One Night in November, Part 6: Was the Driver’s GPS Based Prior Discipline Admissible?

To what extent is a driver’s prior discipline admissible at trial?[1]  In my circumstance, the GPS system logged Driver at 1 mile per hour a reporting threshold, approximately 15 months before the accident.  Driver was given a verbal admonition, but had no other discipline in his file.

In addition the argument about the data’s reliability, I first argued this evidence was irrelevant to the question at issue in this case:  who was responsible for the accident with Pedestrian?  Whether Driver drove a Company vehicle at a given speed 15 months before had no bearing upon whether he was driving at any given speed when the accident occurred.  At least two courts concluded that admitting irrelevant evidence of this nature is unfairly prejudicial, especially when it is admitted that the driver was within the course and scope of employment.  Nehi Bottling Co. v. Jefferson concluded the trial court erred by admitting evidence of the driver’s other accidents because the company’s “answer admitted that Davis was within the scope of his employment at the time and place in question, and Davis so testified.”[2]  Rodgers v. McFarland affirmed the trial court’s order to exclude a driving record from evidence.  “It would have been admissible on the issue of negligent entrustment, to establish the liability of the owner for the acts of the driver, but it became immaterial on that issue when the owner admitted liability.”[3]

The second argument was that, if relevant, this information’s probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.  The probative value was minimal, as how Driver drove on 15 months earlier had no bearing upon how he drove on the night in question.  This probative value did not substantially outweigh the unfair prejudice to Driver and Company.  “Evidence of a previous habit of speed is not admissible to prove conduct at a later time. An inquiry of this nature would raise a collateral issue that would divert the investigation from the quest of causation in the particular accident.”[4]  “Evidence of past law violations is inadmissible to show a person’s character in order to show he or she has a propensity to commit that type of crime or committed it on the day in question.”[5]  Nor were these GPS data indications sufficient to constitute evidence of habit.

The Defendants have not identified the situation to which the Plaintiff regularly responded by speeding. If the situation were simply being in the driver’s seat of a car, you would expect the Plaintiff to have many more speeding violations than he did. The Plaintiff’s last speeding ticket was over one year prior to the accident. The Defendant’s argument that the driving record was admissible to show the Plaintiff’s habit of speeding was merely a thinly disguised attempt to show the jury that the Plaintiff was a person of bad character.[6]

[1] This assumes a cause of action is pled to which this information would be relevant.  If negligent hiring, entrustment, etc., claims are not present at trial, then there would be no relevance.
[2] 84 So. 2d 684, 686 (Miss. 1956).
[3] 402 S.W.2d 208, 210 (Tex. Civ. App. 1966).
[4] Breimon v. GM Corp., 509 P.2d 398, 403 (Wash. App. 1973).
[5] Hudelson v. Delta Int’l Mach. Corp., 127 P.3d 147, 153 (Idaho 2005).
[6] Id; Lee v. Elbaum, 887 P.2d 656, 670 (Haw. App. 1993) (prior speeding occurrences properly excluded where “there was no offer of proof that Defendant had a ‘regular’ and ‘invariable’ practice of driving his boat at a particular speed.”).