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Case Bulletin – Pennsylvania Superior Court Finds that Defendant’s Toxicologist Expert’s Testimony Regarding Intoxication was Sufficient Corroborating Evidence to Permit the Admission of BAC Results for Decedent-Plaintiff

At the center of Coughlin v. Massaquoi was the examination of the threshold in Pennsylvania by which BAC results are admissible at trial. In this case, Defendant was seeking to introduce evidence regarding the intoxication of the decedent-Plaintiff. Coughlin involved a pedestrian-motor vehicle accident which resulted in the death of Mr. Coughlin. The jury ultimately found that while the driver-defendant was negligent, that negligence was not the cause of the decedent-plaintiff’s death. On appeal, the Court was presented with the question of whether it was proper for the BAC results to be admitted where there was no independent testimony corroborating intoxication.

 

Traditionally under Pennsylvania law, a parties’ blood alcohol level alone is not admissible for the purpose of proving intoxication. In order to admit someone’s BAC results, there must be corroborating evidence of intoxication, usually by a witness who is able to offer testimony about slurred speech, staggered gait, or some other indication of intoxication. Defendants did not have any independent evidence of intoxication outside of the expert toxicologist who testified that based on the BAC level of the decedent he would not have been able to safely cross the street. In fact, there were no witnesses identified who observed the decedent displaying any signs of intoxication. The Court recognized that “other” evidence of intoxication does not have to come from a third-party eyewitness but may come from an expert describing the effects of a particular BAC on a person. The Court ultimately held that the Defendant’s toxicologist was enough to permit the admission of the decedent’s BAC results at trial.