In negligence cases arising from automobile accidents, whether a party received a traffic citation related to the accident is generally inadmissible. Courts do not want the jury to substitute the officer’s decisions to write or not write a citation for the jury’s own determination as to the negligence of the parties. If such evidence is presented to the jury, it may lead to a mistrial or a reversal on appeal.
The Second District recently held that this evidentiary rule also applies to incidents on the water in the case of Soto v. McCulley Marine Services, Inc. The defendants were hired by the county to help build artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. The project required the transport of materials by barge. Over the July Fourth holiday weekend, the captain moored the tugboat and the barge by the dock in the staging area created by the county. This staging area was located adjacent to a beach and a park, which were heavily used by the public, especially people on personal watercraft. The area had a reputation for strong tidal currents. The tugboat and the barge were each about 65 feet long, and they jutted out into the pass.
On the day of the incident, the victim had been on a jet ski near the barge and tugboat when the jet ski stalled. The victim was unable to restart it. The currents were allegedly strong that day, and the victim became separated from the jet ski. He was later found under the barge. He had drowned, despite the fact he was still wearing his life jacket.