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A trial judge was correct to let jurors view a trimmed-down version of GoPro camera footage that showed a motorcyclist driving erratically before a fatal crash, the state Superior Court has ruled in a decision affirming the $3.1 million verdict in favor of the biker’s family in the case.
The appeals court’s decision was the first on Pennsylvania evidence to address the handling of GoPro video, records show.
The defense had wanted the jury to see the footage in its entirety, arguing that it would have given the jury a fuller picture of the plaintiff’s aggressive driving.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the court ruled June 15 in Partlow v. Gray that the trial judge overseeing the case was right to admit a 17-minute cut of 40 minutes of video shot on Calvin Wilson’s GoPro camera as he rode through the streets of Philadelphia. Wilson died in the crash.
According to a search of records from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the ruling marks the first time the court has addressed how courts should handle footage from the popular mounted camera.
In an attempt to overturn the verdict, the defendant argued that the redacted 23 minutes were relevant, since it showed that Wilson had been driving erratically. However, Judge Alice Beck Dubow, who wrote for a unanimous panel, said the additional footage would have been cumulative, since footage of Wilson driving aggressively and performing three wheelies had already been included in the 17 minutes shown to the jury.
“These 17 minutes sufficiently demonstrated decedent’s purportedly aggressive and careless driving shortly before the accident,” Dubow said. “The portion of the video that the trial court did not show occurred long before the accident and was not relevant to whether decedent was comparatively negligent at the moment he collided with appellant.”
The case came to a verdict in February 2016, after a five-day trial resulting in a finding that defendant Kahlile Gray negligently caused Wilson’s death. The jury awarded $1.85 million in survival act damages and $1.25 million in wrongful death damages to Wilson’s estate.
According to the plaintiff’s pretrial memorandum, Wilson was driving his motorcycle straight through a green light on Belmont Avenue in Philadelphia on April 4, 2013, when Gray made a left turn against traffic and struck Wilson. The collision threw Wilson from his motorcycle, the memo said. He was transported to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and pronounced dead shortly afterward.
The Superior Court decision also rejected Gray’s challenge to the trial court’s decision to allow in evidence of his intoxication during the collision.
According to a blood alcohol content test taken after the accident, his BAC was .073, which is below the legal limit. However, an expert gave the opinion that, at the time of the accident and given the rate at which blood-alcohol levels dissipate, his BAC would have been .104, which is above the legal limit.
Gray pointed to the recent Superior Court decision in Rohe v. Vinson as indicating the BAC evidence should not have been submitted to the jury, but Dubow said that, coupled with testimony of an officer at the scene who said Gray had bloodshot eyes and lethargic behavior, “Even though our case law provides that some of this evidence could be considered inadmissible if it had been admitted in isolation, that is not what happened here,” Dubow said. “The totality of the corroborating evidence showed more than the mere hint of appellant’s intoxication.”
David Woloshin of Astor Weiss Kaplan & Mandel, who represented Wilson, said the opinion is important for its interpretation of Rohe, and in establishing some precedent for how GoPro footage should be handled.
“The Superior Court did a great job distinguishing our case from Rohe,” he said. “It’s a decision that will be quoted in the months and years to come.”
Kevin McNulty of Gerolamo, McNulty, Divis & Lewbart, who represented Gray did not return a call for comment.
Max Mitchell can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMitchellTLI.