Plaintiff Lenora Partlow brought a wrongful death case on behalf of the estate of Calvin Wilson Jr., who was killed while riding his motorcycle when he was hit by a Dodge Durango driven by defendant Kahlile Gray. Ms. Partlow was engaged to the deceased and they had two children. A four-day trial ensued and the jury voted in favor of the plaintiff, awarding her $3.1 million. As Wilson rode that day, he captured 40 minutes of video using his GoPro camera prior to the accident. The court allowed jurors to view 17 minutes of the footage that they deemed relevant. This was the first court decision involving GoPro evidence in Pennsylvania.
The jury award allocation was $1.85 million in damages attributed to the Survival Act and $1.25 million for wrongful death. Wilson and Gray were traveling in opposite directions through a Philadelphia intersection when the defendant began a left turn and hit Wilson, who was ejected from the motorcycle. He was pronounced dead at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. Gray had open alcoholic beverages in the truck at the time. Investigators determined there was not sufficient evidence for criminal charges, such as vehicular homicide.
Approximately two hours after the accident, Gray’s blood alcohol level (BAC) was .073, slightly below the legal limit. An expert witness stated that based on how the body processes alcohol; his level at the time of the accident would have been over the limit, closer to .104. Responding officers explained Gray had bloodshot eyes and demonstrated sluggish behavior. Under the Wrongful Death Act, plaintiffs on behalf of children may be compensated for losses that the deceased would have provided. The Survival Act is intended to account for damages including pain and suffering that the deceased endured between the time of the accident and time of actual death.
The defendant appealed the case asserting four concerns:
- Did the court fail in allowing that the defendant was allegedly intoxicated? Relevance to negligence and value seemed outweighed by prejudice.
- Did the court error in admitting the alleged intoxication and/or alcohol use by failing to provide sufficient supporting evidence?
- Did the court fail in not allowing the Go Pro video in its entirety which showed the extent of the decedent’s careless driving prior to the crash?
- Did the court error in editing segments of the accident expert’s reconstruction report and the associated testimony?
The court acknowledged that BAC findings alone may not prove intoxication or unfitness to drive; however, other testimony described the defendant as stumbling, mumbling, and having glassy eyes. Further, there was expert testimony regarding the likely increased BAC level at the time of the accident, which was two hours after testing. Courts have the discretion to admit authentic video evidence. Any abuse of discretion would occur if the court failed to follow the law, or based the judgment on prejudice or ill-will. The jury saw adequate video footage showing that the defendant was driving in an erratic manner before the accident, and the court found no abuses.
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