Supreme Court Holds Summary Judgment Not Contingent Upon Video Evidence

– Summary by Richard Shank

On December 21, 2020, the Supreme Court of Florida handed down a decision to a question certified to them by the Fifth District Court of Appeals. The question posed was “Should there be an exception to the present summary judgment standards that are applied by state courts in Florida that would allow for the entry of final summary judgment in favor of the moving party when the movant’s video evidence completely negates or refutes any conflicting evidence presented by the non-moving party in opposition to the summary judgment motion and there is no evidence or suggestion that the videotape evidence has been altered or doctored?” Wilsonart, LLC v. Lopez, 308 So. 3d 961, 962 (Fla. 2020). The court ultimately answers that this exception should not be applied.

The case at hand dealt with a fatal car crash. The crash was a “rear end” crash resulting in the death of the driver on the back side of the crash. The estate of the deceased sued, but the defendants moved for summary judgment based on dashcam footage held by the front driver who was being sued. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants based on this footage and the plaintiffs moved to appeal.

The Fifth District Court of Appeals took the case and agreed with the trial court that the dashcam footage was compelling evidence showing that the driver’s actions were not reckless or negligent, and agreed that it did contradict evidence set forth by the plaintiffs. However, the court of appeals reversed the summary judgment, reasoning that they were unsure of the weight that the trial court placed on the video evidence. The ultimately determined that the trial court had placed too much weight on the video evidence, which led this case to be brought to the Supreme Court of Florida for clarification on this standard.

The Supreme Court of Florida found that the Fifth District Court of Appeals had looked to Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). The court ultimately considered the differences in Florida’s summary judgment standard in comparison to the federal standard. The Florida Supreme Court reasons that Florida should ultimately adopt the federal standard for summary judgments, but must adequately follow jurisprudence in doing so. At the time being, the court reasoned there was no reason to adopt a special rule dealing with video footage into Florida’s existing standard.

In conclusion, the Florida Supreme Court answered the Fifth District Court of Appeals’ question by answering “no.” There is no current need for adoption of the proposed special rule, and the court upheld the Fifth District Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse the trial court’s summary judgment.