he was traveling at a
"much higher" rate of speed than the mother was
driving, which was somewhere between 30 and 45 miles per
hour. She and her daughter were so startled by the motorcycle
that they commented to one another regarding "the noise,
the speed, the closeness to our car." After the
motorcycle passed her, it took between thirty and ninety
seconds before she came upon the accident scene.
parties' experts disputed the speed the motorcycle was
traveling. The plaintiff's accident reconstruction expert
testified that the motorcycle driver was traveling an average
of fifty-five miles per hour, but going about sixty miles per
hour at the time of impact. The defense expert opined that
the motorcycle driver was going about ninety to ninety-five
miles per hour at the time he braked, but could have been