In a negligence action against a motorist who struck and killed a pedestrian, evidence of the decedent’s intoxication was admissible where corroborated by the defendant’s toxicology expert’s testimony, the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided in Coughlin v. Massaquoi, __ A.3d __ (No. 3367 EDA 2014, filed March 21, 2016). On January 13, 2012, Thomas Coughlin (Decedent) was walking across a four-lane roadway when he was struck and killed by a car driven by Ummu Massaquoi. In a negligence action against Massaquoi, Coughlin filed a motion in limine to preclude a toxicologist from testifying that Decedent’s post-mortem blood alcohol content (BAC) of .313 would have rendered him unfit to safely cross the street. The trial court denied the motion and permitted the admission of both the BAC test results and the expert’s testimony. The jury found Massaquoi negligent but did not conclude that her negligence was a cause in fact of Decedent’s death. Coughlin appealed.
The Superior Court, in an opinion authored by President Judge Emeritus Ford Elliott, affirmed. The unanimous panel rejected Coughlin’s argument that Decedent’s BAC was inadmissible because there was no independent corroborating evidence of intoxication, e.g., slurred speech, odor of alcohol, unsteady gait, independent eyewitness testimony, etc. The Court reviewed case law establishing that in cases where a decedent pedestrian’s intoxication is at issue, blood alcohol level alone may not be admitted to prove intoxication unless corroborated by other evidence. The Court held that the “other evidence” of intoxication necessary to corroborate BAC test results “does not have to consist of third-party eyewitness testimony, as
Judge Strassburger, joined by Judge Stabile, wrote a concurring statement noting that Coughlin had improperly relied on a 1998 Superior Court decision that was no longer good law.