On July 2, 1955 at around four o’clock in the afternoon, a truck driver left the Twin Bridges bar and headed west on Route 11 between Mooers, New York, and Champlain, New York. At some point his truck came in contact with a vehicle that was eastbound. The eastbound vehicle was occupied by a male driver, his wife, two daughters, and his daughter in law. The Staten Island male driver of the car was killed in the commercial truck accident. The wife was still in the hospital and unable to testify at the time of trial. The daughters both claimed that they saw the truck shortly before impact cross over the center line of the road to sideswipe their vehicle. The daughter in law, who was seated directly behind the deceased driver stated that she had observed the truck cross the center line previously and then return to the correct side of the road. She stated that as the gap closed between the two vehicles, the driver of the truck crossed the center line again and this time hit their car with his truck.
The driver of the truck was criminally charged with Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs and later Vehicular Homicide. He was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment. The jury was not privy to this information and although there was much discussion about the truck driver’s condition, there was no proof of his condition presented in the court. In fact, although it was pointed out that at the hospital following the accident, the truck driver’s blood was drawn and was given to the State Trooper, the results of that blood alcohol content kit was not discussed in the civil trial. There was not even a mention that it was or was not tested. If the jury had been told of his criminal charges and arrest, the inference could probably have been made.
However, as it stands, the victim’s family’s Westchester attorney only brought forth witnesses who could testify to the truck driver’s condition the night before while he was at the same bar. He had been so drunk that he had tossed his truck keys to another patron. He was described as being loud and boisterous and causing a scene. However it was pointed out that this was his normal demeanor even if he was sober. It was clear that he was asked to leave the bar.
The Justices found that at no time in the original trial was the term intoxication defined. The Justices also found that the evidence of his demeanor and condition from the night before was highly prejudicial. They felt that this blurred the real issue “and confused the jury to a point which deprived the defendant of a fair trial.”
In this case, judgment is reversed on the law and a new trial ordered.
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