Can a jury consider a suspended driver’s license for purposes of contributory negligence?

As a skilled Mobile, AL personal injury lawyer, I actually confronted this issue in a jury trial just over ten years ago. The short answer is, “No.”

How we arrived at that answer for the jury was rather amusing. Back then the Judge was kind of new, and she didn’t want to answer that question “shooting from the hip” in my case where my client happened to have a suspended license. She wanted me and my opponent to provide her with some law. Since the jury was out, and my opponent and I were both taught by the same man, Dean Charles Gamble from the University of Alabama law school, I did the first thing that came to mind: called the law school to ask the guy that taught us both Evidence (although my honorable opponent was taught at Cumberland, Charlie Gamble was teaching there at the time he taught my opponent; it was just 15 years before he taught me). In Alabama, Charles Gamble literally wrote the book on Evidence. I had the University number in my cell phone, so I called and asked for Dean Gamble. I was routed to Dean Gamble’s office, but was told:

“Michael, Dean Gamble still has an office here, but he’s retired. Here’s his home number.”

“Cool. Thanks.”

 

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Gamble?”

“Yes?”

“This is Michael Wing, and I’m one of Dean Gamble’s former students. I have a jury out, and really need a legal question answered.”

“Michael, he is on the road speaking, but here is his cell number.”

“Thanks Mrs. Gamble!”

“Hello?”

“Dean Gamble?”

“Yes?”

“This is Michael Wing.”

“Who?”

“MICHAEL WING.”

“HO HO HO, Wing, what do you want?”

“Dean I have a jury out, but they have a question. Can a suspended driver’s license be considered for contributory negligence purposes?”

“No. It’s a condition, not a causal factor. It’s in my book.”

“Well, do you have it with you?”

“Yes, but it’s in the trunk. I’m driving.”

“WELL STOP! I HAVE A JURY OUT!”

All of this conversation was happening in the Judge’s office with my opponent right next to my ear hearing everything that Dean Gamble had just said. My opponent conceded the point. The Judge instructed the jury: “No.” Within minutes the jury returned a verdict for the Plaintiff. My opponent and I remember the occasion with smiles on our faces whenever we happen to see each other. What is really crazy about this tale (all true) is that my client also had alcohol and THC in his blood, but that’s not what the jury asked about, and there is no more arguing by the attorneys  once the jury has begun its deliberations. The fact was that my client was driving his motorcycle straight up the highway when the pizza delivery driver cut across traffic, clipping my client’s leg, breaking his ankle. None of his impairments, nor his suspended driver’s license caused the wreck. The delivery guy cutting across traffic without looking was the only cause.


Thanks to our friend and contributor from the law firm of Michael A. Wing, LLC for his insight into contributory negligence.