Submission of Question of Law to Jury Reversible Error


Nix and City of Haleyville v. Myers, [Ms. 1170224, Jan. 22, 2021], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2021). The Court (Stewart, J.; Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Wise, and Sellers, JJ., concur; Shaw, Bryan, Mendheim, and Mitchell, JJ., dissent) reverses the Marion Circuit Court’s judgment entered on a $1,000,000 jury verdict against the City of Haleyville and Haleyville Police Officer Anthony Nix. Myers alleged that officer Nix acted negligently by passing another motorist in a no passing zone. As a result, the vehicle in front of Myers slammed on brakes causing Myers to lose control of his motorcycle. Ms. *4.

Officer Nix and the City argued that § 32-5A-7, Ala. Code1975, permitted Officer Nix to violate traffic rules, including § 32-5A-86, no passing zone, at the time of Myers’s accident because Officer Nix was responding to an emergency call. Ms. *7. Over defense objections, the circuit court admitted the statutes into evidence and permitted the jury to have copies of § 32-5A-7 and § 32-5A-86 in the jury room. Ms. *11.

The Court reverses and remands for a new trial

The question whether Officer Nix’s crossing of the double-yellow lines in the no-passing zone, which is prohibited by § 32-5A-86, was permitted by § 32-5A-7(b)(4), which allows the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call, to “[d]isregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions,” was a legal question for the trial court to resolve. See Ex parte Coleman, 145So. 3d 751, 759 (Ala. 2013)(holding that “whether a single ‘yelp’ of a siren constitutes ‘making use of an audible signal’ under § 32-5A-7 is a question of statutory interpretation, which presents only a question of law”). Because that question was a question of law, the jury should not have been permitted to consider whether Officer Nix violated § 32-5A-86 or whether Officer Nix’s actions were authorized by§ 32-5A-7, and the jury should not have had a copy of those statutes as evidence.

Ms. **11-12.

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