The sad reality is there are over a thousand people killed every year in Georgia accidents but not all of them should be lawsuits. This is the woeful tale of a dimwit attorney filing a lawsuit on behalf of a motorcyclist who was clearly hauling way to fast down the road, when he died in the crash. I have handled cases like this for guys on motorcycles and it is rarely the Harleys or cruising bikes, usually the sport bikes where speed is the killer. In the case we handled, we realized deep into the evidence that our guy was likely going 70 in a 45 when he underode a tractor trailer in broad daylight. It’s not a good case and we settled for the $90,000 they offered to ensure that the 13 year old daughter would have money for college. Unfortunately for the family of a Georgia motorcyclist who suffered fatal injuries in an accident his lawyers ignored reality. They filed a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against two occupants of the vehicle that struck their loved one. After a jury found in favor of the defendants and said it was the motorcycle rider’s fault for speeding, the plaintiffs moved for a new trial. The trial court denied their motion, and the plaintiffs filed an appeal. On appeal, the biker’s estate argued that the trial court erred in permitting inadmissible witness testimony and denying their motion for a new trial.
At trial, the court permitted eyewitnesses to testify that the biker was driving around 80 to 100 miles per hour before the accident. Further, they allowed a police officer to testify that, based on the bike’s engine sound, the motorcyclist’s speed was between 60 and 90 miles per hour. The plaintiffs argued that the court erred in allowing this testimony because the witnesses did not see the bike at the time of the collision. The plaintiffs argued that the law only permits witnesses to estimate a vehicle’s speed if they saw the vehicle when the accident occurred. Everyone knows what a sport bike sounds like at speed. It is unmistakeable. It is no surprise the judge and jury found the way they did.
Georgia Code section 24-7-701 permits a non-expert witness to testify only in instances where their opinions are rationally based on their perception, helpful to understanding a witness’s testimony, and not based on technical, scientific, or specialized knowledge. In this case, the court found that the trial court did not err in permitting this testimony. It explained that the witnesses provided a basis for their opinions, including their personal experience riding and observing motorcycles and seeing the plaintiff’s bike on the day of the accident. The court reasoned that this factual foundation was sufficient to allow the witnesses to testify to the motorcycle’s speed before and at the time of a collision, even if they did not observe the impact.